Wednesday, May 13, 2015
As some readers may recall, I posted twice back in November about The University of Tennessee, Knoxville's decision to drop the Lady Vols moniker and mark from all women's sports teams at UTK other than women's basketball. The first post primarily wondered about university counsel's consideration of trademark abandonment in the rebranding effort. The second post unpacked some additional issues raised by the first post and addressed some readers' and friends' concerns about my stance opposing the rebranding.
Interestingly, adverse reactions to the branding change, which is effective on July 1 (the beginning of the new academic year at UTK), have not died down since those original posts. Letters from concerned citizens have been published in the local paper, and the paper even published a recent news article documenting some of the back-and-forth between Lady Vol fans and the campus administration. [Ed. Note: this article may be protected by a firewall.] I have followed all of this with some interest.
Honestly, part of me just cannot wait for the university to drop the mark altogether so that I can start using it to mass merchandise retro Lady Vols t-shirts, hats, and other merch. Entrepreneurial pipe dream? Maybe. But it seems like a great idea, yes?
And there's a case involving Macy's that I will be following to help me to assess whether and, if so, when to launch my venture. The case, covered in an article in the New York Law Journal on Monday, involves Macy's and its disuse/limited use of department store names forsaken as a result of its own rebranding efforts. You know the names well if you're a person of a certain age--A&S, Filene's, Marshall Fields, Stern's, etc. (I shopped at all of them. Eek!) The defendant in the action, Strategic Marks, claims the right to use these so-called "heritage marks" for bricks-and-mortar and online shopping services. Apparently, Strategic Brands filed intent to use applications and statements of use with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the case, Macy's challenges Strategic Marks's right to use the heritage marks--asserting, among other things, that the marks have not, in fact, been abandoned (given that Macy's still uses them on the occasional plaque, t-shirt, and tote bag.) The case had been scheduled for trial earlier this year, but the trial date was postponed to reflect new claims by Macy's regarding Strategic Marks's use of additional marks earlier registered by Macy's.
The case apparently raises some interesting trademark abandonment issues that also may apply to the Lady Vols rebranding effort as time moves on. Among them: the length of time a mark must be in disuse before it is considered abandoned (although a presumption of abandonment apparently arises after non-use for three consecutive years), the types of behavior that constitute an intent not to resume use of a mark, and the effect of residual goodwill associated with a mark on claims of abandonment. Although Macy's and Strategic Marks do not agree on the facts of the case, it is the law as applied to those facts that I am most interested in knowing.
Of course, since UTK is keeping the Lady Vols name for the women's basketball team, at least for now, the trademark abandonment issue is not ripe. Accordingly, I cannot yet think about quitting my day job to promote the Lady Vols brand to all the passionate UTK women's sports fans out there. But I am keeping my entrepreneurial eyes on this issue. If they do away with tenure in The University of Tennessee system, for example, I may need an opportunity like this . . . !
Friday, May 8, 2015
On May 12, 2015, I will present at a breakout session of the Center for Nonprofit Management's 8th Annual Bridge to Excellence Nonprofit Conference. My talk will focus on the legal issues facing entities with multiple bottom lines.
If interested, you can register here.
As you can tell from the conference description, this conference is designed for nonprofit and community leaders. From the conference schedule, it appears that I will be the only professor presenter. While I enjoy academic conferences, and find them useful, I also think it is important for professors to engage with practitioners. Professors should share the knowledge they have uncovered and should also listen to the current, practical concerns.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
This coming Monday, I will be presenting – virtually – at the above titled conference. My piece of the presentation will cover my recent research on benefit corporation reporting.
Further information is available here and reproduced below. Personally, I am looking forward to hearing from the many impressive speakers, including Sara Burgess, the Regulator of Community Interest Companies in the UK.
May 11, 2015
08:00 AM - 06:00 PM ET
Morgan Lewis, in conjunction with the Impact Investing Legal Working Group, invites you to join us for an exclusive all-day conference featuring panels of leading lawyers who work in the area of impact investing—in business, academia, government, multilateral development institutions, and nonprofit organizations and foundations.
Topics will include:
How are investors aggregating capital for impact investing?
What are the newest social finance innovations in impact investing?
How can we build a robust legal community of practice in impact investing?
How can we advance the development of regulatory regimes and government policies that promote impact investing?
8:00 - 8:30 AM | Registration
8:30 - 6:00 PM | Program
6:00 PM | Networking reception
CLE credit in CA (1.25 hours), FL, IL, MA, NY, NJ, PA, VA, and TX is currently pending approval.
For more information/registration
Please contact Gail Sobha Lynes at +1.617.951.8607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
This article builds on Ben's previous, extensive and well-regarded research on family businesses. Ben's analysis of the relationship between family businesses and wealth inequality is carefully done and thought-provoking. The abstract is posted below, and I recommend reading the entire article.
