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Kicking a new small business into accelerated growth mode takes capital, and a lot of it. Although new small businesses do have several options for financing their businesses, like business loans, it’s admittedly difficult to get a hold of the money you need to go big without a substantial financial track record. Some new small businesses also don’t want to take on too much debt financing early on, and would rather give up equity to small business investors—a process also known as equity financing. If you find yourself evaluating this, you’re probably wanting to know how to find investors for your small business.
Luckily, the good news is that there are investors all over the country, looking for opportunities to fund worthy new businesses. According to findings from a recent national study conducted in conjunction with Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, 63% of angel investors live outside New York, Boston, and Silicon Valley.
Maybe you’ve bootstrapped or self-financed your company as far as you can, or are just curious about how to find investors. We’ll go through important things to know as you start your search, how to find investors in your sector, and what to expect when you connect with them.
Small business investors are individuals who specialize in financing early-stage companies. (Occasionally, they’re groups of investors or syndicates—we’ll get to that in a bit.) Compared to the large checks that venture capital firms dole out, they provide relatively smaller amounts of capital—usually in the five-figure range, though sometimes a bit higher.
When you’re trying to figure out how to find investors, you’ll quickly figure out that a good portion of investors often specialize in certain types of business. That might mean businesses within a certain industry, a specific business model, or something else like financing underrepresented founders.
Investing isn’t done out of the goodness of someone’s heart—it is, after all, an investment. Individuals who write checks are looking for returns, so they’ll be expecting something in exchange. Generally, that’s equity. So, small business investors understand that when putting their cash into early-stage businesses, they’re making what will likely be a several-year bet. But they usually are hoping for an exit of some sort so they can make some money, too.
Many investors are former entrepreneurs themselves who can provide informed perspectives to business owners. But, as early-stage individuals writing relatively smaller checks, they’re not going to be immensely involved in your day-to-day operations. However, they’ll be great conduits to bigger networks and resources down the line.
As you seek out funding from small business investors, there are a few important definitions you should make sure you know:
When you’re figuring out how to find investors, you might be asked if you’re just looking for a single small business investor, or if you’re raising a full seed round. This is a question you’ll want to know the answer to.
To kickstart their growth with investors, some new businesses will take funding from just a single angel investor or two, but forego raising an entire seed round (which comes before your Series A). That gives you a deep relationship with your investors, and also allows you to retain a substantial portion of equity. Angel investors also rarely—if ever—take board seats. (Plus, raising a full funding round is a lot of work.)
That said, many companies will raise seed rounds of varying sizes in which angel investors will participate. Make certain you know where you fall, and whether or not you’re hoping to potentially engage with seed funds alongside angel investors.
This is a definition from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It’s important to know about the difference between accredited and non-accredited investors.
The part you’ll want to have a grasp of is accreditation at the individual level. As a single person, you have to have made $200,000 on your own or $300,000 jointly over the last two years with a trajectory to make similar this year. Alternatively, accredited investors can bypass the income requirement if they have a net worth of $1 million-plus. There are some other rules, too, that your lawyer certainly knows and can get in the weeds about.
The SEC requires investors to be accredited to essentially protect the general public from taking big risks. So, your investors will, indeed, need to be accredited. Experienced small business investors will know this—but you should, too, before you go out talking to just anyone about investing in your business.
You’re likely already familiar with the notion that you’ll probably have to give up equity as you search for how to find investors. But the idea of a convertible note may be on the table, too, which is a bit more nuanced.
A convertible note is a type of short-term debt common in early-stage business financing. With a convertible note, you’ll receive funding, but instead of paying back interest with your principal, your investor will get equity for the outstanding loan balance based on a future business valuation. This is a good setup for many new businesses in angel and seed stages who need cash, but aren’t necessarily in a place where they’re ready to put a valuation on the company (especially if all the company has is IP, since intangible assets are difficult and highly disputed to put a price tag on).
An alternative to the convertible note is the SAFE note, which stands for “simple agreement for future equity.” Unlike the convertible note, this isn’t debt, but it does convert into equity. It’s generally shorter.
Many people invest on their own, but there are others who prefer to work in groups.
Why? First, no matter how much money or time you have, investing is expensive and risky, so it’s less expensive and less risky to do it alongside others; and, subsequently, it’s less time-consuming if one person in a group does the exhausting due diligence for everyone.
There are a lot of nuances to group angel investing, which you can (and should) know about if you’re looking into how to find investors from a syndicate. What’s most important for you to know for now is that you can find small business investors from one person, or a group, which is most often helmed by a lead investor.
Just like how not every new business is ready for traditional small business financing, not every new business is ready for funding, either. But your company might be. Before you hit the fundraising trail hard and figure out how to find investors, make sure you’re at the correct inflection point:
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The good news is that there’s no one direct approach to find small business investors. The bad news is that there’s no one direct approach to find investors for small business investors. You know what we mean?
That said, you do have several avenues to meet investors. It’s a process that takes time, effort, strategy, and professionalism. But if your business is ready, one of these approaches on how to find investors just might work for you:
First and foremost, nothing replaces the endorsement of someone who small business investors trust. Figure out if your business has someone in its orbit whom you’re able to get in contact with and introduce your business to who also has a direct line into an investor or network of investors. Your financials tell a story, certainly—but there’s little better than direct connection and support.
