Raising Money for a Startup? Why Washington Matters More Than You Think
As a venture investor, I’m often asked what insights or advice I have for entrepreneurs starting to build new companies. These days, it’s simple: What happens in Washington matters.
For many young CEOs, it’s a tough sell. Consumed each day with improving their products, building management teams and developing market strategies, I understand the aversion they may have to following the partisan bickering and old-school politicking – let alone dirtying their own hands with it. The reality, however, is that government policies have a profound impact – both positive and negative – on a young company’s prospects for growth.
In recent years, the trend has tilted toward the negative. A perfect storm of market developments and regulatory reactions have coalesced to restrict emerging growth companies’ access to the public capital they need to innovate, hire employees and grow revenue. At the same time, restrictions on financial communications have made it more difficult for these companies to tell their stories to investors, and more difficult for investors who are interested in emerging growth IPOs to get the information they need to make sound investment decisions.
These developments are directly impacting how entrepreneurs build their companies, and they are steering many of them way from initial public offerings. The effect on the IPO market has been drastic – even here in New England. From 1992 to 2001, 185 New England-based companies went public. From 2002 to 2011, that number dropped to 51. Meanwhile, the average time it takes for a startrup to reach an IPO has grown to more than 10 years.
Today, however, President Obama will sign the Jumpstarting Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act, which aims to reverse these trends. Advocated strongly by the National Venture Capital Association, it will ease the regulatory burden on emerging growth companies and re-open their access to public capital.
The centerpiece of the JOBS Act is its regulatory “on-ramp” for startups. It gives companies with less than $1 billion in revenue and $700 million in market cap up to five years of relief from the most onerous provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank. This will enable companies to dedicate more money to growing their workforces and revenue in their critical first few years in the public markets, and less to building compliance apparatus.
The JOBS Act also raises the private shareholder limit from 500 to 2,000. This change will enable private companies to continue their growth trajectories without having to enter the public markets before they are ready. And it opens up a whole new funding vehicle, crowdfunding, which will also become possible under the JOBS Act. This section of the law permits companies to raise up to $1 million in funds with minimal registration with the SEC.
Finally, the JOBS Act will improve the flow of information about emerging young companies to investors, making them more visible and comprehensible to those who wish to invest in them for the long term. Easing some of the more onerous restrictions imposed by the so-called Spitzer accords will remove unnecessary barriers as companies try to explain their products and their strategies to public investors.
My hope is that the cumulative effect of these changes will draw more of America’s most innovative companies back to the public markets and restore the IPO as the brass ring for entrepreneurs who build new companies from scratch. It’s not an overstatement to say that the global primacy of U.S. innovation and the future growth of our economy and our job market depend on it.
This is especially true here in New England, where the synergies between our academic, software, medical and financial communities have transformed our region into a hub for research- and innovation-driven startup companies and venture capital investing. Our economic future is deeply invested in the success of this sector.
That’s why I am excited for innovative young companies like Imprivata, a healthcare IT company, QD Vision, a nanomaterials products company, and SCVNGR, a social gaming and payments company – just to name a few. They are creating the industries of the future – the development of which will generate jobs and economic growth.
Today their prospects for success look a good bit brighter than they did yesterday, thanks to support from Senators Kerry and Brown, many of our U.S. House caucus, and a few strokes of the President’s pen.
What happens in Washington does matter, and this time it matters for the better.
Paul Maeder is the co-founder of Highland Capital, and chair of the National Venture Capital Association. He is a member of the BostInno Insiders Network.