Wealth inequality endangers democratic values and calls for a public response. This Article contends that family businesses merit special scrutiny because they control vast amounts of private wealth and combine two of society’s most important economic institutions: family and business. Accordingly, family businesses implicate concerns regarding both inherited wealth and the concentration of economic power made possible by the corporate form.
Despite their economic significance, little has been done to investigate whether family businesses contribute to wealth inequality. This Article offers the first legal, and one of the only academic, treatments of the topic and shows that family businesses play a double role. On the one hand, family businesses reinforce existing disparities in wealth and opportunity. Heirs, after all, stand to benefit from the hard work of previous generations. On the other hand, family businesses can be a powerful antidote to inequality, disrupting entrenched class hierarchies and creating opportunities for individuals, families, and ethnic communities.
This Article concludes that whether family businesses produce net social costs or benefits depends crucially on two principal factors. First, to the extent there is a lack of public investment in social mobility, family businesses can increase the distribution of wealth by providing needed investments in human capital. Second, to the extent the rewards of capitalism are not widely shared, family businesses can offer a source of opportunity, not just for family members, but also for employees and the communities in which family businesses operate. Thus, family businesses should not be viewed in isolation; a comprehensive response to the problem of wealth inequality must involve the state, the family, and the market.
Friday, May 1, 2015
Almost three years ago, I helped organize a conference on social enterprise law. (The law review members, especially Rachel Bauer and Sam Moultrie, were responsible for most of the organizing and did an excellent job).
My co-bloggers Joan Heminway and Marcia Narine were among the speakers.
Also joining us was Michael Pirron of Impact Makers, one of the first certified B corporations in Virginia. While Impact Makers was a certified B corporation at the time of the conference, it was organized as a Virginia nonstock corporation; now Impact Makers is organized as a benefit corporation. Michael did an excellent job serving as a panelist and the keynote speaker.
Recently, I saw Michael back in the news. He transferred ownership of his company (valued at approximately $11.5 million) to two foundations. As Michael mentioned to me over e-mail, this was not a radical departure from his previous business model for Impact Makers. Previously, Impact Makers donated 100% of its profits to area charities, so this move just formalized their previous commitment. Impact Makers has given away approximately $1 million to date.
At the University of Connecticut social enterprise and entrepreneurship conference I attended and presented at last week, Mike Brady (Greyston Bakery) and Jeff Brown (Newman's Own) presented. Jeff called Newman's Own a "grandfather of social enterprise" Both companies started business in 1982, well before heavy use of the term "social enterprise."
Also, both Greyston Bakery and Newman's Own appear to have adopted a structure where a foundation owns the stock of their for-profit company. You can learn a bit more about the structure of Newman's Own here. Greyston Bakery's annual reports are here and you can view a video about Greyston Bakery (and their client Ben & Jerry's).
From a legal perspective, Greyston Bakery and Impact Makers are benefit corporations, under New York and Virginia law respectively (in addition to being certified B corporations.) Newman's Own, however, is a traditional c-corporation. With foundations owning 100% of the stock, the benefits of using the benefit corporation form are likely limited. There still may be some branding value and most benefit corporation statutes require consideration of a broad group of stakeholders, which might prevent the foundation from focusing on a smaller subset of stakeholders. That said, shareholders are the one expected to bring lawsuits to enforce this consideration requirement in the benefit corporation statutes, so as a practical matter, the benefit corporation and c-corporation forms may operate similarly when wholly-owned by one or more foundations.
Friday, April 24, 2015
These types of social impact funds seem to becoming more and more common. Social impact funds, however, vary greatly. Some social impact funds appear to be primarily focused on profits (while simply avoiding some "sin stocks"), others focus on serious social enterprises, and others fall somewhere in-between.
Friday, April 17, 2015
At the end of next week, I will be at the University of Connecticut School of Business and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center for their Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Conference.
Further information about the conference is available here, a portion of which is reproduced below:
In October 2014, Connecticut joined a growing number of states that empower for-profit corporations to expand their core missions to expressly include human rights, environmental sustainability, and other social objectives. As a new legal class of businesses, these benefit corporations join a growing range of social entrepreneurship and enterprise models that have the potential to have positive social impacts on communities in Connecticut and around the world. Designed to evaluate and enhance this potential, SE2 will feature a critical examination of the various aspects of social entrepreneurship, as well as practical guidance on the challenges and opportunities presented by the newly adopted Connecticut Benefit Corporation Act and other forms of social enterprise.
