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Learning Center Experience
Dr. Bruce Kuhlman, CFA, CAIA, Full-Time Faculty, Kaplan University Published March 2014
What would you do if you and a few of your
close friends felt you had just filmed the next Blair Witch Project1 but you didn’t have enough money to
promote your film at the Sundance Film
Festival?2 Would you ask your family for the money? Would you go
to a bank and try to get a loan? Alternatively, you could try listing your film
project on a crowd funding site on
the Internet.3 One site you could use is Kickstarter, which is
mostly dedicated to facilitating the funding of artistic endeavors.
their website, since 2009, Kickstarter has facilitated the
successful completion of over 55,000 projects. Using Kickstarter, project
creators, all innovators like you, determine the amount of funding they need
and the date by which they need it. Interested individuals search the
Kickstarter website and pledge money to projects they like. If enough money is
pledged to your project, your project moves forward!
Here’s the best part. People who contribute
to projects on Kickstarter do so for philanthropic reasons. They are not interested
in financial gain; they want to be associated with your project. If you get
your film to Sundance, perhaps you will provide them with front row seats to
the first showing. Maybe you’ll even put their names in the film’s credits!
Crowd funding is many individuals (i.e., a crowd) pooling their
money together to fund the endeavors of an individual, organization, or firm. Raising
sufficient funds depends on the ability to utilize available media to get the idea
out to the crowd. In the past, choices included the telephone, “snail” mail,
newspaper advertising, etc. Crowd funding was typically limited to community
organizations with a natural following. For example, a community could pool intellectual and financial resources to
fund a new playground.
Today there are many crowd funding facilitators
on the Internet,3 so entrepreneurs can quickly and easily present their
business proposals to literally millions of potential investors. Investors pledging money on these sites receive
equity or debt claims or, as in the case of Kickstarter, “help bring creative
projects to life” just so they can say they were part of it all. EquityNet and
other crowd funding intermediaries on the Internet help investors raise equity capital.
and business owners display their projects on these sites along with
considerable financial and operating data and projections. Contributors on
EquityNet and similar sites truly are investors, in the sense that they receive
an ownership claim proportional to the amount invested in the project. Of
course, crowd funding equity investors share in the success or failure of the
project, just as with any other equity investment.
The best part of crowd funding, from the
perspective of the entrepreneur, is the seemingly unlimited number of potential
investors. As long as you can present enough enticing information about your
proposed project, you will most likely find individuals willing to invest with
Next, the offering
does not require registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC),4
and investing is not limited to accredited
investors. That is, neither you nor your investor has to qualify in any
Of course, the simplicity and efficiency of
crowd funding through the Internet has a few drawbacks. With the ability to
post virtually any project and the ability to circumvent U.S. securities laws
comes the real possibility for fraud and abuse. For example, how can investors
be sure that you really do have a great film project? Are they truly able to
assess the risk of your project by reading what you have posted on the
Internet? How can donors be sure that a philanthropic website is real? Could
Internet crowd funding become just another form of Internet gambling?
In response to the proliferation of Internet crowd
funding sites, the SEC has proposed a lengthy set of rules for crowd funding. Even
though the new rules fall short of requiring SEC registration, they would, among other things:
Readers familiar with the rules and
regulations associated with the public offering of securities in the United
States will recognize many similarities. Basically, through this document the
SEC demonstrates that it recognizes the potential for fraud and other abuses.
requirements proposed by the SEC place accounting requirements on crowd funding
issuers,6 which in turn present opportunities for accountants. Tysiac7
describes the SEC’s proposed rules for accounting for crowd funding, which are
based on the size of the offering:
In its most basic definition, crowd funding
is simply the accumulation of the contributions of many (i.e., the crowd) to facilitate
the successful completion of some project. Rather than a small set of creative entrepreneurs
bearing all the financial risk, any risk associated with the project is
effectively spread across many contributors.
The modern form of crowd funding, facilitated
by the Internet, has become something else. True, the risk of the project is
still spread out across many investors, but the proliferation of Internet crowd
funding intermediaries and the multitude of potential projects has driven crowd
funding to mind-boggling dimensions. Today interested parties can find
literally thousands of crowd funding projects through the click of a mouse.
1 “The Blair Witch Project” was an
independent film that was written, directed, produced, and filmed by five University
of Central Florida graduates. It was released in July of 1999 and grossed over
$240 million. For more information see www.blairwitch.com.
2 Italicized words and phrases are defined
in the Definitions section.
3 Internet sites that facilitate crowd
funding are known as intermediaries.
4 Certain public issues of securities must
first be registered with the SEC. Exemptions
from SEC registration include private offerings to a limited number of
persons or institutions; offerings of limited size; intrastate offerings; and
securities of municipal, state, and federal governments. See www.sec.gov for more information.
To invest in most private
equity funds, hedge funds, etc., the investor must qualify as an accredited
investor. To qualify as an accredited investor an individual must have net worth exceeding $1 million or
income exceeding $200,000 in each of the two most recent years and a reasonable
expectation of the same income level in the current year. See www.sec.gov for more information.
crowd funding issuer is the individual or firm seeking the funds. Investors
receive equity shares issued by the crowd funding issuer.
7 Tysiac, K. New Opportunities for CPAs in Proposed Crowd Funding Rules. Journal of Accountancy, October, 2013.
Bruce Kuhlman is a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed
in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of
By Cynthia Waddell, PhD, CPA, CFE
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