Raising capital is a critical step in the early stages of starting a business, but federal and state laws set several important limits on this process. Ownership in a business, when given in exchange for a monetary contribution, is generally considered a “security” for the purpose of federal financial law. Federal law requires companies that are offering stock for sale to the public to register the offer with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). An exception to this rule, known as “Regulation D” or “Reg D,” allows companies to offer stock to certain investors without the lengthy and expensive SEC registration process. This allows small businesses and startups to approach angel investors, venture capital firms, and others.
Public vs. Private Offerings
The process of raising capital for a small business or startup is commonly known as “private equity,” since funding comes from a limited pool of potential investors. A company that registers with the SEC and meets all of the requirements of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. § 77a et seq., can offer their stock for sale to the general public on exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange. It then becomes known as a “publicly-traded” company.
When a company offers its stock for sale to the public for the first time, it is known as an initial public offering (IPO). Obtaining SEC approval for an IPO is complicated, expensive, and out of reach for startups and many small businesses. These businesses need to raise capital, but they must do so in a way that does not inadvertently become an unauthorized public offering of securities.