As startup founders, when we’re looking to raise money in any significant way, the obvious answer is venture capital funding.
However, securing venture capital isn’t always possible and giving up equity isn’t always a good idea. Luckily, there’s alternatives to venture capital.
Here’s a list of 13 ways to fund your business venture without the need for venture capitalists to get involved.
Equity Financing Alternatives to Venture Capital
If you’re okay with giving up equity, let’s begin with equity financing options outside of venture capital.
Sell Minority Stakes Of Your Business
Travis Jamison, the SMB investor behind Smash.vc
Selling minority stakes in a business is a fundraising method that involves offering a portion of a company’s equity to investors in exchange for capital. Some benefits of this method include:
- Business owners can raise funds without relinquishing full control or ownership of their company
- Less risk for investor and business owner
This method is attractive to investors who are interested in the potential growth and profitability of the business, but do not wish to be involved in the day-to-day operations.
There’s plenty of investors who specialize in investing in small businesses. As this is investing.io, we have one obvious investor shoutout:
Elio Motors, an equity crowdfunded electric vehicle company
Another alternative to venture capital is equity crowdfunding. Through crowdfunding platforms, founders can raise capital from a substantial number of investors, allowing everyday people to contribute to your startup in exchange for a small portion of ownership. This form of funding democratizes startup investments and offers a more inclusive model for raising capital.
- Substantial number of investors
- Diverse investor base
- Increased visibility
- Backers have a personal interest in your company’s success
Remember that raising funds through equity crowdfunding come with its own set of challenges. For instance, managing a large number of investors can be time-consuming, and you might face increased regulatory scrutiny.
Companies founded with equity crowdfunding:
- Elio Motors: This American company aimed to produce a fuel-efficient, three-wheeled vehicle. They raised funds on StartEngine.
- Revolut: Before becoming a financial giant, this UK-based fintech startup used Crowdcube to raise some of its early funds.
- Monzo: Another UK-based digital bank, Monzo, raised funds using Crowdcube in its early days.
Angel investors are experienced individuals who invest their own capital in early stage startups. As a founder, partnering with an angel investor can be beneficial in several ways. They can provide:
- Industry insights
- Valuable contacts
- Experience and expertise
Typically, angel investors receive a percentage of ownership in your startup, giving them a vested interest in your success. These investors often have successful entrepreneurial backgrounds and might be deeply involved in specific industries. For example, here is a list of the best indie SaaS investors.
Since angel investors invest their own money, they might be more flexible than venture capital funding firms. However, this also means the amounts invested are usually smaller compared to VC firms and may only support your initial growth.
Examples of angel investors:
- Ron Conway: Founder of SV Angel, he’s been a significant angel investor in numerous high-profile tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
- Fabrice Grinda: He has over 200 investments in various companies including Alibaba Group, Airbnb, Beepi, FanDuel, and Palantir.
Debt Financing Alternatives to Venture Capital
Netflix, the entertainment company, used debt to finance its growth
Then there’s debt financing options.
Business owners have polarized views on debt and debt financing, but the fact is that many huge companies use debt to finance their operations.
- Disney: For its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, Disney took on a significant amount of debt.
- Netflix: To finance its original content, Netflix has, in various instances, raised billions through debt offerings.
- Tesla: Elon Musk’s company has used debt financing, including convertible notes, to fund its ambitious projects.
- Airlines: Major airlines often finance the purchase of new aircraft using debt. This helps them manage cash flow and keep up with the demands of their fleets.
Bank loans are one of the most common solutions to debt financing. Traditional banks provide entrepreneurs with various types of loans, including secured and unsecured debt. Secured debt requires collateral, while unsecured debt does not. Depending on your project, lenders may assess interest rates based on your perceived risk.
Remember that your cash flow will be committed to loan repayment, so consider the terms and rates carefully before choosing this route.