“The best introductions to potential investors are made by successful entrepreneurs who can vouch for you,” says Vanessa Kruze, CPA, CEO and founder of startup consultancy Kruze Consulting. “Investors prefer introductions from other entrepreneurs who they respect and have worked with,” Kruze says.
If your network to other small businesses isn’t strong, think more specifically. Kruze adds, “Service providers like experienced startup attorneys or accountants can make warm introductions.”
Similarly, think of other ways you can backchannel into individuals or groups of investors with networks you’re already part of or can easily become a part of.
Your alumni network is a great place to start looking for known investors, groups of angels or syndicates, or connections to others who can offer you advice on how to find investors.
You also might want to look into industry trade organizations, your local chamber of commerce, or a local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Although it might seem strange to focus hyper-locally, some of your best and most unique connections can be made at the local level when you’re not competing for the same funding as other new businesses in major cities.
Or don’t stay local—go as broad as possible. Many online platforms allow accredited investors the ability to essentially shop opportunities to back new businesses, allowing the small business funding to come to you.
Some of these platforms include Gust, Angel Investment Network, and, perhaps most well known, AngelList. Depending on the place you choose to pursue your connection, you might be working with an individual, or you might be working with a syndicate. That’ll depend on how the platform is structured.
Plus, we shouldn’t have to tell you twice, but use social media to let people know that you’re looking for small business investors.
If you don’t have the network you want—or need—then grow it. Samantha Urban, CEO of San Diego-based service company Urban Translations, recommends events, which she says draw in hundreds of investors and CEOs. She’s secured funding through summits herself after just two meetings. Urban adds this advice on how to find investors:
“The key [is to] build and nurture these investor relationships. Find out what type of companies they invest in (B2B, B2C, fintech, tech, etc.), what stage, how much revenue they want to see, how long they take to do due diligence, and any other factors that make them get excited over a potential deal.”
She also stresses that you’re building a relationship, slow and steady. “Never assume that you will be invested in right away,” Urban says.
This might seem like the biggest long shot of the group. And, yes, in ways it is. But it works for some new businesses. The difference-maker, if you’re going to send an email out of the blue, is knowing whom you’re reaching out to.
Boston-based seed-stage software startup Fairmarkit was able to secure small business investors through cold outreach. Cofounder Tarek Alaruri says that he thinks first-time entrepreneurs can be very successful with cold outreach, as long as they keep it personal.
Fairmarkit was able to connect with investors via email, LinkedIn, and over the phone, too. “If you understand the investor’s thesis and previous investments (B2B vs. B2C, or biotech vs. crypto) then you can tailor your outreach and be more successful,” he says.
Maybe you’re not comfortable asking your friends or family for a loan, but you could offer to make them an investor in your business instead. If you’re comfortable with having a stakeholder who you know on a friend or family level, this might be a great option for you.
The huge bonus here is that they likely have your best interests in mind and want you to succeed with your new business. Make sure you have them sign an investor agreement and go over everything with a lawyer to formalize the process, making sure there’s no room for disagreement or discord down the line. You should pitch them your business plan just like you would any other potential investor.
Many research-focused universities are developing incubators and accelerators for current students and alumni, making it easier for new businesses to find funding within the university system.
You can reach out to your alma mater or a school that specializes in the type of business you have to see if they have any programs or money to invest. While this is a new practice among universities, it is catching on more and it can’t hurt to reach out and pitch to a university to see if they can help you and your business.
Before you start forging your connections, when it comes to knowing how to find business investors, you’ve got to be sure your expectations for small business investors are realistic.
If you’re going to reach out, make sure that you have an airtight pitch. You might not be raising a full round, but you shouldn’t take finding small business investors any less seriously. You need a presentation; you need to know your numbers inside and out. You need a unique business proposition, and you need to have a vision for your company down the line. The investor needs to see a trajectory for growth and a way that they can get their money back down the line—and then some.
Next, the investor’s process will require due diligence, which takes time on their part, and patience on yours. This process isn’t instant. In fact, far from it.
And, speaking of time, keep in mind that it’s rare for investors to jump right in the deep end with you. Urban says that although she’s had investors come in after just a couple of meetings, she’s had others come in after months of courting. “Become friends over time and send investors updates as often as you have good traction to share,” she says.
As you’re trying to figure out the steps for financing your business, remember: Not everyone needs small business investors.
For instance, ecommerce company Lonely Brand was able to use their sales and growth to get loans based on their Shopify numbers. Founder Nick Kinports says the financing “has allowed us to lever up quickly without the need to take on angel investors. In fact, we recently rejected a proposal we were seriously considering because of the loans.”
If you’re questioning if you have the business financials, acumen, or network, now might actually not be your time to find business investors. Don’t forget that there are other business financing sources for new businesses, too; even a 0% intro APR business credit card can help you get rolling in the beginning.
Urban shares one piece of advice to all businesses, regardless of where you are in the funding journey. “Overall,” she says, “always build your business with revenue in mind, not investment.”