Tag: Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

Texas Proposes Equity-based Crowdfunding Rules

Founder of Silicon Hills News

Crowdfunding Photo licensed from iStockphotos.com

Crowdfunding Photo licensed from iStockphotos.com

In Austin, one of the big issues facing startups, particularly in the technology industry, is lack of access to capital.

Last year, Austin companies received $626 million in venture capital, or 49 percent of the venture capital dollars for Texas, said Michele Skelding, senior vice president of global technology strategies at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“That still represents just 2 percent of the nation’s venture capital,” Skelding said. “So we’re hungry for capital.”

Equity-based crowdfunding may help meet that need.

Skelding hosted about 50 people involved in Austin’s startup industry at a roundtable lunch discussion Wednesday focused on newly proposed Texas crowdfunding rules.

Crowdfunding is one of the hottest trends now for entrepreneurs, said Joy Schoffler, owner of Leverage PR and a board member of the Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates.

Soon entrepreneurs will be able to use equity-based crowdfunding to tap into investments from the general public. The U.S. Jobs Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2012, is making that possible. It will begin once the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission issues its final rules governing the practice. So far, the SEC has missed several deadlines to enact the rules.

Meanwhile, Texas and eight other states have proposed regulations that would allow for intrastate crowdfunding.

“The term crowdfunding can really cause some confusion,” Schoffler said.

Several types of crowdfunding exist including reward-based crowdfunding on platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. And individuals can crowdfund for donations on platforms like GoFundMe.com. Some crowdfunding sites like Kiva.org allow people to provide loans to small businesses worldwide. And sites like AngelList.com allow companies to raise funds from accredited investors or individuals who make more than $200,000 annually and have a net worth in excess of $1 million, not including their house.

Crowdfunding conceptBut the ability to raise money from the general public through equity-based crowdfunding is not yet possible in Texas. But in other states like Georgia it is legal. Georgia already passed its own rules allowing for equity-based crowdfunding.

The SEC has 175 pages of rules being proposed to govern equity-based crowdfunding, said John Morgan with the Texas State Securities Board. Texas’ rules would not supersede the SEC rules, but if Texas passes its own crowdfunding rules, the state would allow equity-based crowdfunding before the federal government.

In April, Texas proposed its own equity-based crowdfunding rules. The Texas State House Committee on Investments and Financial Services will hold a hearing on May 21st to discuss the proposed regulations.

“The great thing about the rulemaking process is it’s flexible,” Morgan said. “There’s time to tweak these rules to get the exact right product we want.’’

The proposed Texas regulations let a company raise a maximum of $1 million every 12 months. An accredited investor can invest any amount. But a non-accredited investor can only invest $5,000. They can only invest through a Texas-owned website, known as a crowdfunding portal, which holds the funds in a bank account until the company meets its funding goals.

And all investors must prove they are Texas residents by providing a valid driver’s license or voter registration card. The regulations also require companies looking to raise money to post a detailed business plan, financial statements and other documents including a list of risk factors.

During the roundtable discussion, Ben Dyer, a serial entrepreneur and entrepreneur in residence at the University of Texas, asked about the ability to raise funds from investors in other states.

With the proposed Texas equity crowdfunding rules, all of the investors in a company must reside in Texas, Morgan said.

Shari Wynne, founder of Incubation Station, a consumer products accelerator, expressed concerns about the filing of a business plan and freezing a business outlook for a certain time since so many startups constantly pivot and change.

“There’s any number of things that are shifting with these companies,” she said

Paul Trowe of Replay Games expressed concern about the $5,000 limit per un-accredited investor. He said his company received $650,000 in 30 days on Kickstarter in 2012 and multiple donors gave more than $10,000 each.

“My questions is why would I want to do equity based crowdfunding with such strict regulations when I can go onto Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or any of the other platforms and not have such restrictions?”

Jason Seats of Techstars said Kickstarter and IndieGoGo work well for certain types of businesses focused on consumer products. It’s more difficult for companies working on enterprise sales tools to raise money from rewards-based crowdfunding, he said.

The legislation isn’t just aimed at tech companies, said Nathan Roach, an attorney with the RAM Law Firm. It’s designed to help all small and medium sized businesses statewide that need access to capital to expand, he said.

The crowdfunding portals help standardize the process of raising money from investors, Roach said.

Investors need to be able to trust the information coming to them, Roach said. The crowdfunding portals provide an entrepreneur with the necessary tools to raise money in compliance with the securities regulations, he said.

The portals also have to vet investors to make sure they are qualified as residents under the Texas rules.

Rick Timmins, chairman of the Central Texas Angel Network, said his members would not invest in equity-based crowdfunding ventures because of the regulations and disclosure requirements.

He said he sees a bifurcation of offerings when equity-based crowdfunding is enacted. Companies will either go down the path of traditional fundraising from accredited investors or they will choose to do equity-based crowdfundng from non-accredited investors, Timmins said.

“I don’t see it being co-mingled at all,” Timmins said.

CTAN is one of the most active angel networks in the country. The organization’s members invested $9.7 million in 33 companies last year.

Crowdfunding is one more tool in the arsenal of tools that are being provided to small and medium sized business throughout Texas, said Amir Mirabi, director of the governor’s office for small business economic development.

Crowdfunding provides more ways for the entrepreneurs who are building things to get close to their customers, said Gordon Walton with Gaming SIG in Austin. Kickstarter has been the most successful platform for game companies. They make up the largest category on Kickstarter, followed by film and TV, Walton said.

