Panel + Q&A (*Maximum 4 Panelists)

Grassroots Investment Crowdfunding– A Tool for Post-COVID Economic Recovery and Reconstruction?

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COVID-19 has wrecked havoc on our economy and especially on local businesses.  And while a range of grant and loan programs have been created to provide some relief, it is clear that these efforts are far from adequate to provide assistance to the large number of businesses in need of support.

This panel introduces participants to what we believe could be a powerful tool to refuel and strengthen our economy—grassroots investment crowdfunding. This approach enables businesses to get the capital they need directly from their customers/community. As such, it promises to provide a triple bottom line, with real benefits for community residents (who can build new assets through their investments), businesses (who not only access needed capital but also solidify ties with customers/community; if local residents take a financial stake in local businesses, then they will patronize and promote those establishments as much as possible), and the overall community (which benefits as local businesses grow and succeed).

Recognizing the power of investment crowdfunding, Congress passed the JOBS Act in 2012, Title III of which legalized crowdfunding through licensed online investment portals. Now any American, including “non-accredited” individuals, can invest at least $2,200 per year into local businesses. The SEC issued final rules to implement Title III in May 2016, and today there are about three dozen licensed portals operating, making it relatively inexpensive and easy for grassroots investors to put money into small businesses. Despite this legislation, fewer than a thousand companies nationally have taken advantage of these new laws. Changing the law only matters if people are educated to take advantage of the changes, and new initiatives are necessary to open up this marketplace and mobilize businesses and investors.

We see this panel as an important part of this education process, which has become more important than ever in light of COVID-19. Our goals are to:

  • Introduce attendees to grassroots investment crowdfunding;
  • Highlight how it could be a key tool for rebuilding the economy post COVID-19; and
  • Introduce our unique platform, The MD Neighborhood Exchange. This is the first (and remains the only) locally-focused crowdfunding platform in the nation. Its early track record of success indicates it’s a model that could play a vital role in helping communities across the country recover and rebuild.

Confirmed Panelists

Michael H. Shuman is an economist, attorney, author, and entrepreneur, and a leading visionary on community economics. He’s Director of Local Economy Programs for Neighborhood Associates Corporation, and an Adjunct Professor at Bard Business School in New York City. He is also a Senior Researcher for Council Fire and Local Analytics, where he performed economic-development analyses for states, local governments, and businesses around North America. He is credited with being one of the architects of the 2012 JOBS Act and dozens of state laws overhauling securities regulation of crowdfunding. He has authored, coauthored, or edited ten books. His most recent books include Put Your Money Where Your Life Is: How to Invest Locally Using Solo 401ks and Self-Directed IRAs, The Local Economy Solution: How Innovative, Self-Financing Pollinator Enterprises Can Grow Jobs and Prosperity, and Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street. One of his previous books, The Small Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition (Berrett-Koehler, 2006), received as bronze prize from the Independent Publishers Association for best business book of 2006. A prolific speaker, Shuman has given an average of more than one invited talk per week, mostly to local governments and universities, for the past 30 years in nearly every U.S. state and more than a dozen countries.

Stephanie Geller is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the MD Neighborhood Exchange, the first locally-focused crowdfunding platform in the nation.  She also is the Founder and Director of Community Wealth Builders, a nonprofit initiative focused on promoting and catalyzing community wealth building models and strategies in Baltimore.  Previously, she worked at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where she focused on promoting community wealth building.  In this role, she created and co-taught with faculty from the UMD business and law schools the first-ever, joint MSW, MBA, and JD graduate-level class, which engaged students in analyzing opportunities for new employee-owned businesses based on anchor institution procurement.   Stephanie received her MSW with a specialization in Social and Community Development from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, has a BS in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University, and completed public policy training at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Jonny Price is originally from the UK, where he started his career in strategy consulting with Oliver Wyman. In 2011, he joined the non-profit as the Founder and Director of its U.S. lending division, leading that team for seven years. In early 2018, he joined Wefunder (a PBC and B Corp) as Director of Business Development. His primary role is recruiting great companies that are excited to use crowdfunding to raise capital and gain customers. He serves on the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Advisory Council, and has a degree in History from the University of Cambridge. His proudest accomplishment is to be the dad of Felicity and Carlyle.

Nick Mathews is the CEO and Co-founder of Mainvest. An expert in marketing and operational strategy, Nick led the team that launched Uber in Boston back in 2011. While launching Uber in new markets, both suburban and urban, he experienced firsthand local challenges around economic development. He founded Mainvest in 2018 with the goal of empowering communities to determine their own economic development, utilizing new regulations and novel investment vehicles to align incentives between local community members and small businesses. Nick’s mission is to revitalize the American Dream, one small business at a time.

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  1. Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful proposal to help drive discourse around community investment at a time when it’s never been more important.

  2. We’ve been inspired by Stephanie’s passion for community action since her high school years. She visualizes needs and determines how to best serve them.

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