Cambridge-born crowdinvesting start-up WeFunder is in a funny spot: Built around a coming shift in federal regulations that loosen the rules around small investors, it has to prepare to offer services it can’t legally provide yet. That hasn’t stopped its founders from finding ways to spotlight stellar start-ups, and at YCombinator’s Demo Day in San Francisco yesterday, the company was able to offer a limited test-drive of its crowdinvesting tool.
The basic premise of WeFunder is that it will allow anyone to make a small crowdinvestment in young companies, meaning that instead of pitching angel investors, start-ups can go directly to early users, fans, friends and family for their early capital rounds.
In practice, the founders hope it will work something like Kickstarter, except instead of rewards for a one-off payment, investors will actually own a very small piece of equity in the company, and hopefully will help contribute to its success through their connections and evangelism down the road.
For now though, foot-dragging at the federal level to implement the JOBS act means that WeFunder can only publicly spotlight companies that are not seeking funding, while it has to hide companies that are looking for funding from everyone except certified investors.
Still, WeFunder is using the waiting period to perfect its product as much as they can before the JOBS Act crowdfunding component comes into play.
“We’ve really been learning lessons about how we can tell the stories of start-ups in compelling ways and give people the kinds of information they want to have when they invest,” founder Michael Norman told me. “Once you have the ability to tell your story, tell what you’ve done so far, and allow people to come in for $1,000, $500, there will be so much more capital for companies in places like Boston.”
There already are a number of angel investors — with more coming every day — in Boston, but local entrepreneurs regularly complain that local funding is still too tough (Read the differences between East and West Coast investors).
Where others see a struggle, Norman sees an opportunity — and a possible reason to return now that YCombinator is wrapping up.
“This opportunity could mean that that a lot more of those companies will stay in Boston,” he told me. “If we’re going to see a lot of indications that a lot investors are taking action in Boston through WeFunder, it’s a definite possibility that we’ll be back.”