Even though Federal regulators haven’t revealed the final shape of new equity crowdfunding rules under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, it potentially opens the wildest gold rush since California circa 1849.
No one knows exactly how it will play out, but that’s not deterring Louisville’s business and economic development leaders from positioning the city for the coming investment revolution.
Entrepreneur/investor Kent Oyler organized the inaugural Louisville Equity Crowdfunding Committee (a working title) yesterday at his OPM Entrepreneurial Services offices.
The idea is to make the city a national equity crowdfund investing player when huge numbers of small investors and startup businesses enter the arena via Internet platforms.
“There’s $30 trillion locked up in private savings. That equals 10 times more than the amount of investment capital (in markets) today,” Oyler said. Oyler’s goal is to create a group to share expertise, and to support entrepreneurs, investors and service providers on the way to harnessing the new growth capital.
The first meeting drew 15 people including representatives from Greater Louisville Inc., the University of Louisville and the Fischer Administration, longtime entrepreneurs and investors.
The Obama Administration and Securities and Exchange Commission officials are expected to issue final regulations by the end of 2013, eliminating some of the barriers prohibiting startup companies from soliciting the public for capital via Internet fundraising platforms. The changes likely will move early stage startups to a virtual potential investor base that theoretically reaches 310 million Americans from the old friends and family model.
“We won’t know till Q3 or Q4 the final SEC regulations,” Oyler told the assembled. “Should we take the first steps now toward making Louisville a hotbed of ECF activity?
With a few reservations and caveats, the overall sentiment was that Louisville can and should join innovation centers such as Austin, Texas in getting out of the blocks early.
Most in attendance said they foresee the changes attracting people who currently are throwing billions at businesses and nonprofits on Kickstarter and other crowd funding platforms. Right now, federal securities law prohibits startups from giving donors equity stakes in return for capital.
Even with altruism as the engine, crowd funding platforms have become significant capital-raising engines.
In 2012, Kickstarter attracted more than 2 million backers who pledged a combined $319 million – 221 percent more than 2011, with backers increasing 238 percent.
Earlier this year, Louisvillian Tyler Deeb raised more than 2,500 percent of his Kickstarter $6,250 ask, raising a total of $146,596 to fund his Deck of Playing Cards project.
The project has since become Misc. Goods Company.
Under existing federal investment regulations, Deeb cannot pay out a return to “investors,” but is limited to giving donors premiums – in his case, decks of his cards and tee-shirts – in return for their capital. Also, startups and small businesses in need of expansion capital can’t do what Deeb did … advertise for investors.
That’s all about to change.
Early outlines show the JOBS Act’s Crowdfunding investing exemption creating a “bifurcated approach” to crowdfunding, said Ted Smith, Louisville’s director of Economic Development and Innovation.
In essence, there will be Class A investors who are designated now as “accredited” under Regulation D of the 1934 U.S. Exchange Act. Accredited investors must meet certain requirements such as $1 million in net worth, or $200,000 in income for at least two consecutive years.
The JOBS Act crowdfunding mechanism would add Class B investors to the mix, classes of investors who don’t meet accredited requirements and who could invest no more than 10 percent of their total earnings, based on total annual income or net worth.
Numbers such as these had group members yesterday comparing the proposed transition to equity crowdfunding to a new Oklahoma land rush.
The 90-minute discussion focused largely on anticipated problems, such as fraud, and to what extent LECC wants to play, including – but not limited to – creating a Louisville-focused Internet equity crowdfunding platform.
Though innumberable details remain to be worked out, the consensus was that Louisville can become an equity crowdfunding center.
“We’ve got to be in the game,” said Vickie Yates Brown, president and CEO of Nucleus Innovation Park, the University of Louisville health science business park that seeks to recruit early stage companies.
Former Brandeis School of Law Dean Jim Chen noted that Louisville – a “bourbon and bats” economy – is an unlikely candidate to become a center of digital capital-creation expertise. But, Chen added, in 1975, there was no indication that Palo Alto and what is now Silicon Valley was poised to become the United States’ center of venture capital and technology innovation either.
Oyler agreed that Louisville is essentially an Old Money town. “But that old money is in new hands,” he said. “Just in the last few years, there’s been a huge flip in who holds the wealth.
“There’s no indication that (Internet equity crowdfunding) is not going to happen. The question is, ‘Will we be prepared when it gets here?’ ”
Future meetings will focus on the next step toward creating a more formal organization, including monitoring developments in JOBS Act policy and the development of local resources.
To that end, the next LECC meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wed., Feb. 6.
Attendees at the inaugural Louisville Equity Crowdfunding Committee included:
Deborah Boyer, independent consultant and entrepreneur
Vickie Yates Brown, president and CEO of Nucleus Innovation Park, the University of Louisville
Charles Buddeke, investor
Vik Chadha, executive vice president, Venture Development, Nucleus
Co-Founder at Backupify, Inc.
Co-Founder at Scalable Ventures, LLC
Bill Dawson, manager, University Commercialization- Enterprise Corp at Greater Louisville Inc.
Joe Dover, director of sales and marketing, OPM
Bobby Ferreri, executive director, Enterprise Corp
Charles Moyer, retired dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at U of L.
Kent Oyler, founder and managing partner of OPM
Tony Schy, CEO of Velocity SI, a new Southern Indiana startup incubator and co-founder of Jeffersonville-based health care auditing firm Chapman Kelly Inc.
Ted Smith, director, Department of Economic Growth and Innovation at Louisville Metro Government
Mary Thorsby, CEO at iList Media, and corporate communications consultant at Thorsby + Associates
Phoebe Wood, principal, CompaniesWood, an angel investor and former Brown-Forman CFO.