Presenters at the academic symposium on April 23 are:
- Mystica Alexander, Bentley University
- Norman Bishara, University of Michigan
- Kate Cooney, Yale University
- Lucien Dhooge, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Gwendolyn Gordon, University of Pennsylvania
- Gil Lan, Ryerson University
- Diana Leyden, University of Connecticut
- Haskell Murray, Belmont University
- Inara Scott, Oregon State University
Presenters at the practitioner conference on April 24 are:
- Gregg Haddad, State Representative, Connecticut General Assembly (D-Mansfield)
- Spencer Curry & Kieran Foran, FRESH Farm Aquaponics
- Sophie Faris, Community Development, B-Lab
- James W. McLaughlin, Associate, Murtha Cullina LLP
- Michelle Cote, Managing Director, Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- Mike Brady, CEO, Greyston Bakery
- Jeff Brown, Executive Vice President, Newman’s Own Foundation
- Justin Nash, President, Veterans Construction Services, and Founder, Til Duty is Done
- Vishal Patel, CEO & Founder, Happy Life Coffee
- Anselm Doering, President & CEO, EcoLogic Solutions
- Dafna Alsheh, Production Operations Director, Ice Stone
- Tamara Brown, Director of Sustainable Development and Community Engagement, Praxair
Monday, April 6, 2015
Yesterday was the third anniversary of the JOBS Act. President Obama signed it into law on April 5, 2012. The JOBS Act, as regular readers of this blog know, requires the SEC to adopt rules to enact an exemption for crowdfunded securities offerings. The statutory deadline for the SEC to do so was December 31, 2012. The SEC proposed the required rules on October 23, 2013, but it still has not adopted them.
It is now
- 1096 days since Congress passed the JOBS Act
- 826 days since the deadline for the SEC to adopt the required rules
- 530 days since the SEC proposed the rules
. . . and still no crowdfunding exemption.
If I treated my tax returns like the SEC has treated the crowdfunding rules, I would be in jail.
SEC Chair Mary Schapiro has recently said that the SEC hopes to finalize the rules by the end of the year. I certainly hope so.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
In connection with the current legislative debate on benefit corporations in Tennessee (which has been gathering momentum since I last wrote on the topic), I have repeatedly asked about the impetus for the bill. Of course, there is the obvious "push" for benefit corporation legislation by the B Lab folks, who have gotten the ear of folks at the Chamber, convincing them that the legislation is needed in Tennessee to protect social enterprise entities from the application of a narrow version of the shareholder wealth maximization norm (a conclusion that I dispute in my earlier post). But what else? What real parties in interest in Tennessee, if any, have expressed a desire that Tennessee adopt this form of business entity?
There is anecdotal information from one venture attorney that some Tennessee entrepreneurs have indicated a preference for the benefit corporation form and have specifically requested that their business be organized as a Delaware benefit corporation. Leaving aside the Delaware versus Tennessee question, why are these entrepreneurs looking to organize their businesses as benefit corporations? Where does this idea come from?
Earlier this week I went to a really useful workshop conducted by the Venture Law Project and David Salmon entitled "Key Legal Docs Every Entrepreneur Needs." I decided to attend because I wanted to make sure that I’m on target with what I am teaching in Business Associations, and because I am on the pro bono list to assist small businesses. I am sure that the entrepreneurs learned quite a bit because I surely did, especially from the questions that the audience members asked. My best moment, though was when a speaker asked who knew the term "right of first refusal" and the only two people who raised their hands were yours truly and my former law student, who turned to me and gave me the thumbs up.
Their list of the “key” documents is below:
1) Operating Agreement (for an LLC)- the checklist included identity, economics, capital structure, management, transfer restrictions, consent for approval of amendments, and miscellaneous.
2) NDA- Salmon advised that asking for an NDA was often considered a “rookie mistake” and that venture capitalists will often refuse to sign them. I have heard this from a number of legal advisors over the past few years, and Ycombinator specifically says they won't sign one.
3) Term Sheets- the seminar used an example for a Series AA Preferred Stock Financing, which addressed capitalization, proposed private placement, etc.
4) Independent Contractor Agreement- the seminar creators also provided an IRS checklist.
6) Employment Agreement- as a former employment lawyer, I would likely make a lot of tweaks to the document, and vey few people have employment contracts in any event. But it did have good information about equity grants.
7) Convertible Promissory Note Purchase Agreement- here's where the audience members probably all said, "I need an attorney" and can't do this from some online form generator or service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer.
8) Stock Purchase Agreement- the sample dealt with Series AA preferred stock.
9) IRS 83(b) form- for those who worry that they may have to pay taxes on "phantom income" if the value of their stock rises.
10) A detailed checklist dealing with basic incorporation, personnel/employee matters, intellectual property, and tax/finance/administration with a list of whether the responsible party should be the founders, attorney, officers, insurance agent, accountant, or other outside personnel.
