Oculus Rift. The Pebble Smartwatch. Hidden Radio 2.
These are just some examples of ideas funded by crowdfunding. Imagine how much more money could be raised if companies could offer equity in exchange. That desire, to change the law to allow for investment crowdfunding, is what I have heard from entrepreneurs from across the country over and over again.
As one of the few millennials in Congress, I launched the Future Forum, a group of 16 young Members of the House of Representatives committed to issues important to our generation. We have traveled across the country engaging with young people at co-working spaces, incubator hubs, and universities to hear what matters most to them. Whether in New York or New Hampshire, we consistently are told by too many millennials that they are being held back from fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams because of a lack of access to capital.
We often heard crowdfunding is a solution. From Kickstarter to Crowdtilt, new tools have democratized the ways businesses are funded, bringing them into the 21st century. The Internet allows one person, with one great idea, to reach out to billions of people around the world for financial support.
What is holding back the power of this model is an inability to offer equity or debt to non-accredited investors. As a government, we need to move quickly to enable investment crowdfunding to ensure the next great idea gets the needed oxygen to survive and grow.
Beyond general help for millennial entrepreneurship, investment crowdfunding holds special promise for young people and underserved populations who may have non-traditional ideas. Young people often do not have access to a network of financial backers and investors. Investment crowdfunding opens doors and removes these limits to capital access in a way never seen before.
In 2012, Congress took an important step on this issue, passing the JOBS Act, a bipartisan bill to address the fact that our laws had not caught up with the new technological abilities to allow people to turn to investment crowdfunding. The law would allow entrepreneurs to raise funds from smaller investors in exchange for equity or debt in their company.
Since the passage of the JOBS Act three years ago, our financing tools continue to develop, but investment crowdfunding is still prohibited. Why? The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), tasked with releasing final rules that would make the law effective, has been dragging its feet. I understand the SEC is seeking the proper balance between increasing access to capital and protecting consumers, but it is past time to enable this source of capital so entrepreneurs can take advantage of the technologies that exist to build their business.
Like the entrepreneurs I’ve met across the country, I am frustrated by this three year wait. I recently joined my colleagues in the Future Forum to send a letter to the SEC urging it to issue final rules without delay.
Importantly, the sooner the SEC’s rules are released, the sooner we can monitor their impact and quickly and efficiently fix anything that requires improvement. A delay only serves to stymie young, budding entrepreneurs and hold back our economic growth.
This lag has also caused us to fall behind. The United Kingdom has had a functioning investment crowdfunding market for several years, which has had a significant impact in getting young businesses off the ground. The equity crowdfunding market in the UK grew 410 percent between 2012 and 2014 and was worth £84 million (about $129 million) in 2014. According to the non-profit Nesta, more than half of companies that raised money through this type of crowdfunding increased their employment after the raise.
While our laws aren’t likely to catch up to the speed of technology, we need action on this issue. The delay is hurting innovation and growth, and disproportionately, millennials and those without traditional access to a network of financial backers.
It’s time for the SEC to issue final rules so our laws can catch up to the times. Once it does, one can only imagine the ideas that will blossom, the jobs that will be created, and the dramatic ways in which our world could change.
Congressman Eric Swalwell represents part of the East Bay of California in Congress, which includes northern Silicon Valley. He chairs the Future Forum, a group of the youngest Democratic Members of the House of Representatives that focuses on issues impacting millennials such as student loans and entrepreneurship. You can follow him on Twitter: @RepSwalwell.