Understanding Equity Capital
Equity capital or financing is money raised by a business in exchange for a share of ownership in the company. Ownership is represented by owning shares of stock outright or having the right to convert other financial instruments into stock of that private company. Two key sources of equity capital for new and emerging businesses are angel investors and venture capital firms.
Typically, angel capital and venture capital investors provide capital unsecured by assets to young, private companies with the potential for rapid growth. Such investing covers most industries and is appropriate for businesses through the range of developmental stages. Investing in new or very early companies inherently carries a high degree of risk. But venture capital is long term or "patient capital" that allows companies the time to mature into profitable organizations.
Angel and venture capital is also an active rather than passive form of financing. These investors seek to add value, in addition to capital, to the companies in which they invest in an effort to help them grow and achieve a greater return on the investment. This requires active involvement and almost all venture capitalists will, at a minimum, want a seat on the board of directors.
Although investors are committed to a company for the long haul, that does not mean indefinitely. The primary objective of equity investors is to achieve a superior rate of return through the eventual and timely disposal of investments. A good investor will be considering potential exit strategies from the time the investment is first presented and investigated.
Differences Between Debt and Equity Capital
Debt Capital: Debt capital is represented by funds borrowed by a business that must be repaid over a period of time, usually with interest. Debt financing can be either short-term, with full repayment due in less than one year, or long-term, with repayment due over a period greater than one year. The lender does not gain an ownership interest in the business and debt obligations are typically limited to repaying the loan with interest. Loans are often secured by some or all of the assets of the company.
Equity Capital: Equity capital is represented by funds that are raised by a business, in exchange for a share of ownership in the company. Equity financing allows a business to obtain funds without incurring debt, or without having to repay a specific amount of money at a particular time.
Business "angels" are high net worth individual investors who seek high returns through private investments in start-up companies. Private investors generally are a diverse and dispersed population who made their wealth through a variety of sources. But the typical business angels are often former entrepreneurs or executives who cashed out and retired early from ventures that they started and grew into successful businesses. These self-made investors share many common characteristics:
They seek companies with high growth potentials, strong management teams, and solid business plans to aid the angels in assessing the company's value. (Many seed or start ups may not have a fully developed management team, but have identified key positions.)
They typically invest in ventures involved in industries or technologies with which they are personally familiar.
They often co-invest with trusted friends and business associates. In these situations, there is usually one influential lead investor ("archangel") whose judgment is trusted by the rest of the group of angels.
Because of their business experience, many angels invest more than their money. They also seek active involvement in the business, such as consulting and mentoring the entrepreneur.
They often take bigger risks or accept lower rewards when they are attracted to the non-financial characteristics of an entrepreneur's proposal.
Successful long-term growth for most businesses is dependent upon the availability of equity capital. Lenders generally require some equity cushion or security (collateral) before they will lend to a small business. A lack of equity limits the debt financing available to businesses. Additionally, debt financing requires the ability to service the debt through current interest payments. These funds are then not available to grow the business.
Venture capital provides businesses a financial cushion. However, equity providers have the last call against the company's assets. In view of this lower priority and the usual lack of a current pay requirement, equity providers require a higher rate of return/return on investment (ROI) than lenders receive.