What’s missing in your view? The speakers warned repeatedly that business people should not cut and paste from these forms, but we know that many will. So my final question- how do we train future lawyers so that these form generators and workshops don't make attorneys obsolete to potential business clients?
Monday, March 23, 2015
The JOBS Act requires the SEC to create an exemption for small, crowdfunded offerings of securities. That exemption, if the SEC ever enacts it, will allow issuers to raise up to $1 million a year in sales of securities to the general public. (Don’t confuse this exemption with Rule 506(c) sales to accredited investors, which is sometimes called crowdfunding, but really isn’t.)
The crowdfunding exemption restricts resales of the crowdfunded securities. Crowdfunding purchasers may not, with limited exceptions, resell the securities they purchase for a year. Securities Act sec. 4A(e); Proposed Rule 501, in SEC, Crowdfunding, Securities Act Release No. 9470 (Oct. 23, 2013). Unlike the resale restrictions in some of the other federal registration exemptions, the crowdfunding resale restriction serves no useful purpose. All it does is to increase the risk of what is already a very risky investment by reducing the liquidity of that investment.
Enforcing the “Come to Rest” Idea
Some of the resale restrictions in other exemptions are designed to enforce the requirement that the securities sold “come to rest” in the hands of purchasers who qualify for the exemption.
Rule 147, the safe harbor for the intrastate offering exemption in section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act, is a good example. To qualify for the intrastate offering exemption, the securities must be offered and sold only to purchasers who reside in the same state as the issuer. Securities Act sec. 3(a)(11); Rule 147(d). This requirement would be totally illusory if an issuer could sell to a resident of its state and that resident could immediately resell outside the state. Therefore, Rule 147(e) prohibits resales outside the state for nine months.
The resale restrictions applicable to the Rule 505 and 506 exemptions have a similar effect. Rule 506 only allows sales to accredited investors or, in the case of Rule 506(b), non-accredited, sophisticated investors. Rules 506(b)(2)(ii), 506(c)(2)(i). These requirements would be eviscerated if an accredited or sophisticated purchaser could immediately resell to someone who does not qualify.
Rule 505 does not limit who may purchase but, like Rule 506, it does limit the number of non-accredited investors to 35. Rules 505(b)(2)(ii), 501(e)(1)(iv). If an issuer could sell to a single purchaser who immediately resold to dozens of others, the 35-purchaser limitation would be meaningless.
To enforce the requirements of the Rule 505 and 506 exemptions, Rule 502(d) restricts resales in both types of offering.
Preventing an Information-less Resale Market
Rule 504 also includes a resale restriction, Rule 502(d), even though it does not impose any restrictions on the nature or number of purchasers. A resale would not, therefore, be inconsistent with any restrictions imposed on the issuer’s offering.
However, Rule 504 does not impose any disclosure requirements on issuers. See Rule 502(b)(1). Because of that, people purchasing in a resale market would not have ready access to information about the issuer. But the Rule 504 resale restriction does not apply if the offering is registered in states that require the public filing and delivery to investors of a disclosure document. Rules 502(d), 504(b)(1). In that case, information about the issuer is publicly available and there’s no need to restrict resales. People purchasing in the resale market would have access to information to inform their purchases.
The resale restrictions in Rule 505 and 506 offerings could also be justified in part on this basis. If issuers sell only to accredited investors in those offerings, there is no disclosure requirement. If they sell to non-accredited investors, disclosure is mandated, but even then there’s no obligation to make that disclosure public. See Rule 502(b). People purchasing in the resale market therefore would not have ready access to public information about the issuer.
This lack-of-information justification is consistent with the lack of resale restrictions in Regulation A. To use the Regulation A exemption, an issuer must file with the SEC and furnish to investors a detailed disclosure document. Rules 251(d), 252. Because of that, information about the issuer and the security will be publicly available to purchasers in the resale market.
The Crowdfunding Exemption
Neither of these justifications for resale restrictions applies to offerings pursuant to the forthcoming (some day?) crowdfunding exemption.
The come-to-rest rationale does not apply. The crowdfunding exemption does not limit the type or number of purchasers. An issuer may offer and sell to anyone, anywhere, so no resale restriction is necessary to avoid circumvention of the requirements of the exemption.
The information argument also does not apply. A crowdfunding issuer is required to provide a great deal of disclosure about the company and the offering—as I have argued elsewhere, probably too much to make the exemption viable. See Securities Act sec. 4A(b)(1); Proposed Rule 201 and Form C. The issuer is also obligated to file annual reports with updated information. Securities Act sec. 4A(b)(4); Proposed Rule 202. All of that information will be publicly available. Even if one contends that the information required to be disclosed is inadequate, it will be no more adequate a year after the offering, when crowdfunding purchasers are free to resell. Securities Act sec. 4A(e); Proposed Rule 501.
