A lot has been said about why equity crowdfunding for non-accredited investors hasn’t caught on. “It’s off to a relatively slow start,” said Dr. Richard Swart, CFO of NextGen Crowdfunding. “It’s actually a slower start than those of us in the industry expected it to grow.”
One of the major culprits for this slow start has been a lack of awareness on the part of both issuers and investors. Title III of the JOBS Act, which empowered non-accredited investors to get into the equity crowdfunding game, was passed back in May 2016. And yet, according NextGen’a Title III issuers listing, only 60 companies have signed up to raise up to $1 million in the first place.
However, issuers shouldn’t be painted as the sole hitch in an otherwise perfect investing system. Potential investors — which, under title III of the JOBS Act, means just about anyone — haven’t exactly been flocking towards equity crowdfunding ,either. According to Swart, the number of people investing in equity crowdfunding projects under title III is somewhere on the order of 10,000.
The evolution of crowdfunding, then, is largely dependent on bridging this substantial awareness gap, and crowdfunding platforms have already begun to attack the problem from different angles. Bankroll Women, an equity crowdfunding platform for products launched by women entrepreneurs, believes that the answer to greater awareness for equity crowdfunding in general is in-person networking.
On the flip-side, other crowdfunding platforms are betting on better technology to move the needle on title III offerings. According to Newchip, a private equity investment marketplace launching in February 2017, one of the key components missing from title III equity crowdfunding is an intuitive way to grow communities around campaigns. The company is pitching its marketplace toolbox, which matches users with their interests and helps them create and manage their own portfolios, will fill that need.
“We are building a community around private equity crowdfunding to form an investment marketplace composed of like-minded individuals, who are participating by investing in companies they can believe in,” said Ryan Ràfols, Newchip’s CEO.
Entrepreneurs are also an integral part of the company’s plans. “Kickstarter and Indiegogo became household names because they built something that gave entrepreneurs the tools to raise funding and engage their audiences,” Jason Schenker, Newchip’s CFO, noted. The company hopes its marketplace will help private equity entrepreneurs replicate Kickstarter and Indiegogo’s success. The latter could soon find itself on Newchip’s platform – Indiegogo launched its own equity crowdfunding service on November 15, 2016.
Whatever the strategy of equity crowdfunding platforms to get more issuers and investors onboard, an important stage that all proponents of title III will have to go through is the passage of time. “There was a lot of confusion about what was permissible activity for marketing, which are getting resolved with the FDC,” explained NextGen’s Swart. In addition, “FINRA has been slow-walking some of the platform applications, trying to keep the number of portals down.”
There are other challenges, of course, that simply aren’t resolvable. For instance, investors face a relatively high risk when investing through equity crowdfunding, and much lower risks when they invest in an ETF. Moreover, with roboadvisors growing and new offerings being launched, proactive equity crowdfunding is in danger of becoming a marginalized form of investment.
Still, if title III crowdfunding campaigns are successful in growing and maintaining passionate communities, these platforms could have a bright future ahead of them. NextGen isn’t put off by the initial numbers. “Compared to venture capital, it’s a tiny emerging market,” said Swart, “but having [around] 10,000 people within the first 6 months feels like we’re off to a good start to me.”