Direct Public Offerings
Direct pubic offerings (DPOs) allow enterprises to obtain investments and loans directly from community members. A DPO can describe the process of raising investment from a community or the general public using various legal mechanisms to comply with securities law (and extensive collection of laws designed to protect investors). A DPO is often compared with an IPO ("initial public offering") which is a process that large and rapidly growing companies use so that they can become traded on stock markets and raise more money. A DPO is similar in that it's an investment campaign that lets many people invest in an enterprise, however, DPOs typically are not listed on national or global stock exchanges, and they are typically not organized by stock brokers. In a DPO, a business owner or a group of leaders of an organization advertise the opportunity to invest in their enterprise to their community or to the general public directly, without the use of stock markets, brokers, or other middlemen. Investors typically make a longer term commitment than with stock market investments because there is no stock market where one can easy re-sell the stock or notes purchased to get money back out quickly. Therefore, DPOs are more commonly used by small businesses, cooperatives, and nonprofit loan funds that support small business. DPOs tend to work well for community-supported enterprises.
But enterprises seeking to conduct a DPO often pay a significant amount in legal fees to use this financing mechanism. DPOs are legal in all 50 US States but in some states there are more burdensome regulations than others, meaning the steps and costs to getting started vary. We don't think DPOs need to be expensive, so our goal is to make the process more accessible and affordable.
What We're Working On
We are working with a client to complete a DPO in California to help demystify the process, which will result in a guide that will help empower communities to make DPOs a more realistic financing option.
Examples of businesses and organizations that have done DPOs in California include:
Nonprofit Loan Funds: RSF Social Finance, Northern California Community Loan Fund, and Economic Development and Financing Corporation of Mendocino and Lake Counties.
Small Food Enterprises: People's Community Market (forthcoming Oakland grocery), Farm Fresh to You (produce CSA/distributor in the Capay Valley), Placerville Food Co-op, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, Brio Baking (bakery and cafe in Arcata), and Maker's Common (forthcoming Berkeley restaurant and bar).
Disclaimer: The Sustainable Economies Law Center does not endorse or recommend investing in the enterprises listed above. We are providing these lists as examples of DPOs only. Investors must do their own research and analysis to determine if any particular investment deal is suitable.
Stay tuned for more about the details of the process, challenges, and insights on strategies for success.