Another option for debt financing is Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
These loans are partially backed by the U.S. government, which allows participating financial institutions to extend credit under more favorable terms compared to traditional bank loans. They typically offer lower interest rates and longer repayment schedules, making them attractive for entrepreneurs looking to minimize the risk.
Explore various SBA loan programs, as some cater specifically to different industries or sizes of businesses.
Sometimes the SBA backed loan itself isn’t quite enough. Maybe you weren’t approved the required amount or you lack cashflow. In those cases, it may be a good idea to look for SBA loan investors, like Travis Jamison, to fill the remaining funding gap.
If you’re a venture-backed firm or have strong financial performance, you may consider venture debt. This alternative financing option provides a flexible form of debt, often including a combination of loans and warrants.
Unlike traditional bank loans, venture debt focuses on growth potential and often involves less strict terms and repayment schedules.
Although confidence in your business’s future is paramount when considering venture debt, it can be a useful tool to minimize dilution while maximizing funding.
Mezzanine financing is a unique form of debt financing, providing a hybrid of debt and equity.
It’s typically characterized by higher interest rates than traditional bank loans, but with the option to convert the debt into ownership shares. This aspect can be attractive to entrepreneurs who want to preserve their equity positions while acquiring necessary funding.
However, be prepared for the prospect of increased risk as the lender might take an ownership stake in your business if you cannot repay the loan.
Line of Credit
Finally, a line of credit can be a valuable resource for entrepreneurs who need flexible access to cash.
Unlike loans with fixed repayment terms, a line of credit allows you to borrow and repay funds as needed, only charging interest on the amount borrowed. Financial institutions offer lines of credit as either secured or unsecured debt.
A line of credit may work well for your business if you have a strong credit rating and are confident in managing debt.
Non-dilutive Financing Alternatives to Venture Capital
Lambda School, an online coding school with an income sharing agreement
As you explore financing alternatives, it’s worth considering non-dilutive options that allow you to retain full ownership of your company. Two popular alternatives are Revenue Share Agreements and Shared Earnings Agreements.
Revenue Share Agreements
Revenue Share Agreements (RSAs) have become an attractive alternative financing model for businesses, particularly startups and SMEs (small and medium sized entreprises). With an RSA, investors provide capital in exchange for a percentage of future revenue until a predetermined amount or cap is repaid. This method avoids diluting ownership and is often seen as a bridge between traditional equity financing and loans.
Here are a few examples of industries commonly utilizing RSAs, in addition to startups:
- Music Industry: In the music world, artists might enter into agreements where they receive funding in exchange for a percentage of future revenues. This can come from album sales, tours, or other income streams.
- Film Industry: Independent filmmakers sometimes use RSAs where investors receive a share of the movie’s revenues.
- Education: Income Share Agreements (ISAs) in the education sector are a variation of RSAs. Here, students commit to paying back a portion of their future income for a defined period after graduation. Lambda School, the online coding school, and Purdue University’s controversial “Back a Boiler” program have implemented ISAs.
Shared Earnings Agreements
Shared Earnings Agreements (SEAs) are similar to Revenue Share Agreements, but the return is based on earnings rather than revenue. This makes it a more suitable option for businesses with higher operating costs.
A prominent advocate of this model is the Calm Company Fund, which has been offering Shared Earnings Agreements as an alternative to traditional venture capital. Calm Company Fund’s approach with SEAs is aimed at bootstrappers, or founders who aim to grow their companies without relying on massive outside capital or aiming for the traditional VC-backed hyper-growth trajectory.
Here’s how it works:
- You receive an upfront investment from an investor.
- As your business generates earnings, you pay the investor a percentage of those earnings.
The benefits of this type of financing include:
- You maintain full ownership of your company.
- Payments to investors are tied to your company’s profitability, providing a more transparent return on investment.
However, consider the following points:
- Shared Earnings Agreements may be more complex to structure than Revenue Share Agreements, as they involve calculating earnings rather than revenue.
- Similar to Revenue Share Agreements, you’ll need a strong marketing plan and predictable earnings stream to attract investors.
