While working in venture capital, Catherine Yushina and Grace Leung Shing noticed one kind of company that kept getting rejected: the stable, promising business looking to expand that just didn’t have grand ambitions to take over the tech world.
“We saw so many companies getting a ‘no’ and what puzzled us was they had existing customers, they had revenues, they were growing fast and needed capital to expand,” Yushina said. “They were getting a ‘no’ because they weren’t going to be the next Facebook, and that’s what funds are looking for.”
Those businesses were getting passed over even though they would’ve been a safe bet for investors. They just wouldn’t bring in huge returns or they were simply in an industry not of much interest to Silicon Valley.
“They were getting a ‘no’ because they weren’t going to be the next Facebook.”
Instead of venture capitalists, Yushina and Leung Shing thought that maybe regular people would be the best investors for these kinds of businesses—which led to Startwise.
Regular people, however, aren’t ideal investors. Most crowdfunding investments offer equity, which is a complex holding that can take years to offer any return. So instead of equity, Startwise offers a revenue share. Individuals invest in projects on Startwise, and when those projects generate money, investors get a piece of it.
Instead of supporting new ideas like on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, investors on Startwise are getting in on a funding round for a business that’s already operating. The platform lets small-time investors put as little as $100 behind businesses they support.
“It’s easy for people without a heavy background in finance,” Yushina said. “They’re supporting things they can understand and it doesn’t require that they understand equity or a valuation.”
Co-founders Grace Leung Shing and Catherine Yushina.
It works like a crowdfunding campaign, but instead of getting a t-shirt or some other perk depending on how much you give, you get a return on your investment if and when the business earns it back.
Revenue-sharing investments aren’t new, but aren’t usually found in low-level investing. In Startwise’s version, investors don’t have to be accredited, although the platform is. And the minimum $100 investment is a tiny amount compared to what’s required for other revenue-sharing models.
Startwise’s investment options are focused on consumer businesses, and not necessarily tech companies. Its first two approved projects are a pet care company and a shoe company seeking to raise $90,000 and $150,000. The minimum goal for businesses on Startwise is $30,000.
For business owners, it’s another way to raise money rather than taking out a bank loan. And the platform gives more options to businesses that aren’t interested in going public or getting acquired—whether because they want to pass it down to the next generation or they don’t want a social mission diluted.
“The equity model wasn’t a good fit for those businesses—they’d need to IPO or get acquired,” Yushina said. “A better way is for those businesses to raise money from their immediate network.”
Since Startwise is licensed, it does due diligence on which businesses can start crowdfunding on its platform. It reviews their financials and background information on the companies and their founders. Importantly, the platform wants to make sure businesses are turning to crowdfunding as a way to grow, not as a last resort to keep a business afloat.
Investing in a crowdfunded project is free, and businesses pay 8 percent of the amount they raised once they hit their minimum goal.
Startwise’s model helps ensure geographical diversity too, since businesses don’t have to be based in Silicon Valley to raise money.
There are more businesses set to go live with crowdfunding campaigns after the first two test the waters this week.
“Our mission is bridging the gap for the business owners trying to raise money and for people to be able to have access to investing,” Yushina said.
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