It’s been18 months since the final rule of the JOBS Act went into effect, allowing equity crowdfunding. In those 18 months, everything proponents of the rule said would happen (and none of what the detractors said would happen) has become a reality. Over $82 million dollars of previously untapped capital from local investors has been committed to over 650 companies. No fraud has been perpetrated. And everyone (including investors, the Government, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the media) has more insight into the private capital markets than has ever existed before, bringing a new level of transparency, accountability, and data analysis. This is the time to raise the maximum a company can raise from $1 million to $20 million.
Why? Entrepreneurs all across America are finally raising funds faster than they could through traditional channels. Investors now have a transparent and efficient way to support local businesses that they love and believe in by receiving information about these offerings online. Regulators have transparency into the private capital markets, an auditable trail of disclosures, and a digital footprint full of data. And our government has a jobs engine, a way to promote women- and minority-run businesses, an economic booster, and a tax engine. Not bad!
So if it’s working, why raise the cap to $20 million? Let me explain:
1. We can make it a bigger jobs engine. Data from companies that have been successful with an equity crowdfunding offering shows they hire on average 2.7 people within 90 days of a $300,000 raise. That’s about one job per every $100,000 raised. If we increase the cap to $20 million, that could equate to 200 new jobs for each issuer that raises $20 million. So raising the cap would make equity crowdfunding the Main Street jobs engine we expected it to be.
2. It will provide regulators with more transparency. Companies that raise money via equity crowdfunding file specific disclosures about their businesses, their operations, and their financial wellbeing. All of this is digitally recorded, and For the first time in 80 years, regulators can actually see where capital is flowing in the private capital markets, which can allow them to further protect investors. Increasing the limit to $20 million will attract larger firms that seek more capital down this public path. This means regulators AND investors will have real-time actionable visibility into a larger part of the private capital markets.
3. Startups can make a bigger impact. $1 million dollars is nice, but consider how much more a company can do with $20 million. Increasing the cap doesn’t mean every company would get $20 million (currently only about 50 percent of companies are successful with their campaigns and raise on average $300,000), but those that are worthy and can win over the support of the crowd can take on much greater goals.
4. Communities will get more engaged. Want to know how to engage local communities? Make them investors in the local businesses that are not just mom and pop shops but large employers and high-growth startups. They will have a vested stake in the performance of those companies, and by default these businesses will benefit from the marketing power of the community. Increasing the cap to $20 million gives local investors a greater stake in their local communities. Research shows that money invested locally circulates in the local economy rather than being sucked out.
5. We’ll see gender and minority benefits. Data my firm has been collecting proves that equity crowdfunding is democratizing access to capital among women- and minority-founded businesses. Increasing the cap to $20 million means more capital to this underserved group of founders.
6. Investors can diversify their portfolios. Increasing the cap to $20 million will give investors the ability to diversify more into their own communities. This doesn’t mean they should take all their investments out of the public markets, but why not put it into a local company that might be less likely to be impacted by fluctuating oil and commodity prices?
7. More data analytics. More data online means more opportunity to analyze it and present it to consumers of media. This data analytics can educate new issuers, give investors more opportunities to compare companies in similar industries and show our government where the greatest economic impact is taking place.
8. It will fix Title IV, Tier I of the JOBS Act. Title IV, Tier I allows companies to raise up to $20 million online from both retail and accredited investors but requires state review. Getting one state approval is slow and cumbersome. 50 is nearly impossible and insanely costly. Increasing the limit to $20 million will solve this problem and still provide state regulators information, disclosures, and data on all companies raising money from investors in their state.
9. It will allow the platforms to experience their true potential. Platforms are playing the role of intermediary incredibly well. As an extra benefit, they are acting as a vetting mechanism, only listing deals that meet minimum criteria and working to make sure issuers provide full and robust disclosures. Increasing the limit to $20 million will further enable these platforms to play this vital role and earn the fees to help support their operations.
10. Address the emerging blockchain/ICO nightmares. Let’s face it, there is a lot of uncertainty about blockchain and ICOs from regulators and Washington. This is particularly true given the amount of capital flowing through this unregulated industry. Increasing the cap to $20 million will allow ICO issuers that wish to sell security tokens on the blockchain a regulated process to follow. The emerging ICO marketplace would have an approved regulatory process to follow, giving blockchain startups the opportunity to sell their security tokens and give investors confidence that they aren’t risking their capital without some recourse.
Let’s not wait. The SEC should update the amount now or Congress should intervene to do so.
Sherwood Neiss is a partner at Crowdfund Capital Advisors. He helped lead the U.S. fight to legalize debt and equity based crowdfunding and coauthored the book Crowdfund Investing for Dummies.