With more than 40 approved funding portals for Regulation Crowdfunding, the launch of a new portal might elicit a yawn. But Crowdfund Mainstreet, which debuts on Friday, has a unique pedigree—and a mission to match.
The Oakland, CA-based portal is the creation of a pair of lawyers—Jenny Kassan and Michelle Thimesch—who have been on the front lines of community capital for years. Through Jenny Kassan Consulting, they work with mission-driven entrepreneurs, particularly women and underrepresented entrepreneurs, to help them raise capital for their businesses.
Crowdfund Mainstreet is devoted to “getting values-aligned funding into the hands of the small business owners that need it most—businesses all over the country that are not trying to be the next high tech billion dollar unicorn, but are growing at a steady pace, creating jobs and local wealth, and meeting needs in their communities,” says Kassan, a well-known lawyer and consultant in the community capital space, and the author of the book Raise Capital On Your Own Terms.
Kassan (pictured above, left) was part of the team at Cutting Edge Capital, a Bay Area firm behind many direct public offerings and other types of community-funded projects, and cofounded the Sustainable Economies law Center before starting her consulting firm a few years ago. Kassan was also involved in efforts that led to the passage of the JOBS Act, which includes Regulation Crowdfunding.
Thimesch (on right) worked in community development and affordable housing, in addition to practicing law, before coming up with the idea for Crowdfund Mainstreet. She turned to Kassan for help, and the two became cofounders. (Thimesch also joined Kassan’s consulting firm as legal director).
“We spend a lot of time [at Jenny Kassan Consulting] teaching entrepreneurs about the possibilities for private capital, and we thought we needed to bring this other piece to the table,” says Thimesch. “There isn’t a reason why an issuer who is truly prepared to raise capital and steward investment funds shouldn’t be able to get funding.”
The pair hope to bring a more authentic community spirit and values to a crowdinvesting world that can often seem closer to Silicon Valley than Main Street.
For example, you’ll find no SAFEs—the future equity agreements created in Silicon Valley that have been adopted by many crowdfunding sites—on Crowdfund Mainstreet. “We don’t believe they are good for investors,” says Thimesch. “People getting into them often don’t understand that if that triggering event [that converts the agreement to equity shares] doesn’t happen, they’re worthless.”
More broadly, Crowdfund Mainstreet seeks to work with companies that are addressing pressing issues such as environmental challenges and political and wealth inequality, says Thimesch. “Our focus is on companies that have a really strong mission component.”
That mission is reflected in the first batch of businesses raising money on the platform.
Kai Nortey is the cofounder of kubé nice cream, an Oakland, CA-based company that makes coconut-based ice cream with flavors like Pineapple Ginger, Coffee Latte and Goddess Empowermint. The name kubé (koo-bey) means “coconut” in the Twi language from Ghana, where Nortey and her husband/cofoudner, Nee-Nueh, both of whom are lactose intolerant, first discovered the healthful benefits of fresh coconuts.
Unlike other coconut-based nondairy products, kubé nice cream is made from cold-pressed, raw coconut cream, which results in a creamier product and avoids the bleaching agents that pasteurized coconut products typically use.
Nortey’s mission is “to create locally resilient artisan food systems that are ethnically inclusive and foster food and racial justice,” she says. Nortey is not looking to sell to a “broken” big food company that might not maintain those values, she says. Similarly, her investors must be value-aligned, which is why she turned to crowdfunding to raise capital to expand.
Another issuer, Spotlight: Girls, which runs arts-based empowerment programs and camps for girls, is conducting its second investment crowdfunding offering on the new site. The company’s first campaign, on WeFunder, netted $62,500 in late 2016.
Embracing Social Justice
Spotlight: Girls cofounder Lynn Johnson said she is excited about the launch of a new platform that “understands and embraces the social justice implications” of the JOBS Act, which opened up small business investing to all Americans. Crowdfund Mainstreet, she says, “actually wants to get money into the underserved and rarely funded businesses. It wants to democratize investing in ways that change our financial status quo.”
There were a total of five companies getting their Form C’s together at press time. All five 5 happen to be Oakland-based and women-owned, like Crowdfund Mainstreet itself. But the portal is national in focus and welcomes male founders (“preferably highly evolved,” says Thimesch).
Crowdfund Mainstreet is a Public Benefit Corp.—only the second portal to adopt that legal structure (WeFunder is also a PBC).
Thimesch and Kassan aim to be transparent when it comes to fees. There is no fee for investors. Companies raising money pay a flat 6.5% fee, even though the portal provides a fair amount of hand-holding and support throughout the campaign. At the end of a successful campaign, issuers will receive a closing packet that helps them set up their ongoing investor communications and payments as well as prepare their annual report so they are fully compliant, says Thimesch.
They will be encouraged, she adds, “to become long-term members of our community and to give back in some way and help those who are coming up behind them, whether through mentoring or sharing lessons they learned from their own crowdfunding campaigns.”
Separately, Jenny Kassan Consulting works with clients to prepare offering documents and marketing strategies if they choose. It is holding a three-day “Fund and Fuel Your Dreams” bootcamp this fall in Baltimore for women entrepreneurs.
A key theme in Kassan’s work and Crowdfund Mainstreet’s approach is involving entrepreneurs in structuring their investment offerings. “When people understand what they are offering, rather than pulling something off the shelf, they start to embrace the idea and feel empowered,” says Thimesch. “They are more comfortable talking about it.”
Like all Regulation Crowdfunding portals, Crowdfund Mainstreet allows businesses to raise up to $1.07 million, and is open to all investors. Are Thimesch and Kassan daunted by the crowded crowdfunding field they are entering?
“For those portals that want to teach you how to be mini-VCs. I’m not sure we’re in the same space,” says Thimesch. “And with investment crowdfunding on track to be a multi-billion dollar industry in the next 3-5 years, I think there’s plenty of room.”