Danae Mariya Ringelmann ’00

Say you had an idea for a business, and you thought someone like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg might want to help you get started but you didn’t have his phone number. Before Danae Ringelmann ’00 and two friends started Indiegogo in 2008, your dream might have died right there.

Startups have a near-impossible time securing traditional financing. Danae’s online crowdfunding platform democratizes funding by letting the public decide what to support. Indiegogo’s successes include funding a Nikola Tesla museum and solar roadways, saving the life of a humanitarian in Africa by raising money for his kidney transplant, and giving more than $4 million to a company that makes computer science widely available to schools (Zuckerberg is among its donors).

Since helping in her parents’ small business as a child, Danae has sought to level the financial playing field. After earning her American Studies degree from UNC — where she was a Morehead Scholar and a varsity rower — she went to Wall Street as a corporate finance analyst for JPMorgan. She moved to San Francisco in 2004 to research publicly traded stocks in the media, entertainment and video game industries for Cowen and Co. and volunteered as a Wall Street Wizard, inspiring at-risk high-schoolers to learn about finance, embrace career ownership and go to college.

Danae earned an MBA from the University of California-Berkeley in 2008 and is a chartered financial analyst. She and two Berkeley classmates, Eric Schell and Slava Rubin, launched Indiegogo in January 2008 to bypass venture capital gatekeepers, just as the recession left many people and organizations needing alternative financing.

Indiegogo struggled to obtain financing itself — trying to explain “crowdfunding” to investors before the term had been coined. It took three years for its first $1.5 million round of financing.

Indiegogo collects 9 percent of funds raised, a fee that drops to 4 percent if a campaign makes goal. The Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t allow crowdfunded startups to offer equity stakes, but those who donate might receive a T-shirt, a sample product or a personal rap in return. An unsuccessful campaign learns quickly that the world is not ready for its product. Failure becomes more efficient.

Today Indiegogo has campaigns in 200 countries, four currencies and three languages. It distributes millions of dollars a week to some 8,000 campaigns a year, more than 250,000 campaigns since its beginning. The platform is particularly helpful to women, who create only 8 percent of venture-backed startups but run 47 percent of Indiegogo campaigns. Danae’s firm, employing about 100 people, is well-balanced between men and women, rare among Silicon Valley tech firms, traditionally dominated by men.

In 2011, Danae was named among Fast Company’s Top 50 Women Innovators in Technology, and in 2013, Advertising Women of New York recognized her with its No Apologies Changemaker Award.

Danae says business can be one of the most sustainable and powerful vehicles for social change, and that UNC provided her that philosophical foundation. Without it, she says, she never would’ve left finance to change finance.

Through Indiegogo, Danae offers a “no excuses” challenge: There’s no excuse not to test your good idea, even if you don’t have the name of a financier in your contact list.