A relatively recent form of raising money to start or grow a business is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is crowdsourcing for money. With crowdfunding, you take in money from a large number of people, each of whom contributes a relatively small amount. Lots of people each invest small amounts of money, thereby spreading the risk of any one business failure among a large number of people and providing anyone who wants to be in the game the opportunity to share in the upside of a big startup win.
While this sounds logical enough, taking money from others in exchange for a piece of your business is a highly regulated activity in the U.S. So many scam artists have fleeced so many widows, children and inexperienced investors out of their life savings to fund non-existent or otherwise fraudulent businesses that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has made it very, very challenging to accept money in exchange for equity in your business.
The SEC restricts private investments for equity to people who are “accredited investors.” Accredited investors are high-net-worth individuals and people who can prove they are sophisticated, informed investors. The pool of accredited investors is not tiny, but it’s not the millions to billions of people who are available via internet crowdfunding.
The SEC is currently reviewing their restrictions and may authorize an officially sanctioned form of crowdfunding. In the meantime, it is caveat emptor, meaning it is incumbent upon you to ensure that any money you take from anyone in exchange for equity is in compliance with any and all applicable regulations.