Last week, EquityEats announced that it will open a "pop-up megaplex" in the former LivingSocial event space at 918 F St. NW this spring. Restaurants using EquityEats' equity crowdfunding platform and other local chefs will be able use the building to showcase their food and drinks to potential investors and the public. The "movie theater but for foodies" will be able to accommodate up to five pop-ups at any given time.
Now you can invest in the complex, which is called Prequel. And not just in a get-a-free-t-shirt Kickstarter kind of way. Anyone, regardless of income, will be able to give between $100 to $1,000 and get a return on the investment if the venture is profitable.
At its inception, EquityEats wanted to allow anyone—not just "accredited investors" with annual incomes of at least $200,000—to back the restaurants featured on its platform. But current federal regulations make it very cumbersome. "It's a long and expensive process for a company to go through. It's kind of like a mini-[initial public offering]," says EquityEats co-founder and lawyer Andrew Harris. "If you're a small business, there's no way you can afford to spend that kind of money putting an offering together."
That's changing with investment-based crowdfunding regulations that the D.C. government passed in October. The new rules allow a company to crowdfund money from unaccredited investors (people of all income levels) by completing disclosure document with D.C. regulators. "It's meant to be much more simple," Harris says. "You can do it without racking up these huge legal fees." Prequel (which is a separate business entity from EquityEats) has gotten the city's first stamp of approval to take advantage of the new rules.
"I like to think of it as, if you're willing to pay $100 for dinner and you like your dinner, you're probably willing to invest $100 or more in that offering," says Steve Lucas, EquityEats VP of strategy and communications. The goal is not just to raise money, but to create buy-in from the community so people will want to be regular guests and cheerleaders for the concept.
Prequel is seeking $200,000 (through prequeldc.com), which will comprise 10 percent of equity in the company, from up to 500 people. Investing will be limited to D.C. residents only, and backers will have to show documentation to prove they live here. Through the new D.C. regulations, investors who earn less than $100,000 can invest up to $10,000. Those who earn up to $200,000 can invest up to $25,000.
In addition to the possibility of profits, Prequel investors can get perks, which range from invites to the opening party to priority ticketing to cooking demos. (You can see the full breakdown of what investors get for varying amounts here.)
The four restaurants that are currently raising money through EquityEats won't be taking advantage of the crowdfunding from unaccredited investors. But in the future, other restaurants could potentially raise money in the same way as Prequel.
Meanwhile, federal regulations around equity crowdfunding are in flux. The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, signed into law in April 2012, includes a “crowdfunding exemption” that will open things up for anyone to be an equity investor under certain limits. But the Securities and Exchange Commission is still writing regulations to implement it. It's unclear exactly when that will happen.
Photo courtesy Douglas Development