Jennifer Gatewood calls herself ‘Mississippi’s Geeky Girl.’ After a career in information technology, she started Peer Elevate to “bridge a gap and lift people up.” When Mississippi enacted an intrastate crowdfunding exemption in May 2015, she saw an opportunity to create Mississippi’s first crowdfunding portal, Peer Elevate Funding. But first, there was a lot of education to do. The geek-turned-entrepreneur, who likes to mud ride in her spare time, has been on a mission to spread the word about the law to her fellow Mississippians. We caught up with her on her way to one of the many local events she attends to raise awareness throughout the state.
Amy Cortese: How did you get into intrastate crowdfunding?
Jennifer Gatewood: When Mississippi enacted the intrastate exemption in late May of 2015, several people reached out to me and said I should create a portal. I didn’t know about it, but I was well known for the educational, technology and project management work I was doing. I soon realized there was no process in place (to implement the law) and I thought, ‘this is awesome! I can create it!’ We had the technology done by August, but then I realized we needed the marketing and education.
JG: Awareness. People don’t know the law is there and they don’t really know what equity crowdfunding is. Most people don’t even consider themselves investors! In addition, we need a whole ecosystem around this. When I started, I couldn’t find a local attorney to help me. Once I talked to a group of bankers who thought a social network was a country club.
It’s a grassroots effort to get the awareness out there. I travel all over the state to MeetUps and other small gatherings of entrepreneurs. And through word of mouth and local media, it’s really starting to have an impact.
AC: You had some regulatory challenges as well, right?
JG: Regulatory hurdles were my most immediate challenge. The state just granted us a waiver in mid-January so that we can use an out-of-state escrow agent. The Mississippi law initially required that the escrow agent be a bank that is chartered and physically located in the state. I went to 25 banks. The last one, a community bank, agreed to do it. But they were going to charge $2,500—that’s how much it would cost them. So after months of lobbying, I got a waiver to be able to use a fintech company, Fund America, as the escrow agent. They will work with the community bank, which will hold the funds locally. That brings the cost down from $2500 to $250.
AC: So when will we see the first deals on Peer Elevate Funding?
JG: I have five companies in the pipeline that will go live in a few weeks.
AC: Do you plan to also do Title III offerings?
JG: Yes, we’ll do Title III. I’m getting a broker-dealer license. I believe intrastate crowdfunding will be strong, but Title III will allow people who grew up here but have moved outside the state to invest.
INVEST MISSISSIPPI CROWDFUNDING
The exemption, adopted by the MS Securities Division and effective May 2015, allows MS-based companies to raise money from Mississippians with the following provisions:
– Companies can raise up to $1M in a 12-month period or $2M with audited financials
– Companies must file a notice with the Mississippi Securities Division
– Accredited investors are capped at $50,000 in aggregate in a 12-month period
– Unaccredited investors are capped at $5,000 or 5% of annual income or net worth
In addition, the state adopted Rule 2.04, which allows for simplified registration for Regulation D Rule 504 offerings involving multiple states.
AC: What are the biggest opportunities for intrastate crowdfunding in Mississippi?
JG: The first businesses that came to us wanted to do community-scale real estate deals. There’s a lot of opportunity for revitalization, especially in this part of the country where there are towns that have been forgotten and old buildings just sitting there. People are taking those old buildings and turning them into the coolest things.
Others have been local businesses, like a five-year old organic ice cream maker. And just odd innovative things you don’t usually see, like a company that makes tree-climbing stands for hunters. I’m blown away by the innovative and creative things I’ve seen.
“It’s really investing in each other. People want to be part of something bigger.”
AC: You’ve been a little bit of a lone voice in the wilderness in your state when it comes to crowdfunding. What’s that been like?
JG: It can be very lonely, when your family doesn’t understand what you’re doing and your community doesn’t, but I can’t let myself stop. When I started out I knew no one. I talked to anyone in the state who was involved and followed a lot of rabbit trails. Then I found and joined CFIRA (Crowdfund Intermediary Regulatory Advocates) and CFPA (Crowdfunding Professional Association). It sounds corny, but it was like a big hug of welcome. They’ve kept me going and encouraged me.
AC: Now that you’ve been at this for a while, what have you learned is the best way to explain the Mississippi crowdfunding law to people who have never heard of it?
JG: It took a conversation with my mother-in-law to figure it out. She was at a lunch with her friends and they asked about it, and she told me how she explained it. She said, ‘you’ve got local people who want to start a company and grow. They need help, so you contribute to their company and own a little piece of it. You may not make money on it, but it’s giving them a chance.’ It’s really investing in each other. There’s an economic and social impact. People want to be part of something bigger.