Most small or growth-stage businesses use limited equity financing. As with debt financing, additional equity often comes from non-professional investors such as friends, relatives, employees, customers, or industry colleagues.
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However, the most common source of professional equity funding comes from venture capitalists. These are institutional risk takers and may be groups of wealthy individuals, government-assisted sources, or major financial institutions. Most specialize in one or a few closely related industries. The high-tech industry of California's Silicon Valley is a well-known example of capitalist investing.
Venture capitalists are often seen as deep-pocketed financial gurus looking for start-ups in which to invest their money, but they most often prefer three-to-five-year old companies with the potential to become major regional or national concerns and return higher-than-average profits to their shareholders. Venture capitalists may scrutinize thousands of potential investments annually, but only invest in a handful. The possibility of a public stock offering is critical to venture capitalists. Quality management, a competitive or innovative advantage, and industry growth are also major concerns.
Different venture capitalists have different approaches to management of the business in which they invest. They generally prefer to influence a business passively, but will react when a business does not perform as expected and may insist on changes in management or strategy. Relinquishing some of the decision-making and some of the potential for profits are the main disadvantages of equity financing.
You may contact these investors directly, although they typically make their investments through referrals. The SBA also licenses Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) and Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment companies (MSBIs), which offer equity financing. Apple Computer, Federal Express and Nike Shoes received financing from SBICs at critical stages of their growth.