BYU students develop ‘Penny Pledge’ online donation tool

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BYU neuroscience major David Hepworth shows how his chrome extension, Penny Pledge works. Penny Pledge recently won (Kasee Baldwin)
BYU neuroscience major David Hepworth shows how his chrome extension, Penny Pledge, works. Hepworth recently won a BYU Student Innovator of the Year competition for his work on Penny Pledge. (Kasee Baldwin)

Pennies. They’re everywhere. In pockets. Under couches. At the bottom of a backpacks. And BYU student David Hepworth wants to use them to transform the Internet.

“I believe the potential is there for something big,” Hepworth said about Penny Pledge, his platform that puts pennies behind likes to support good online content.

Hepworth, a neuroscience major set to graduate this year, teamed up with Chase Roberts, a former roommate and BYU computer engineering graduate, to prove that a little goes a long way, as far as viral crowdfunding is concerned.

The two co-creators of the popular BYU Lunch Box application spent six months developing Penny Pledge, which won the “Best Innovation Award” at last year’s Student Innovator of the Year competition, a grant-awarding innovation event sponsored by the Ira A. Fulton College and the Marriott School of Management.

An idea that began during apartment “Innovation Nights” has become the answer to what Hepworth believes is the problem with paying for Internet content.

“Paying for the Internet is a really important thing,” Hepworth said. “There’s definitely hesitation when it comes to paying for content.” The key, he said, is voluntary donation. The platform lets users use and view Internet content for free and give spare change to content they like. “That’s a different concept.”

Patreon, another innovative platform for crowdfunding, allows users to act as virtual patrons in ongoing support of content creators. The company recently surpassed $1 million in monthly transactions, which, according to Cole Palmer, Patreon creator and user relations manager, is a significant shift toward changes in the way people connect on the Internet and the advertising model platforms utilize to support content.

“Good content is worth something, and people are tired of the creator getting skipped over for the content they create for the benefit of a corporation or ecosystem,” Palmer said.

Penny Pledge, following this user-driven model, has created the accessible platform needed for simple donation. Hepworth notes while many people want to donate, they don’t, simply because it’s too much work, as was the case with the wildly-viral ASL Ice Bucket Challenge.

“We wanted that system to already be there, ready,” he said. A downloadable Chrome extension allows Internet users to donate pennies to any website straight from their toolbar.

“I thought, ‘Why doesn’t that already exist yet?’ It seems like something that should already exist,” Hepworth said.

Penny partner Roberts said that because of the platform’s “micro-donation” concept, smaller audiences are involved and the potential for failure is greater. Penny Pledge is still in initiatory phases, but Hepworth and Roberts are beginning to involve family and friends as beginning users.

“We’re going on a hunch,” he said. “Penny Pledge is a little more risk—a lot of risk—but the payout could be greater. The hope is that in the next five or six months we’ll be able to see if Penny Pledge is a success or a failure.”

Roberts and Hepworth follow the footsteps of recent innovation platforms and have set out to prove that if everyone gave one penny, it could change a lot.

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