know before you grow

Houston entrepreneur gives his advice on navigating the evolving fundraising process

From debt and equity funds to crowdfunding and angel investment, here's what you need to know about the fundraising world from an expert who's in it. Getty Images

New businesses face many challenges when getting started, but perhaps none are as challenging and intimidating as how to secure the funding needed to start and grow your business.

Funding options have evolved considerably over the past several years, providing business owners with more choices than ever to fund their business. Founders should not just think about selecting one option but how to combine multiple options into a funding strategy that best suits their business needs.

Over 600,000 new businesses are started in the United States each year, and even with more fundraising options, we are increasingly seeing businesses struggle to get funded, so businesses need to be smart about putting together a funding strategy.

The traditional way to fund a business
With that piece of advice out of the way, there are two primary categories of capital: debt and equity. For your business, debt options may include personal loans, business loans, asset-based loans, revenue participation notes and factoring (where you sell your receivables at a discount in order to collect cash now).

Debt is great as it means you're not giving away equity, but, at the same time, the loan must eventually be paid back (with interest) and some businesses such as technology start-ups may not generate the cash flow needed to make this happen from day one. Loans can also be difficult to access or may require the business owner to put up a personal guarantee, although there are organizations that facilitate this such as Small Business Association. If this is the best route for your business, take the time to find the right lending organization.

Equity options include common stock and preferred stock, as well as convertible note instruments that are initially treated as debt but "convert" to equity at a future financing event. Unlike traditional equity, convertible note instruments allow you to delay establishing a valuation for your business, which can be challenging for startups. SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) and KISS (Keep It Simple Securities) Notes are emerging securities which are less frequent but are seen as more Founder friendly and are similar in some ways to convertible notes.

There are a lot of business owners that are cautious of giving away equity (and rightly so) but with the right advice on structuring securities and valuation, this can be a great source of capital, as well as knowledge and support if you find the right investors and partners.

Sources of funding for both debt and equity include friends, family, banks, angel investors, venture capital, private equity, and organizations such as the Small Business Association. The accessibility of these various options will depend on the maturity of your business, your industry and the needs of your company. Often, early-stage companies may source "seed" funding from friends, family, and angel investors, while venture capital, private equity, and debt become increasingly accessible at later stages as revenues grow.

How is funding changing?
Options for funding a business and investing have evolved considerably in recent years. Crowdsourcing, which can be defined as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, has taken the world by storm. Companies such as Uber, AirBnb, and Grubhub all leverage "the crowd" to provide a service.

Crowdsourcing has made its way to finance as well, where companies such as GoFundMe and KickStarter have provided new tools to fund charitable causes and projects. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) of 2012 set in motion a series of regulatory changes that allowed anybody (not just high wealth individuals) to invest in private businesses and provided crowdfunding as an option to raise capital for small businesses.

Online crowdfunding portals such as LetsLaunch, SeedInvest, and WeFunder offer both debt and equity options for investors to invest in your business. Not only can this be a great way to build up a loyal customer base, test your product and get some great marketing exposure but it can also be a great way to supplement the traditional funding strategies mentioned above.

However you choose to fund your business, take the time to work through the options (both traditional and emerging) and find the right option or combination of options to meet your business needs.

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Nick Carnrite is managing director of Carnrite Group and co-founder and CEO of LetsLaunch.

From credit to crowdfunding, startups have more cash flow options now than ever before. Getty Images

When it comes to raising money for your startup, there's plenty of fish in the sea, however, navigating the rough waters can be difficult.

Houston Community College put on a Small Business Summit on June 13 and gathered a group of financial professionals to represent several types of funding options, from venture capital to microlending.

Crowdfunding

The crowdfunding game has changed, says Rhian Davies, business development manager for LetsLaunch, an equity-based crowdfunding tool.

While most people think that donation-based crowdfunding — like GoFundMe or Kickstarter that give you the product or thank-you gift when you give — are the only options, that's not the case. And, investing using these platforms doesn't mean anything to you if the company sees success.

"If it makes it big, you're not going to get anything back," says Davies of these types of platforms.

But the JOBS Act in 2012 changed everything. Now, companies fundraising on crowdfunding sites can trade in equity for funds.

