Assistant Treasurer and Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer recently announced changes to crowd-sourced equity funding (CSEF) regulations, paving the way for increased access to funding for startups and small businesses.
These changes were introduced to Parliament in a bill on Thursday 3 December (Bill), ahead of the release of the Federal Government’s innovation statement which followed this week.
The Bill reflects recommendations made in the Murray Financial System Inquiry, which in part analysed the financial system’s compatibility with innovation. In the current environment, “startups and small businesses cannot practically access retail investors due to significant upfront and ongoing compliance costs and red tape”, O’Dwyer noted.
Whilst previously crowdfunding has been restricted to non-equity based investment, the Bill allows investors to gain equity in startups which are public companies and see a more direct benefit from their investment.
If passed, the Bill will bring Australia into line with Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and New Zealand, where “small businesses and startups are able to use technology to reach new investors to finance or expand their businesses”.
The Bill only allows for public companies with annual turnover and gross assets of $5 million or less to access up to $5 million through CSEF in any twelve month period, compared with the $1 million cap in the USA (the $5m is also higher than that of New Zealand and the UK). One example O’Dwyer illustrated was the potential growth the proposed changes would allow the founders of a microbrewery in Tasmania “to get their business off the ground with the investment of Mums and Dads in places like Albury and Sydney”.
The Bill recognises that the inclusion of only public companies will exclude many startups and small businesses; however, a number of concessions and exemptions will be made for companies that become publically listed in order to gain access to CSEF. These concessions include the ability to provide financial reports to shareholders online, exemptions from appointing auditors and having reports audited as well as exemption from holding annual general meetings, for a period of five years.
O’Dwyer emphasised the need for adequate consumer protection measures and noted the gatekeeper obligations of intermediaries, risk warnings to investors and a five day cooling off period as essential mechanisms. Such consumer protection measures have been included in the Bill, with the addition of a limit of $10,000 for retail investors to be able to contribute to a single company in a 12 month period through CSEF
Watch this space for an update in the coming weeks as to the success of the Bill and how Government seeks to support startups in its innovation statement.
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