Some people, including Tom Hazen and my co-blogger Joan Heminway, have argued that resale restrictions may be necessary to avoid a repeat of the pump-and-dump frauds that occurred under Rule 504 when Rule 504 was not subject to any resale restrictions. As I have explained, Rule 504, which requires no public disclosure of information, fits within the information rationale. Such fraud is much less likely where detailed disclosure is required. There will undoubtedly be some fraud in the resale market no matter what the rules are, but public crowdfunding will be much less susceptible to such fraud than the private Rule 504 sales in which the pump-and-dump frauds occurred.
The resale restrictions are consistent with neither the come-to-rest rationale nor the information rationale for resale restrictions Forcing crowdfunding purchasers to wait a year before reselling therefore serves no real purpose. The only real effect of those resale restrictions is to make an already-risky investment even riskier by reducing liquidity.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Avantages de Participation à des Conférences Internationales Interdisciplinaires (Benefits of Attending Interdisciplinary International Conferences)
Greetings from Lyon, France, where I am presenting a work-in-process at an international conference on microfinance and crowdfunding organized by the Groupe ESC Dijon Borgogne (Burgundy School of Business) Chaire Banque Populaire en Microfinance. As the only legal scholar, the only U.S. researcher, and the only presenter with an orange-casted arm (!), I stand out in the crowd. So what is a one-armed U.S. law professor like me, with limited French language skills, doing in a place like this on my spring break? Among other things, I am:
- Broadening my academic and practical view of the world of business finance;
- Making new connections, personally and substantively;
- Getting different, pointed feedback on my ongoing crowdfunding work;
- Offering assistance and new perspectives (U.S.-centric, legal, regulatory, etc.) to scholars and industry participants from a spectrum of countries; and
- Securing potential partners and resources for future projects.
Although most of the participants speak English, I am still living at the edge of my socio-lingual comfort zone. It helps that I am an off-the-charts extrovert. Regardless, however, the benefits of attendance have been immediate and meaningful.
Questions for our readers:
Do you participate in interdisciplinary research conferences?
If not, why not?
If so, what scholarly traditions were emphasized? What did you find most beneficial . . . or most difficult?
Have you attended international research conferences?
If not, is it because of cost, personal discomfort, or another reason?
If so, how (if at all) have you benefitted from your attendance? What insights can you offer those considering doing the same?
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Today in my Energy Law Seminar, I sprung an exercise on my class. I gave each member of the class a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Half the class works for a venture fund and the other half works for a technology inventor who was seeking investment. (I give them some more details about the proposed deal the NDA would help facilitate. (The exercise is based on an issue I worked on some years ago.)
I instruct them to read the NDA, then they can meet with others assigned the same side. They can come up with their negotiating points, then I turn them loose with the other side.
I always enjoy watching students work like this. They are forced to react, and it lets them be a little creative. I also like this exercise, because it has multiple layers. They get to ask me me what they need to know for the business points, and I later get to talk to them about the options they may not have considered.
I have done this a few times, and the students always negotiate what they see as the key issues. Their issue spotting is usually good, but they often miss a big option (a couple students do often have an idea what's up). Here's the twist: the NDA I give them is absurdly one-sided and in fact reserves the secret information for the venture fund (who is only providing money), and not the inventor (who has the technology and information they want kept secret).
They can, of course, negotiate with this document and try to get a workable NDA based on the deal points, but the better answer for the investor representatives is to decline the entire document. The NDA is so one sided, there is no fixing it. The better answer is to ask for a more balanced version or to offer to draft one for the potential counterparty to consider.
Sometimes, of course, you have no room for negotiations, such as when you rent a car. You can mark up the contract, but with Avis, it's take it or leave it. The same can be true for certain clients who need funding or a supply contract, but often, there is room to talk. The real life version of the negotiation provides a perfect example: I told the venture fund the NDA was too one-sided and that it couldn't work for us. I suggested that we could try a draft or that we'd be happy to look at a different option. The venture fund's reply: "Oh sure, we have one that is far more balanced that doesn't have the provisions that seem to concern you most. You'll have an email in a few minutes."
When we talk about deal points and key issues, sometimes it's easy to forget to teach students some other big keys to business law. The takeaways:
(1) If at all possible, only use draft documents that reflect a sense of mutuality (e.g., reciprocal indemnification clauses). "Fixing" one-sided documents is fraught with risk.
(2) Don't be afraid to ask. Often, though I don't care for it, people like to start with offers to "see what I can get." (I see this as counterproductive, at least where a long-term relationship could be built.)
(3) Negotiate in proportion to the issue before you. The NDA is often so you can negotiate the deal. If you make that initial part too antagonistic, you may never even get to negotiating the actual deal, which can mean everyone loses.