"Previously, investments were reserved for wealthy individuals — accredited individuals — who had a certain amount of money could invest in businesses," says Davies. "Equity crowdfunding opened that up."

With crowdfunding, you can also run other types of fundraising efforts at the same time, spreading out your options.

"It allows (the community) to invest in your business and it allows you to pass the hat and have people come on board," Davies says.

The other benefit to using the LetsLaunch platform is the team assists the startups every step of the way, from uploading a digital pitch deck onto the LetsLaunch platform and preparing paperwork to filing with the SEC.

However, one of the major challenges for startups is deciding what their funding goal is. Davies says you do have to hit a certain funding goal to be able to take that cash home, and for LetsLaunch, they look for that figure to be $10,000 minimum. Anything less than that isn't worth it — from both the LetsLaunch and the startup's perspective. The maximum value for equity crowdfunding is capped at just over $1 million — per the SEC.

Venture capital

VC funding is where most people's minds go when it comes to startup funding. And this type of funding is in an evolution phase too, says Remington Tonar, managing director at The Cannon Houston. While traditional VCs want a three-times return in five to seven years, some firms have more on their minds then just the money.

"There's a new phenomenon in venture where a lot of early stage investors and angel investors are looking at social impact investing," Tonar says. "They want to invest in women- or minority-owned businesses or companies that have a sustainability or social impact component to them. For those investors, the return demands are much more flexible."

Not only are they more flexible on returns, but VCs want more hands-on roles at the companies they invest in. Tonar says venture capitalists don't want to give passive capital.

Another way VCs differ from other types of funding is they are looking for something different in the companies they invest in — they want the next big thing.

"What venture capitalists really look for is disruptive business that are creating value in news ways," Tonar says.

And investments can be industry agnostic — VCs aren't reserved to just tech and computing industries.

"Most people would not have thought the hotel industry was a great industry for venture capital until Airbnb came along," says Tonar. "Most people would not have thought that taxis were a great industry for venture capital until Uber came along."

Fundraising through VC firms is a very personal process — they are investing in you, the founder, just as much as they are investing in the company or idea, Tonar says. You can have a horrible credit history or have declared bankrupt in the past, and while they will find that out, it's not a dealbreaker like it would be for a bank or traditional loan process.

"But if the investor feels that the idea has value and can create value and meets their risk profile, they will look at your startup and go through their due diligence process."

Microlending

A new trend in funding options is microlending — a type of loan process that caps out at $50,000. Lisa Riley is Houston market president for LiftFund, one of the largest microlenders in the United States.

Since the amount is smaller, the risk is smaller too. The type of customer LiftFund looks for is the person or company that's been denied by other banks.

"It's not always because of something negative with the customer," Riley says. "There are certain industries where it's very difficult to get finance right now."

Just like the trend in VCs, these types of lenders want to be hands on too to help secure success and a return.

"The last thing we want to be is another monthly obligation or a debt — the noose around someone's neck suffocating their small business," Riley says. "We want to make sure and walk with you and hold your hand as long as you'll hold mine so that when we give you your loan it's the right amount for your business and the right time."

Traditional loans and factoring

Of course, conventional loans is still an option, as is factoring — the process in which a business sells its accounts receivables to a third-party entity, called a factor.

Peter Ellen, senior vice president at Amegy Bank, explains the process as being pretty traditional. His bank wants to see a secure and profitable business on trach for growth.

"Typically, we look for a business that's been established for two years, that has generated a profit, and can show a clear path of repayment," Ellen says.

Again, like other funding options, Ellen says a relationship with the company is important.

"That's really what we look to do, is to form a relationship at an early stage with a company, really understand what they do, and help assist in the growth and success of their company," he says.

SBA loans

SBA loans are another lending option for startups to consider, Aziz Rahim, senior vice president at Wallis Bank, explains.

Different from a traditional loan process, SBA loans are guaranteed by the Small Business Association up to 85 percent, which lowers the risk for then lending partner.

Other benefits to SBA loans are lower down payments, generous term lengths, and caps on interest rates.

"The good thing about SBA loans compared to conventional loans is SBA loans do not balloon," Rahim says.