Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The First Crowdfunding Bootcamp: a new Industry meets with enthusiasm and determination

The Crowdfunding Bootcamp and CFPA Convention in Las Vegas Nevada, October 9-11, was a pivotal event in the establishment of the Equity Crowdfunding industry. Hundreds of crowdfunding thought leaders, service providers, nascent funding portals, social media experts, accounting, legal and policy professionals, and individual entrepreneurs gathered to understand the challenges, the promise, and the nuts and bolts of the coming equity crowdfunding era, how it will be executed, and how it can be made to work for everyone.

Combined with the event was the first annual Crowdfunding Professionals Association CfPA Conference, a group of first movers in the industry.

"Reflecting crowdfunding itself, the CFPA conference had an authentic DIY spirit and excitement that more 'corporate' conferences lack." said Paul Spinrad, "I connected with people doing a diverse range of great things there, and gathered some information that will really help me. I look forward to an even bigger crowd at the 2013 event."  

Kim Wales said, "We all have a role to play! Whether you led from the front or led from the back; showed up to learn, teach, encourage or laugh – sell products or just to be seen – the conference hall was 250+ persons strong.  All of our hands and minds came together in unity; forming the industry's first Annual Crowdfunding Bootcamp and Crowdfunding Professional Association Conference in October 2012."

Ruth Hedges, bootcamp creator and organizer, hosted and moderated the event. “We are on the threshold of a new era in the financing and creation of new businesses. The JOBS Act crowdfunding provisions will allow for vastly expanded participation by all Americans who will be able to make small investments to participate in job creation and capital formation,” says Hedges, “the challenge now is two-fold: for the SEC to meet their responsibilities in finalizing the rules of the road by the end of the year, as stipulated in the bill, and the education and creation of a pipeline of entrepreneurs and as well as the  education for a country of newly enfranchised small investors -that means you!- to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Many Bootcamp attendees familiar with the SEC process have become impatient with the agency’s slow progress in meeting their statutory duties. Hedges sentiment; “It took only 116 days to write the entire U.S. Constitution and to get all the U.S. representatives to agree to it!
So why is the SEC  having trouble resolving Equity Crowdfunding details within their congressionally mandated 270 days?” was met with enthusiasm from the crowd. Other participants consulting directly in the SEC process were still guardedly optimistic that deadlines will be met.

Keynoter Peter Shankman, founder of Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and now small business evangelist for VOCUS, was on hand to help frame conference business in terms of "understanding the rapidly changing technological, social and economic ecosystems that enable crowdfunding, along with examples of viral success stories and why they worked." said Meghan Cole, VP of Operations for Laughlin Associates one of the event's coordinators and sponsors.  

Alix Shaer, fundraiser and well known for raising millions of dollars for the American Cancer Society, helped entrepreneurial attendees to think about how to leverage and recruit who they know and the importance of communicating one’s passion directly.

Wednesday’s panel featured a heady line-up including; Maurice Lopes of Early Shares, Candace Klein of Bad Girl Ventures and SoMoLend, Scott Purcell of the crowdfunding platform Arctic Island, Joy Schoffler of Leverage PR, D.J. Paul of Crowdfunder, Rodney Sampson of Legacy Opportunity Fund and Dara Albright of NowStreetMedia.  “If one could choose one element of the event that people would have wanted a lot more of, it was this incisively intelligent and practical-minded panel,” said conference staffer Joe Phelan.

Other amazing speakers included Douglas Ellenoff, of Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP, who has consulted with the SEC on crowdfunding rules and whose firm, along with Sara Hanks founder of  Crowdcheck, has played leadership roles in communication with the SEC to help establish those rules; bringing further credibility, Gary Milkwick of 1800Accountant- a firm specialized in small business; Michael Fultz of Fund All Be All, a full spectrum crowdfunding service provider; Bruce Johnston and Zachary Hedges of CaptureTrackConvert, a customer acquisition optimizing platform, and; Karl Burl of Navicate, a service to streamline the valuation process and Arron Young CEO of Laughlin Associates a first mover in providing Incorpoation and corporate veil protection to the crowdfunding industry.

Another exciting moment came with the presentation of the First Annual Crowdfunding Visionary Award TM presented by Garrett T. Johnston of the law firm Mintz Levin which went to the three organizers of Startup Exemption; Sherwood (Woodie) Neiss, Zach Cassady-Dorion and Jason Best. These three heroically spearheaded the effort to expand crowdfunding in the Congress at a time when a partisan standoff paralyzed lawmaking. “Without them, the democratization of capital formation would still be a distant dream,” says Hedges.

The event featured the first Funding Portal Pavillion TM, with booths featuring 30+ companies who provide services and support to entrepreneurs. Many new portal companies were able to interact with their future customers and each other. "The CFPA conference was an incredible event, probably the largest CrowdFunding event to date in number of attendees. The vibe and deals were so positive that even direct competitors became great new friends." said Maurice Lopes CEO of, "When the right people get together to support a new industry great things can really happen!"

Toward the end of the last day, Sherwood Neiss stood up and talked about the issues of potential fraud, transparency and accountability, and noted that with equity crowdfunding, as with the current gift-based crowdfunding, the safety is in that one has to build support from your friends and family who expand out to their friends and family; without the trust of the people who know you, there is little chance of your campaign going viral and getting funded. Support doesn’t come from an impulse. The internet has a memory. Neiss explained. "Con-artists will for the most part be identified and the disclosure and transparency as stipulated in the bill and registration process will keep fraudsters from even starting."

Ruth Hedges emphasized the need for getting entrepreneurs educated and prepared in the crowdfunding process: "To feed the demand next year from these new funding portals and the millions of new investors who will be looking for quality deal flow, we need to start now and  build a pipeline of one million crowdfund compliant small businesses who will be ready to launch an equity crowdfunding campaign once its legal to do so. We need to ramp this up now in order to provide a continuous flow to create the new businesses and jobs that will power our economy forward.”

On the last day, Jed Cohen, CEO of Rocket Hub gave the closing keynote, brilliantly explaining the logical dynamics of crowdfunding with diagrams that in one case resembled the clusters of star systems he studied as an astrophysics student. Rocket Hub is one of the existing crowdfunding sites that sees equity crowdfunding in its own future.

Crowdfunding Bootcamp organizers and the CFPA have received many messages from sponsors speakers and participants. Sponsor-speaker Scott Purcell of Arctic Island is typical; “Absolutely fantastic, you have a real winner on your hands there! I think this can build just like Internet Expo did in the 90's, and will be a major industry event... Congratulations, I loved being part of it and you can definitely count us in next year as well!"

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