Monday, March 2, 2015
As many of you know, both I and my co-blogger Joan Heminway have written several articles on crowdfunding. My articles are available here and Joan’s are available here. I think that a properly structured crowdfunding exemption (unfortunately, not the exemption Congress authorized in Title III of the JOBS Act) could revolutionize the finance of very small businesses.
Professor Darian M. Ibrahim, of William & Mary Law School, has posted an interesting and important new paper on crowdfunding, Equity Crowdfunding: A Market for Lemons? It’s available here.
Professor Ibrahim discusses two types of “crowdfunding” approved by the JOBS Act: (1) sales to accredited investors pursuant to SEC Rule 506(c), adopted pursuant to Title II of the JOBS Act; and (2) sales to any investors pursuant to the crowdfunding exemption authorized by Title III of the JOBS Act, but not yet implemented by the SEC. I don’t think the former should be called crowdfunding, but many people call it that, so I’ll excuse Professor Ibrahim.
Title II “Crowdfunding”
Professor Ibrahim points out that traditional investing by venture capitalists and angel investors is characterized by contractual controls and direct personal attention to the business by the investors. This allows the investors to monitor the investment and control misbehavior, and the investors’ participation and advice also provides a benefit to the business.
Ibrahim argues that Title II (506(c)) “crowdfunding” has been successful because it mimics what angel investors have been doing all along. It’s not really revolutionary, just making the existing model of angel investing more efficient by moving it to the Internet.
Title III Crowdfunding
Title III crowdfunding, on the other hand, is revolutionary; it doesn’t resemble anything that currently exists in the United States. If the SEC ever adopts the required rules, issuers will be selling to unaccredited investors who lack the knowledge and sophistication of venture capitalists and angel investors. It’s less obvious how they will judge among the various offerings and protect themselves from misbehavior by the entrepreneur.
Some have argued that the new crowdfunding exemption will appeal only to those companies that are too low quality to obtain traditional VC or angel funding, leaving unaccredited investors with the bottom of the barrel. Ibrahim disagrees, arguing that Title III crowdfunding will appeal to some high-quality entrepreneurs—those who need less cash for their businesses or are unwilling to share control with VCs or angel investors.
But how are we to avoid a “lemons” problem if the unsophisticated investors likely to participate in crowdfunding cannot distinguish good companies from bad? Ibrahim poses two possible answers. The first is the “wisdom of crowds,” the idea that the collective decision-making of a large crowd can approximate or even exceed expert judgments. Possibly, although I’m not completely sure. Collective judgments by non-experts can equal or surpass the judgments of experts, but I'm still unsure that the necessary conditions for that to happen are met on crowdfunding platforms. At best, I think the wisdom of the crowd is only a partial answer.
Ibrahim’s second answer is for the funding portals who host crowdfunding offers to curate the offerings—investigate the quality of the offerings and either provide ratings or limit their sites to higher-quality offerings. I think this is a good idea, but, unfortunately, the SEC’s proposed regulations would prohibit funding portals from doing this. Funding portals required to check for fraud, but that’s all they can do. Any attempt to exclude entrepreneurs for reasons other thanfraud or to provide ratings would go beyond what the proposed regulations allow and subject the portals to regulation under the Investment Advisers Act. Ibrahim has the right solution, but it’s going to require congressional action to get there.
Abstract of the Paper
Here’s the full abstract of Professor Ibrahim’s article:
Angel investors and venture capitalists (VCs) have funded Google, Facebook, and virtually every technological success of the last thirty years. These investors operate in tight geographic networks which mitigates uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs both pre- and post-investment. It follows, then, that a major concern with equity crowdfunding is that the very thing touted about it – the democratization of investing through the Internet – also eliminates the tight knit geographic communities that have made angels and VCs successful.
Despite this foundational concern, entrepreneurial finance’s move to cyberspace is inevitable. This Article examines online investing both descriptively and normatively by tackling Titles II and III of the JOBS Act of 2012 in turn. Title II allows startups to generally solicit accredited investors for the first time; Title III will allow for full-blown equity crowdfunding to unaccredited investors when implemented.
I first show that Title II is proving successful because it more closely resembles traditional angel investing than some new paradigm of entrepreneurial finance. Title II platforms are simply taking advantage of the Internet to reduce the transaction costs of traditional angel operations and add passive angels to their networks at a low cost.
Title III, on the other hand, will represent a true equity crowdfunding situation and thus a paradigm shift in entrepreneurial finance. Despite initial concerns that only low-quality startups and investors will use Title III, I argue that there are good reasons why Title III could attract high-quality participants as well. The key question will be whether high-quality startups can signal themselves as such to avoid the classic “lemons” problem. I contend that harnessing the wisdom of crowds and redefining Title III”s “funding portals” to serve as reputational intermediaries are two ways to avoid the lemons problem.