Crowdfunding Alternatives to Venture Capital
Flower Station, a UK based crowdfunded online florist
In your search for alternative financing options, you might consider looking into crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows you to raise funds from a large number of people, usually through an internet platform. This method offers various alternative funding sources, such as debt crowdfunding and popular platforms like Indiegogo.
Debt Crowdfunding or Peer-2-Peer Lending
Debt crowdfunding involves borrowing money from investors in return for a promise to repay that debt with interest. This approach is often considered less risky for the entrepreneur as you don’t have to give up any equity in your company. To explore debt crowdfunding, you can research platforms like LendingClub or Prosper.
You should be aware that this method might require thorough due diligence, as the terms and interest rates can vary significantly. When using this funding source, remember to:
- Understand the interest rates and repayment terms: Make sure you’re comfortable with the interest rates and can accommodate the repayment schedule.
- Consider the impact on your finances: Debt crowdfunding can impact your credit score and your company’s financial health, so proceed with caution.
- Communicate with your investors: Keep your backers informed about your business’s progress, as it’s essential for maintaining a positive relationship with them.
UK based Flower Station, a florist specializing in hand-crafted flower bouquets, was funded using Funding Circle. Founder David Cohen used the P2P business loan to expand the brand and grow the business.
Indiegogo is a popular crowdfunding platform that allows you to raise funds for creative projects, startups, and social causes. The platform offers two primary funding models: fixed funding, where you only receive the funds if you reach your goal, and flexible funding, where you get the funds regardless of whether you meet your goal or not.
When using Indiegogo as an alternative financing option, consider the following tips:
- Select the right funding model: Fixed funding works best when you need a specific amount to complete the project, while flexible funding is suited for projects with adjustable goals.
- Create a compelling campaign: Share your story, use engaging visuals, and provide a clear explanation of how the funds will be used.
- Offer attractive perks: Incentivize your backers by offering rewards, such as early access to your product or unique experiences related to your project.
Famous projects backed by Indiegogo:
- Flow Hive: A revolutionary beehive invention that allows you to harvest honey without disturbing the bees. It raised over $12 million and is one of the most successful campaigns in crowdfunding history.
- An Hour of Code for Every Student: Code.org’s initiative to introduce over 100 million students worldwide to computer science with a one-hour introductory course. The campaign was a huge success.
Other Financing Options
If nothing else works, you gotta look outside the box a bit.
Credit Card Funding
Funding your business using credit cards can sound unreasonably risky, but can be a viable solution as a last resort option. Here’s how to make it work:
- Apply for multiple credit cards with favorable terms (if you have a good credit score)
- Stay up-to-date on your monthly payments
- Be extremely cautious with your spending
- Utilize credit card rewards to aid in scaling and reaching profitability
However, remember that credit card funding has its risks.
- High interest rates
- Potential impacts on your personal credit
- Venture’s growth potential doesn’t match accumulating debt
Friends and Family Funding
Another alternative to VC funding is to seek support from friends and family.
This route offers several advantages, including maintaining control over your business venture and having a network of close supporters who are invested in your success.
Friends and family funding may also come with the expertise and resources to help your business grow.
To make this financing option work:
- Have open conversations about your business plan and action steps.
- Make sure that everyone involved is aware of the risks and potential outcomes related to their investment.
- Separate business decisions from personal relationships.
- Establish clear boundaries and expectations to prevent conflict and maintain professionalism.
- Create a formal agreement that outlines repayment terms and decision-making responsibilities.
Getting funding is never easy, but at least now you have some alternatives to venture capital funding.
You don’t need to bootstrap to avoid venture capital funding and retain control of your company. There’s alternative ways to gain leverage, as you saw in this article.
Take a look at the methods in this article. What’s your action plan to raise money? Remember to follow prominent investors for inspiration and guidance.
If you still feel like taking a shot at venture capital funding, check out these VC blogs for inspiration.