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Editor's Note: The following guest post comes to us from Mark Easley and Steve Reaser of the NC JOBS Act team. They write in to explain the North Carolina JOBS Act, which is currently being considered by state legislature. Reaser and Easley are involved with the legislation, and provide a behind-the-scenes look at how the act is progressing and its main points. Further details about the North Carolina Jump-Start Our Business Start-ups Act (NC JOBS Act) can be found on their North Carolina JOBS Act of 2013 Blog.
A safe, fair, and easy-to-implement version of investment crowdfunding may soon be a reality for North Carolina start-ups and small business.
A new intrastate investment crowdfunding exemption is moving through the North Carolina legislature. The North Carolina Jump-Start Our Business Start-ups Act of 2013 (NC JOBS Act) was passed by the NC House Commerce and Jobs Committee with near unanimous support, and is waiting for action by the House Finance Committee.
A full vote of the NC House and NC Senate will follow, and the goal is to have the Act signed into law by the Governor by the end of June. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Tom Murry, Tim D. Moffit, Phil Shepard, and Kelley E. Hastings.
A team of local entrepreneurs and investors came together and looked closely at crowdfunding exemptions that have already been implemented in Kansas and Georgia, as well as the federal JOBS Act passed last year. Working together with State Representative Tom Murry, the Secretary of State Securities Division regulators, and the State Bar Association Securities Committee, the team created the North Carolina JOBS Act of 2013 by selecting the best features of each exemption, while avoiding the problems associated with the stalled and complex federal JOBS Act.
Start-up companies and small businesses play a critical role in creating new jobs and growing the economy. Crowdfunding legislation is one part of Representative Murry’s commitment to North Carolina small business and entrepreneurs.
“I think this idea is long overdue. Crowdfunding received bipartisan support in Congress, and I expect it will get the same here in North Carolina. I’d like to thank my co-sponsors and look forward to seeing the Governor sign this into law this session,” said Representative Murry.
North Carolina entrepreneur and attorney Nick Bhargava added, “This bill will help start-ups and small business in North Carolina get the financing they need.” Bhargava (along with author Reaser) provided guidance to lawmakers and regulators about the federal JOBS Act and has applied that expertise to the NC JOBS Act.
The North Carolina approach to investment crowdfunding has been called “Brilliant!” and “worthy of support” by prominent national crowdfunding and legal expert William Carleton in his post about the bill called “5 Ways a North Carolina Bill puts the Crowd back in Crowdfunding.” The NC JOBS Act is also supported by NC Congressman Patrick McHenry, the original sponsor of the federal JOBS Act.
The NC JOBS Act has a number of provisions that allow start-ups and small businesses in North Carolina to raise money via equity or debt using investment crowdfunding:
First, what it is not. It is NOT a radical change to the North Carolina or Federal securities laws.
Investment crowdfunding is also NOT like Kickstarter. If it was, investors might think they will be able to just go up to a crowdfunding website and click on “Buy” and get some shares in a start-up. That is not the case, far from it.
So what is it? It is a definition of a new securities law exemption that will make it much easier for small business in our state to find investors and sell stock or issue debt in their company using investment crowdfunding. The North Carolina model is similar to the existing Reg D 506 offerings used by thousands of start-ups and small businesses every year, but with a couple of new ideas allowed by the exemption:
The exemption allows non-accredited North Carolina investors to buy equity or debt offerings from the North Carolina issuer provided the disclosure, reporting, registration, and limits described in the exemption are followed.
The North Carolina issuer is allowed to promote the offering via the web or any other method provided the disclosure, reporting, registration, and limits described in the exemption are followed.
That’s it. Very simple, and it’s a model that is well understood by the start-up investment and services community. The rest of the bill is just describing the disclosure requirements, reporting requirements, registration requirements, and limits that will make this exemption safe and fair for both North Carolina small business and North Carolina small investors. These protection requirements have been reviewed and enhanced by the North Carolina Secretary of State's Securities Division, the NC Bar Association Securities Committee, and crowdfunding industry experts including the NC JOBS crowdfunding team.
1. Sooner: Investment crowdfunding will be available in North Carolina well before it is available nationwide. The regulations for the national crowdfunding exemption are likely to remain unavailable until at least early 2014, with lots of complex implementation time required on top of that. In contrast, since NC JOBS is well defined and much easier to implement, we expect to see companies raising money under NC JOBS as soon as this summer.
2. Cheaper: Raising money under the national crowdfunding exemption is expected to be rather expensive; some estimates suggest that as much as 15% of the money raised will go to “overhead” expenses rather than being used to grow the business.
There are two ways the NC JOBS Exemption keeps costs down:
A North Carolina start-up or small business that wants to create an offering will still normally want to retain the services of a good North Carolina securities attorney to help implement the offering terms and documentation, a good accountant to help generate financial statements, a North Carolina bank to handle the offering escrow, and a good crowdfunding platform that is compliant with NC JOBS. But because of standardization, the cost of raising money should be in line with or even less than the cost of Reg D 506 type offerings.
3. Simpler: The amount that can be invested by any non-accredited person is a flat $2,000.
This is much more straightforward and safer than the national version, which uses a sliding scale based on investor income or net worth -- this could lead to a situation where startup companies are forced to handle highly sensitive financial information of potential investors in order to ensure that they do not lose their exemption.
With NC JOBS, issuing companies simply have to make sure to accept only $2,000 or less from each non-accredited investor.
4. Angel-Friendly: Accredited investors are excluded from this $2,000 cap -- they can invest as much as they choose.
When you look at the data from countries where investment crowdfunding is already legal (it is a spectacular success in the UK), you find that most successful raises are accomplished through a combination of many small ($1,000 to $2,500) investments along with a few more substantial sums ($25,000 to $100,000).
In order to support this “80/20 rule” effect, a crowdfunding exemption must support both smaller non-accredited investors as well as more experienced “angel” investors.
A company raising money should benefit from a mix of smaller and larger investors as well -- your “team” has just grown to a whole new level as you can tap into a crowd of passionate supporters as well as some more experienced and connected investors.
About the Authors and the NC JOBS Team: Mark Easley has been advising startups in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina since 2000 after a 25 year technology career in engineering, marketing, and sales in Silicon Valley. Mark has experience in the semiconductor business and related software and development tool products. In addition to his startup advisor activities, he has been on the executive board of a Raleigh/Durham area angel investor group and is a member of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.
Entrepreneur and investor, Steve Reaser has been active in crowdfunding since November 2011. Co-founder of Funding Launchpad -- an equity and rewards crowdfunding platform -- and founding member of the Crowdfunding Professionals Association (CfPA) and active member of the CrowdFunding Intermediary Regulatory Advocates (CFIRA). Prior to Funding Launchpad, Steve co-founded an educational technology company, helping grow it to over one million paid users. Mechanical Engineer, Cornell.