It’s definitely worth reading.
Andrew Schwartz at the University of Colorado is also working on a paper that addresses the problems of uncertainty, information asymmetry, and agency costs in Title III crowdfunding. I have read the draft and it’s also very good, but it’s not yet publicly available. I will let you know when it is.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Startup Stash is a beautifully simple set of curated resources for entrepreneurs. The categories of resources range from Naming to Hosting to Market Research to Marketing to Legal to Human Resources to Finance. And more.
As a law professor, I was obviously most curious about the legal resources. The list has the controversial and well-known Legal Zoom, but also has some relatively unknown resources. For example, UpCounsel ("get high-quality legal services from top business attorneys at reasonable rates") was new to me. You can see the full list of legal resources here.
As previously stated, the Startup Stash list is curated, so there are only 10 legal resources, all of which look interesting, if also potentially dangerous for those without legal training. As I tell my business students, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and consulting with a knowledgeable attorney early in the start-up process can be invaluable.
Monday, February 23, 2015
I serve on the Tennessee Bar Association Business Entity Study Committee (BESC) and Business Law Section Executive Committee (mouthfuls, but accurately descriptive). The BESC was originated to vet proposed changes to business entity statutes in Tennessee. It was initially populated by members of the Business Law Section and the Tax Law Section, although it's evolved to mostly include members of the former with help from the latter. The Executive Committee of the Business Law Section reviews the work of the BESC before Tennessee Bar Association leadership takes action.
Just about every legislative session of late, these committees of the Tennessee Bar Association have been asked to review proposed legislation on benefit corporations (termed variously depending on the sponsors). A review request for a bill proposed for adoption for this session recently came in. Since I serve on both committees, I get to see these proposed bills all the time. So far, the proposals have pretty much tracked the B Lab model from a substantive perspective, as tailored to Tennessee law. To date, we have advised the Tennessee Bar Association that we do not favor this proposed legislation. Set forth below is a summary of the rationale I usually give.
February 23, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Social Enterprise | Permalink | Comments (18)
Monday, February 2, 2015
On December 22 and again on January 9, I posted the first two installments of a three-part series featuring the wit and wisdom of my former student, Brandon Whiteley, who successfully organized a student group to draft, propose, and instigate passage of Invest Tennessee, a state crowdfunding bill in Tennessee. The first post featured Brandon's observations on the legislative process, and the second post addressed key influences on the bill-that-became-law. This post, as earlier promised, includes Brandon's description of the important role that communication played in the Invest Tennessee endeavor. Here's what he related to me in that regard (as before, slightly edited for republication here).
Thursday, January 22, 2015
I have just returned from Dublin, which may be one of my new favorite cities. For the fifth year in a row, I have had the pleasure of participating as a mentor in the LawWithoutWalls (“LWOW”) program run by University of Miami with sponsorship from the Eversheds law firm. LWOW describes itself as follows:
LawWithoutWalls, devised and led by Michele DeStefano, is a part-virtual, global, multi-disciplinary collaboratory that focuses on tackling the cutting edge issues at the intersection of law, business, technology, and innovation. LawWithoutWalls mission is to accelerate innovation in legal education and practice at the same time. We collaborate with 30 law and business schools and over 450 academics, students, technologists, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, business professionals, and lawyers from around the world. We seek to change how today’s lawyers approach their practice and how tomorrow’s lawyers are educated and, in so doing, sharpen the skills needed to meet the challenges posed by the economic pressures, technologization, and globalization of the international legal market. We seek to create the future of law, today. Utilizing a blend of virtual and in-person techniques, LawWithoutWalls offers six initiatives: LWOW Student Offerings,LWOW Live, LWOW INC., and LWOW Xed.
I first joined the program as a practitioner mentor and have now served as an academic mentor for two years. Each team has students from law or business school who develop a project of worth addressing a problem in legal education or the legal profession. Mentors include an academic, a practitioner, an entrepreneur, and an LWOW alum.
In the LWOW Live version, the students and mentors meet for the first time in a foreign city (hence the trip to Dublin) and then never see each other in person again until the Conposium, a Shark-Tank like competition in April at the University of Miami, where they present their solution to a venture capitalist, academic, and practitioner in front of a live and virtual audience.
Over the period of a few months the students and mentors, who are all in different cities, work together and meet virtually. Students also attend mandatory weekly thought leader sessions. Past topics have included developments in legal practice around the world and the necessity of a business plan. For many law students, this brings what they learned in Professional Responsibility and Business Associations classes to life. At the Dublin kickoff, audience members watched actual live pitches to venture capitalists from three startups, learned about emotional intelligence and networking from internationally-renowned experts, and started brainstorming on mini projects of worth.
