As hot start-ups absorb more venture capital and drive some valuations into the billions, crowdfunding has emerged as an alternate route for entrepreneurs including celebrities to gain financing and traction.
Signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (Jobs) Act allows small investors to buy shares of start-ups in much the same way they purchase shares of publicly listed companies.
This route is called equity crowdfunding, and music industry veteran Quincy Jones is the latest celebrity to turn to the emerging funding platform.
New York-based Playground Sessions is a virtual way for students to learn to play the piano. Co-created by Jones, it has turned to equity crowfunding platform Crowdfunder.com. Jones and CEO Chris Vance are seeking $1.5 million in capital, and so far have raised $810,000.
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"The collective is always more than the individual, which is true," said Jones on raising capital. He has led this round of crowdfunding. Jones declined to say how much of his own money he has invested.
But crowdfunding including equity crowdfunding is largely in its infancy. Turning to the masses for funding and ultimately product and service orders can be risky business. The Pebble smartwatch had a much publicized delay. And just like stock picking, there are no guaranteed returns in crowdfunding.
Even professional venture capitalists have a challenging time choosing winners among a crowded pack.
"And those are sophisticated investors who look at hundreds of deals and then work for years to help their portfolio companies build the best teams and execute," according to venture capitalist Boris Wertz of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Version One Ventures. He recently made the comments on his blog post.
"Early stage investing is hard," Wertz said.
But fans of the crowdfunding model argue the new platform allows smaller individual investors to dip into start-ups they might otherwise not be able to access.
Beyond music veteran Jones and Playground Sessions, Crowdfunder CEO Chance Barnett has worked with basketball star Yao Ming on a wine project and musician Neil Young on a music campaign.
"The way we feel about it [equity crowdfunding] is that we are actually democratizing the ownership and investment in these projects, where you get a stake in the project alongside the celebrity who is also investing their money," Barnett said.