Special Projects Segment: Equity Crowdfunding for Accredited Investors in 2015—An Update

We are discussing equity crowdfunding under Title II of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (“JOBS”) Act of 2012.

Under Title II of the JOBS Act, accredited investors may invest in projects through crowdfunding platforms or portals, which are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”). According to a recent article, equity crowdfunding reached $662 million in the first quarter of 2015, a $179 million increase from the final quarter in 2014. Industry experts anticipate equity crowdfunding will double on a yearly basis as investors become more knowledgeable about prominent platforms and successful investment sectors.

Crowdnetic, an online platform that tracks equity investments in real-time, publishes quarterly reports on equity crowdfunding data and recently released its report for the first quarter of 2015. The financial sector led capital investments through crowdfunding raising $172.8 million, with the technology and services sectors following closely behind.

Real estate investments, which are included in the financial sector, boasted two of the three largest equity crowdfunded deals to date. 17 John Street utilized for its crowdfunding campaign Prodigy Network, a specialized portal for accredited investors seeking prime Manhattan real estate assets, and has raised $35 million as of April 16, 2015. 17 John Street is thus far the largest equity crowdfunded deal according to Crowdnetic. HLR Properties, a Denver-based oil and gas company, is the second largest equity crowdfunded deal, raising $25 million.

Real estate equity crowdfunding is trending upwards towards larger offerings. Crowdnetic’s report indicated that real estate development and other real estate investments were the largest industries in terms of recorded capital investments with $86 million and $38.7 million, respectively. Eric Smith, director of data analytics at Crowdnetic, noted real estate investments are popular with accredited investors because “‘[i]t’s something they understand. It’s a solid asset.’”

Despite the growing popularity of real estate investments, accredited investors should still consider the risks associated with crowdfunding. Scott Picken, the founder and CEO of Wealth Migrate, a global real estate crowdfunding portal, addressed why many real estate crowdfunding platforms will fail in the saturated market in this article. Picken emphasized the importance of considering investments driven by long-term growth and income rather than securing deals with “best name recognition or publicity value” because real estate deals can take anywhere from two to five years before coming to fruition and sometimes longer. For this reason, among others, investors should be cautious about the collective knowledge and experience of the teams running the real estate deals.

Protecting investors from fraud and providing them with adequate disclosure is a recurring theme with crowdfunding. The SEC has put considerable emphasis on the “wisdom of the crowd” and its ability to determine whether a proposed crowdfund offering is credible. As Eric Smith with Crowdnetic intimated, the investment sector will continue to grow exponentially when accredited investors become familiarized with the platforms and real estate investments, and so investors should remain cautious even in light of the “wisdom of the crowd.”

More on various CEO’s 2015 prediction on real estate crowdfunding can be read here

Shannon Moran