This year, I am coaching a virtual LWOW Compliance team working on a problem submitted by the Ethics Resource Center. My students attend school in London and Hamburg but hail from India and Singapore. My co-mentors include attorneys from Dentons and Holland and Knight. The winner of the LWOW Compliance competition will present their solution to the Ethics Resource Center in front of hundreds of compliance officers. In past years, I have had students in LWOW Live from Brazil, Israel, China, the US, South Africa, and Spain and mentees who served as in-house counsel or who were themselves start-up entrepreneurs or investors. Representatives from the firms that are disrupting the legal profession such as Legal Zoom serve as mentors to teams as well. In the past students have read books by Richard Susskind, who provides a somewhat pessimistic view of the future of the legal profession, but a view that students and mentors should hear.
As I sat through the conference, I remembered some of the takeaways from the AALS sessions in Washington in early January. The theme of that conference was “Legal Education at the Crossroads.” Speakers explained that firms and clients are telling the schools that they need graduates with skills and experience in project management, technology, international exposure, business acumen, emotional intelligence, leadership, and working in teams. Law schools on average don’t stress those skills but LWOW does. Just today, LWOW’s team members were described as "lawyers with solutions." I agree and I’m proud to be involved in shaping those solutions.
Friday, January 9, 2015
A few weeks ago, I described to you a really special extracurricular project undertaken by one of my students, Brandon Whiteley, now an alum, this past year. The project? Proposing and securing legislative passage of Invest Tennessee, a Tennessee state securities law exemption for intrastate offerings that incorporates key features of crowdfunding. The legislation became effective on January 1.
In that first post, I described the project and Brandon's observations on the legislative process. This post highlights his description of the influences on the bill that became law. Here they are, with a few slight edits (and hyperlink inserts) from me.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
I had very limited time at AALS this year (unfortunately) but I still walked away with some great ideas (and a chance to say hello to a few, but not enough, friendly faces). I am borrowing from many ideas shared in the panel cited below, as well as a few of my own. As many of you prepare to teach BA/Corporations for the spring (or making notes on how to do it next time), here are a few fun new resources to help illustrate common concepts:
- HBO's The Newsroom. A hostile takeover, negotiations with a white knight-- all sorts of corporate drama unfolded on HBO's Season 3 of The Newsroom. I couldn't find clips on youtube, but episode recaps (like this) are available and provide a good reference point/story line/hypo/exam problem for class.
- Related, for those of you who teach or encourage the use of Bloomberg services, the Bloomberg terminal was even featured prominently in the season.
- This American Life-- Wake Up Now Act 2 (Dec. 26, 2014). This brief radio segment/podcast tells the story of two investors trying to reduce the pay of a company CEO. The segment discusses board of director elections, board duties, board functions and set up some large questions about whether or not shareholders are the owners of the corporation and their profit maximization is the ultimate goal for a company. This could be followed with Lynn Stout's 2012 NYT Dealbook article proposing the opposite view.
- HBO's Silicon Valley. For all things tech, start up, entrepreneurship and basic corporate formation, clips (you will want to find something without all of the swears, I suspect) and episode recaps from this popular show illustrate concepts and connect with students. Again, great for discussion, hypos, and exam fact patterns.
- The Shark Tank!. I have to thank Christyne Vachon at UD for this idea. There are tons of clips on youtube and most offer the opportunity to talk about investors bringing different things to the table, how to apportion control, etc. Here is an episode involving patent issues. I think that I am going to open my experiential Unincorporated/Drafting class with a Shark Tank clip on Monday.
- Start Up Podcasts. These 30-minute episodes cover a wide range of topics. Here is one podcast on how to value a small business. At a minimum, I will post some of these to my course website this spring. (Thank you Andrew Haile at Elon for this recommendation.).
- Planet Money. The podcasts are a great resource, but what I love is the Planet Money Twitter page because it is a great way to digest daily news, current events and topical developments that may be incorporated into your class.
- Wall Street Journal--TWEETS. (that felt like an oxymoron to write). Aside from the obvious, I find the Twitter feed to be the most useful way to use/monitor the WSJ. I will admit it, I don't "read" it every day, but this is my proxy.
Special thanks to the participants in the Agency, Partnership & the Law's panel on Bringing Numbers into Basic and Advanced Business Associations Courses: How and Why to Teach Accounting, Finance, and Tax
Moderator: Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Suffolk University Law School
Lawrence A. Cunningham, The George Washington University Law School
Andrew J. Haile, Elon University School of Law
Usha R. Rodrigues, University of Georgia School of Law
Christyne Vachon, University of North Dakota School of Law
Eric C. Chaffee, University of Toledo College of Law
Franklin A. Gevurtz, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
And Happy New Year BLPB Readers!