By definition, alternative finance includes any financing source outside of the traditional realm of the traditional finance systems like regulated banks and stock markets. Such methods include raising seed capital from friends and family, angel investors, venture capital firms, peer-to-peer lending, or crowdfunding. In contrast, traditional finance options require companies to apply for loans from a regulated bank or publicly offer stocks for sale to the public.
For companies in their earliest stages, raising capital from family and friends is often a safe way to secure additional funding. Friend and family investors are not required to register as investors, unlike traditional investors, making it easy for them to contribute to a growing company. Often founders do not need to relinquish equity to friend and family investors, allowing founders to retain as much equity as possible through their early stages.
If a company requires more financial resources, its next options may be angel investors and venture capital firms. With angel investors, wealthy individuals invest using their own money and meet the SEC’s accredited investor requirements. It is quite common for angel investors to act as a mentor to the companies they invest in, anticipating that it will help them secure a return on their investment. Venture capital firms often invest in startup companies that display the potential for a successful return and are SEC-registered and regulated. Rather than investing their own money, they invest money from other investors to generate profits for the investor. Typically, venture capital firms request equity so that they can have a share in the company’s development.
Another alternative form of financing is through peer-to-peer lending. Typically through online platforms, applicants are matched with lenders who are typically individual people. Interest rates are usually low and are not regulated by traditional banks. Platforms assess borrowers for risk to determine if they are eligible to invest.
One of the fastest-growing forms of alternative finance is crowdfunding and can include both rewards-based and equity-based offerings. With rewards-based crowdfunding, investors invest to be compensated with products that the company offers. Equity crowdfunding allows investors to exchange their investments for equity in the company. Equity crowdfunding is supported by Regulation CF, which allows private companies to raise up to $5 million from non-accredited investors, usually done online through the various crowdfunding portals presently available or a broker-dealer. Crowdfunding is extremely valuable in that it allows avid brand supporters to become investors and become an advocate for the companies they love. For non-accredited investors, the maximum investment per year is either $2,200 or 5% of their annual income, whichever is greater.
Regulation A+ is another method allowing companies to receive investments from non-accredited investors by exempting the offering from SEC registration. Companies can secure up to $75 million annually through this method of funding. Non-accredited investors are limited to investing 10% of their annual income or net worth, whichever is greatest.
The variety of alternative finance options are attractive to companies who would like to go routes other than a traditional bank loan or those who may not be eligible for one.