July 20, 2024
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Sellout crowd at clean investment forum


More than a dozen companies pitched to a crowd of several hundred investors at the Clean Business Investment Summit in Santa Barbara on Sept. 12.

The summit is hosted by the California Coast Venture Forum and is in its fifth year at its new home at the Corwin Pavilion on the UC Santa Barbara Campus. The summit aims to bring together investors, whether institutional or independent, with entrepreneurs who are screened and whose pitches are refined. Over the years, the summit’s organizers say, it has introduced 575 companies to investors and helped facilitate $110 million in financing, with about 30 percent of companies that present receiving funding.

“We sold out again this year,” said Jerry Knotts, the event’s lead organizer. “We’ve tripled the number of investors that we have attending.”

One of the hottest discussion topics this year was equity crowdfunding. In the past, sites such as Kickstarter essentially helped companies execute pre-funded sales by taking in cash in advance of making products. The JOBS Act aims to let crowdfunding platforms also offer stock investments in startups.

That is sure to change the landscape for entrepreneurs looking for funding, according to a panel of experts that spoke at the summit. The government is struggling to finalize the rules — at present, only “accredited investors” with a net worth of more than $1 million can take part — but Bill Klehm of Fallbrook Technologies said letting everyday investors buy into startups is “the natural evolution of releasing more capital into the markets. Whatever rules the government will come out will be wrong, but releasing this capital into the market eventually will become a natural part of angel investing.”

The summit’s focus is on the triple-bottom-line approach of profits, people and planet, which necessarily means that an investment in a clean business isn’t just about profits for the investor. The panel said that crowdfunding could be revolutionary because it would allow investors to put smaller amounts at risk rather than the $25,000 that is customary among traditional angel investors. With less money on the line, investors could think about the other two prongs of the triple bottom line.

Only time will tell whether the wisdom of the crowd outweighs the expertise of well-heeled traditional investors, the panel said. But more eyes generally lead to better outcomes.

“The crowd makes mistakes, but professionals make mistakes, too,” said Ben Lee, founder of crowdfunding platform Circle Up.