But equity based crowdfunding for the gaming industry is going to be a challenge, Walton said. The regulations need to be simple and friction free, he said.

“We would love to have our consumers become investors if they can overcome the challenges,” Walton said. “But the hurdles are high.”

A conference on crowdfunding is being held later this month in Austin. The CFGE Crowdfund Real Estate Summit and Entrepreneur Summit will be held May 29th and 30th at the Hilton Austin.


Why Austin? At #SXSW

Reporter with Silicon Hills News
DSC05805-1The Austin Startup session on Why Austin skewed aspirational Saturday morning as Bijoy Goswami of Bootstrap Austin and Kevin Koym of Tech Ranch explained that Austin is the city where you can “be yourself,” where people “look you in the eye and smile at you” and where the culture invites diversity of ideas and interests.
To make that last point, Koym discussed different technologies being explored in Austin from Arduino to Wiki Weapon to E-nose which detects and analyzes the chemical makeup of an odor to self monitoring devices.
“There are so many ideas that you wouldn’t see in Silicon Valley because it’s so expensive there you can’t take the risk,” Koym said. “Someone comes up with great idea and you have five teams doing the same thing. What a waste of effort.”
Goswami pointed out that, in Austin, there are myriad experiences to sample and, “if you like it, you hold onto it. If you go to the Continental Club and try two-stepping and you like it, the next time you go back you have a community.”
The session wasn’t entirely aspirational. Susan Davenport of the Chamber of Commerce and Jim Butler, manager at the City of Austin shared all the statistics so often quoted about the strength of the local economy and the growing resources for the entrepreneurial community.
One attendee expressed interest in moving his 12-person company to Austin and asked what first steps would be. Davenport explained that the Chamber can walk new businesses through all the steps from getting registered with the state, looking for office space and real estate for employees as well as introducing business owners to the community, which includes 75 organizations to support entrepreneurship.
“We find out what your needs are and come up with a strategy to meet those needs,” she said. Butler added that part of the city’s job was to help entrepreneurs with information about mentoring and financial resources.
Another question was posed by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur inspired to possibly move to Austin but wondering about VC opportunities and recruiting of talent. Davenport talked about the chamber’s effort to recruit talent and the fact that 72 countries attend SXSW and “we’re taking resumes all through the conference.”
Koym pointed out that Austin is six hours from Monterrey Mexico where development help can be found for $10 an hour and, from his experience, “Mexican developers kick ass.”
The VC question received a more fudged answer.
“We don’t have as strong a picture in the VC class,” Koym said. “I do believe we have more millionaires here per capita than almost anyplace else…if you’re looking for angel investment you can find that. It’s not necessarily in a formalized group…but you can find the guys who say ‘I’m going to take the risk with you.’”

Austin Chamber’s New A-List of Startups to Watch

Stacy Zoern, CEO of Community Cars, Inc., runs a car manufacturing business out of Pflugerville.
But that’s not the most remarkable part. Zoern, who uses a wheelchair to get around, wanted to find a car that would provide independence to wheelchair users.
Online, she found the Kenguru, an electric smart car. Only problem was the company ran out of money and shut down operations. So she raised $1.4 million and partnered with the company and they moved the defunct car operations from Hungary to Texas and began manufacturing the bright yellow smart cars in 2010.
That innovative and entrepreneurial spirit earned Zoern’s Community Cars Inc. a spot on the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s A-List, which recognized this week 28 innovative technology startups.
Zoern’s is the only car company to make the list.
The list is meant to shine a spotlight on some of the region’s most innovative technology startups that are seeking funding. To compile the list, the chamber’s tech partnership sought input from investors.
“Austin is rich with innovative startups that are primed for growth and simply need exposure and, most importantly, capital, to transform potential into reality,” Susan Davenport, senior vice president of Global Technology Strategies for the Austin Chamber, said in a news release.
Silicon Hills News has done profiles of several companies on the list including InfoChimps, BlackLocus, Calxeda, MapMyFitness, MassRelevance and Gazzang.

This slideshare contains screen grabs of the homepages of the 28 companies that made the Austin Chamber’s list for 2012.

AustinTechSource launches

Photo by John R. Rogers with Viusalist Images in Austin

To attract tech talent, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce with Experience Inc. today launched AustinTechSource, an online talent community.
The focus of the site is to attract mid-to-senior level technology workers to the Austin region. The site allows employers to post openings, review resumes and connect directly with qualified job-seekers. The site has 2,000 jobs seekers and 37 companies including Bazaarvoice, Microsoft and Google registered so far.
“Economic growth flourishes when employers are able to couple a favorable business climate with the right talent pool,” Clarke Heidrick, Board Chair, Austin Chamber, said in a news statement. “As a new talent initiative of the Chamber, AustinTechSource will support all Austin companies, big and small, with their goals of efficiently finding topnotch, experienced tech talent.”

Austin has 200 companies in the clean energy business

At the Clean Energy Venture Summit 2011, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Director for Clean Energy, Jose Beceiro says Austin has more than 200 companies involved in the clean technology industry. It’s a growing area and more companies are relocating to the city all the time, he said.
In fact, Complete Energy Systems, based in Boca Raton, just signed an agreement with Pflugerville City Council to move into a new energy park. The company, which only has eight employees, says it plans to hire up to 200 employees by 2014.

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