The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS), passed in early 2012, mandates that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopt rules to help start-ups and small businesses raise capital. Because of this, companies can advertise, market and publicly disclose that they are fundraising. The change also allows companies to raise up to $1 million from a large number of “nonaccredited,” or non-high net worth investors.
Smart Business spoke with Mark L. Skaist, shareholder and co-chair, Corporate and Securities Practice, at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth about what this could mean for businesses.
Why does it matter that companies can advertise that they’re fundraising?
Companies need to either register their securities offering with the SEC or find an exemption from registration. Registration is often prohibitively expensive for start-ups, so most emerging companies rely on an exemption from registration, the most common of which is Rule 506 under Regulation D. This permits sales of an unlimited dollar amount of securities to an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 nonaccredited investors. However, in order to rely on this exemption, companies had been prohibited from offering or selling securities through any form of general solicitation or general advertisements.
By allowing companies to advertise their securities offerings to the general public, companies should have a bigger pool from which to solicit investments.
There are, however, two conditions companies must meet in order to use general solicitation and advertisement and sell securities under Rule 506. Namely, all purchasers in the offering must be accredited, which for natural persons generally means net worth in excess of $1 million, or annual income of at least $200,000. Also, the company must take ‘reasonable steps’ to verify that the purchasers are accredited.
How are companies supposed to verify that a purchaser is accredited?
The SEC has said that companies need to make an objective determination in the context of the given facts and circumstances. It has come out with a nonexclusive list of verification methods that can be considered ‘reasonable steps.’ The specific methods and types of information the SEC considers sufficient include written representations of investors combined with two years of federal tax returns; bank statements combined with credit reports; and written confirmation from a broker, attorney, investment adviser or accountant.
How are the proposed rules regarding crowdfunding supposed to work?
These proposed rules provide that companies may sell up to $1 million of securities during any 12-month period to accredited and unaccredited investors. They also limit annual crowdfunding investments by investors with annual income or net worth below $100,000 to the greater of $2,000 or 5 percent of the investor’s annual income or net worth. For investors with annual income or net worth in excess of $100,000, annual crowdfunding investments cannot exceed 10 percent of their annual income or net worth.
There are also proposed initial and annual filing requirements by the company doing crowdfunding financing, which may include financial statements, a business plan and tax returns. Companies can use intermediaries, such as brokers and funding portals, and may not advertise the offering other than to provide a notice directing potential investors to the intermediary.
Based on the proposed rules, which require that companies raising between $100,000 and $500,000 through crowdfunding provide reviewed financials, and companies raising more than $500,000 provide audited financials, it’s likely that the accounting fees alone are going to be a significant roadblock to many small companies relying on this exemption.
While it seems steps have been taken toward making it easier for start-ups and emerging companies to raise money, time will tell whether they have any real impact. In the meantime, businesses are popping up that are looking to get involved with these types of offerings, either by verifying that investors are accredited or by setting up funding portals for crowdfunding. ●
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