Raising Capital: Challenges and Opportunities for Socially Responsible Businesses and Social Enterprises

June 27, 2014

cutting edge

This is a guest post by Cutting Edge Capital

Raising capital from banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors is a challenge—especially when your business falls into the category of a social enterprise or socially responsible business (“SE/SRB”). Despite the best efforts of SE/SRBs at sorting out financial projections, putting together business plans, applying for loans, and making presentations (a.k.a. pitching), most will be turned away by these types of investors.

It would be easy to declare the situation a result of a cabal of financiers that has it out for SE/SRBs the world over. But in reality, traditional finance just has its own evaluation guidelines for determining the companies that are eligible for financing. These guidelines have been devised to maximize the returns of business underwriting on a large scale, typically with no consideration of socially responsible factors.

The metrics employed by traditional finance are remarkably effective at streamlining the process of evaluating the many thousands of applications and pitch decks that banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors receive each year. This has led to a robust financial services industry and a large amount of capital flowing to forms of businesses that meet the standardized requirements of banks and investors. What this process has not done so well is channel capital to businesses that base their success on more than profits alone—that is,SE/SRBs.

RSF Social Finance’s loan recipients are growing businesses in the areas of food and agriculture, education and the arts, and ecological stewardship. As triple and quadruple bottom line businesses, they are also doing this while paying living wages, lowering their carbon footprints, and generally following sustainable business practices. And yet, if you were to subject these same companies to the evaluation criteria of traditional finance, these things would likely appear as extraneous liabilities, and many of these businesses would be passed over for funding.

Similarly, at Cutting Edge Capital we don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all capital raising solution offered by traditional finance—instead, we bring our experience, legal knowledge, and passion for social change to help our clients determine the best way to achieve their goals. Using a variety of innovative financing tools, including Direct Public Offerings (DPOs), we work with SE/SRBs to raise capital from both wealthy and non-wealthy investors in compliance with securities law.

A DPO allows companies to self-underwrite and self-administer public securities offerings to both accredited and non-accredited investors in one or more states. With a DPO, a company can market and advertise its offering publicly by any means it chooses—through advertising in newspapers and magazines; at public events and private meetings; and on the internet and through social media channels.

There are several legal compliance pathways that can be used to conduct a DPO. Depending on various factors, a company or nonprofit organization can use a DPO to raise up to $1 million per year and, in some cases, more.

Thousands of companies have successfully used DPOs to raise capital from the crowd. Ben & Jerry’s, Annie’s Homegrown, and Real Goods are just a few household names that have used DPOs in the past. Here are a few more:

  • Farm Fresh to You in California’s Yolo County, has raised over $1 million from its customers and is continuing to raise capital on an ongoing basis. Interest on the notes purchased by investors is paid in credits toward organic produce rather than cash.
  • Greenfield, MA-based Real Pickles reached its goal of $500,000 in just two months by offering non-voting preferred stock to investors in Vermont and Massachusetts and converted to a worker-owned co-op.
  • People’s Community Market in West Oakland has raised almost $1.2 million and will open a neighborhood grocery store that helps West Oakland families thrive by offering quality fresh foods, affordable groceries, health services, and a place for community building and recreation.
  • Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend, Washington, raised about $750,000 by selling common stock to Washington residents and opened for business, ensuring that local residents could continue to buy essentials in their own community.

While SE/SRBs are hindered from accessing traditional sources of financing, a great deal of opportunity exists for raising capital with DPOs and other, non-traditional approaches. Our SE/SRBs clients are using these financing tools to engage their communities and raise capital from the widest possible circle of stakeholders—not just banks, venture capitalists, and professional investors.

Please continue to learn more about Cutting Edge Capital’s work with social enterprises and socially responsible businesses on our website.

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