If you are a start-up considering the crowdfunding route, let’s talk. Here are a few tips to consider:
- IP: Most crowdfunding portals require extensive disclosure of the start-up’s business plans and product prototypes. That makes sense - after all, investors want to know what they’re investing in. The start-up should consider the scope of disclosure in light of intellectual property issues. Will the technical info, drawings, or descriptions constitute a public disclosure of the company’s inventions, and if so, this may impact patentability, in Canada or the US or other important markets. Consider patent issues, and also make sure you mark your trademarks and display copyright notices where appropriate.
- Securities Laws: Raising money from investors? In Canada, perhaps the best way to approach the issue is not to ask ”is crowdfunding legal?“. Rather, decide what you want to accomplish and then make sure your efforts are compliant with current laws. Every company must comply with securities laws. An offering to sell shares requires a prospectus or an exemption, and there are a number of exemptions which may be suitable for your start-up. “Crowdfunding” is a nebulous term, and depending on how it is implemented, it may run afoul of current securities laws, or it may be so cost-prohibitive to your start-up that you will choose a different path. The crowdfunding exemption is being developed. Some provinces (such as Saskatchewan) have implemented rules permitting equity crowdfunding. Other provinces such as Alberta are considering such rules.
- Corporate Issues: As equity crowdfunding rules become more mature, you should consider the implications. Let’s say the rules permit equity crowdfunding in your province. You want to raise $1.5 million (which is the maximum under the proposed Crowdfunding Exemption). Let’s say each investor kicks in $2,500 for shares in the company (which is the maximum single investment under the proposed Crowdfunding Exemption). That’s 600 shareholders. That means 600 people (most of whom are total strangers) own a piece of your company. Next, you want to raise $2 million from venture capital investors. How will VCs view your company if they are joining 600 minority shareholders? Equity crowdfunding may be a great option for your start-up, it may be the way to get your product to market. Or it may be a bad fit in light of your long-term strategy. Either way, you should go in with your eyes open so you know what you are signing up for.
Get some practical advice as you consider your financing options.