Venture capital is often touted as the be-all-end-all when it comes to financing a startup. To be fair, you have to admit that wealthy investors showing up to rain treasure upon you because you have a great idea has a lot of appeal. That being said, venture capital isn’t the only way to finance your new business and, in many cases, may not even be the best way to go.
So where do you turn when venture capital isn’t a good match for your business plan? Below, we’ll look at some alternative funding sources if venture capital isn’t the right fit for your startup or small business. But first, let’s talk about venture capital a bit to make sure we’re on the same page.
How Venture Capital Works
There are a lot of myths surrounding venture capital, but the concept is fairly simple and not especially glamorous in practice. Venture capital firms aggregate funds from a number of sources ranging from bored wealthy folks to pension funds. Once they’ve raised an agreed-upon amount, they’ll shop around for businesses in which to invest. What each of these funding sources has in common is the desire to recoup their money, plus a tidy profit, when the business they invested in either A) goes public or B) is sold to another company. A venture capital fund frequently disburses its funding over the course of several “rounds,” the first of which is called the seed round.
Investing in unproven businesses, many of which will fail, is risky. Typically, venture capitalists will hedge their bets by spreading their money out through a number of businesses to increase their chances of scoring a hit. This model works mainly because the payoff from a successful company making an initial public offering (IPO) can generate returns orders of magnitude above what was invested. On average, a venture capital firm is looking for somewhere around a 20% return per year.
How much the firm receives is based on a valuation of the company done both before and after the cash infusion. The difference in valuation is used to determine the percentage of stock the venture capitalists will own in the company. It may also determine the amount of influence the investors have in a company’s decision-making processes prior to the company’s IPO/sale.
When You Should Look For Alternatives To Venture Capital
If you looked at the previous section and thought that arrangement sounds bad, then venture capital probably isn’t for you. For example, if you’re not a serial entrepreneur and would prefer to own and run your business indefinitely, this probably isn’t the funding source for you. Venture capitalists expect you to have an exit strategy.
It’s also quite possible that your type of business won’t fit in well with the venture capitalist model. For better or worse, “venture capital” has become almost synonymous with Silicon Valley. If you’re not a tech company creating some kind of software, you may have some difficulty convincing a fund to work with you. They’ll also be looking for a quick return, so if your business plan doesn’t match that rate of return, you’ll be a poor match.
Keep in mind, too, that most venture capital funds specialize in a particular type of business, so even if your profile is venture capital friendly, you may have to look around to find one that can work with your company at its current stage.
Finally, there’s a geographic component to venture capital investment culture. If you’re not in, or close to, hot spots like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or Austin, you’ll have to work much harder to wiggle your way into a venture capitalist’s view.
8 Venture Capital Alternatives
If all new businesses needed to rely on venture capital to get off the ground, we wouldn’t have very many businesses. The good news is there are numerous ways to finance your company’s early operations that don’t involve venture capital. Let’s take a look at some of your options.
When you’re talking about raising money, even a zero-interest loan just can’t compete with free money. Grants typically offer small-to-moderate-sized lump sums to companies that fit their criteria, and the best part is you don’t ever have to pay that money back!
So why isn’t every startup running exclusively off grants? Well, as you can imagine when you’re handing out money, there’s going to be a lot of people in line to get some. Grants are highly competitive. Applying for them can be quite involved and time-consuming, and there’s no guarantee that your hard work will pay off. Still, if you target the right grants at the right time, you can score a nice chunk of cash with no debt obligations.
You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, but the crowdfunding industry is quite a bit larger and more specialized than you might think. In contrast to venture capital, traditional crowdfunding tends to work best when you’re trying to raise money for a tangible, deliverable product–funders are essentially pre-purchasing your product (with some additional funders simply donating smaller amounts of money in the interest of seeing your project succeed).
A newer form of crowdfunding, equity-based crowdfunding, allows investors to purchase equity in your company. These services can be convenient if you’re not plugged into the investor circuit but are still looking for that kind of relationship. Just be aware that this is still a fairly new realm of investing, with many investors still wary.
Keep in mind, any kind of crowdfunding will require a marketing blitz to get your name and product out there, which will likely have its own costs in both time and money.
3) SBA Loans
The Small Business Administration’s loan guarantee programs are designed to give small businesses access to quality rates and terms. In the case of startups, the two most popular programs, 7(a) and 504, may not be the best fit as they usually require you to have been in business for two or more years.
The SBA microloan program, on the other hand, is more geared toward startups. These loans can net you between $500 and $50,000. Interest rates range from around 6% to 18%, with most borrowers falling somewhere between 8% and 13%. You’ll have a while to pay it off too, with term lengths of up to 6 years. The rate you get will depend upon your credit score and any collateral you’re able to put up.
If you need more than that, you’ll also want to check out SBA Community Advantage Loans, which the agency offers through community-based lenders. These loans range from $50K to $250K, with terms lengths of up to 10 years. Interest rates are lower, usually falling between 7% – 9%.
4) Online Business Loans
Wait, why would you be here reading this if you could just go out and get a business loan? Fair point. It can be very challenging for startups to qualify for business loans since most business lenders are going to want to see a profitable business history before they open up their purses.
That said, it’s not impossible. Many online lenders are willing to work with businesses with histories as short as three months. Some of the more creative ones may not care at all. Just be prepared to pay interest rates in proportion to the risk your business represents. Additionally, you can often find better terms if you can put up something valuable as collateral.
5) CDFI Loans
Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) come in a number of different forms, ranging from banks, to credit unions, to–believe it or not–venture capitalists. What they have in common is certification by the federal CDFI Fund, which designates them as being committed to facilitating economic growth within low-income or historically disadvantaged areas.
CDFIs usually carry higher interest rates than comparable bank products, but lower than those of a typical alternative lender. Best of all, many are startup-friendly.
6) Personal Loans
Your business may not have much history, but that doesn’t mean you don’t. Many personal loans are versatile enough that they can be used for business expenses. And since you’re probably not looking at borrowing vast amounts of money, they may be sufficient to meet your financing needs.
Of course, because they are personal loans, you’ll lose whatever protections you would have had with business loans, which typically differentiate between you and your business. Make sure you can still pay them off even if your business fails.
7) Vendor Financing
Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of vendor financing until now. Vendor financing is an arrangement where a vendor essentially lends a seller the money to buy the vendor’s products. This can be useful if you’re launching a retail business of some kind or even badly need what they’re selling for your own uses.
So what do the vendors get out of the arrangement? Believe it or not, it can be better to move product with risk than not move product at all. Additionally, the vendor will usually expect to earn interest on the loan or an equity stake in your company in return. No matter the arrangement, you’ll probably need to be on good terms with the vendor to be a candidate.
8) Friends & Family
Depending on your social context, this may or may not be a practical option for you. Still, you may be surprised by how willing your friends and family may be to pitch in and help you succeed and probably at far lower (if any) interest rates than even the most benign lender.
Just use your judgment and don’t burn bridges.
Your Best VC Alternative Offers Funding That Works With Your Terms
Don’t worry about fitting the platonic ideal of an entrepreneur. The best venture capital alternative for your startup will depend greatly on your circumstances and business plan. Work with the resources and connections you have to find the funding you need to carry out your vision.
Look for more startup-related information?
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- The Best Business Credit Cards For Startups & Entrepreneurs
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