Crowdfunding evangelists Wefunder are getting out of what they call the “Silicon Valley bubble” and hopping an Amtrak train for a cross-country trip aimed at finding and funding small businesses.
In 2012, the startup literally helped Congress pass the JOBS Act, a new law that allows businesses to raise up to $1 million online. May 16 is the first day in over 80 years that it will be legal for everyday Americans (not just the rich or banks) to invest in local businesses, Wefunder says on its website. Starting March 2 in San Francisco, all eight members of the company will head out to promote the law they lobbied so hard for.
“We built this company for this law,” said Nick Tommarello, Wefunder co-founder and CEO. But after a few years of funding startups in Silicon Valley and New York, Tommarello said the law makes it much more practical for local communities in “normal cities” to fund their own businesses. The train trip will allow Wefunder to meet “lots of people in real America,” he said.
The two-week trip is designed to stop in 12 cities, including Seattle, with plans to visit 100 businesses.
“Part of the reason for doing this trip is we’ve been in this Silicon Valley bubble and it kind of warps how you think,” Tommarello said. “We don’t know what to expect. We hope to meet hundreds and hundreds of people and actually have a much better understanding of the needs of startups and small businesses outside of major tech hubs.”
When asked whether “Shark Tank on Rails” would be a good analogy for the trip, Tommarello laughed and said his team wouldn’t be pitched in a panel setting like on the reality TV show.
Wefunder’s plan at the end of the tour is to promote 20 of the businesses they meet along the way by helping to craft fundraising pitches and launch them across America. For three of the businesses, WeFunder will invest $100,000 up front in April.
“What’s probably going to be the best fit for Wefunder is businesses with a really great story,” Tommarello said. “A lot of our investors invest in things that are like experiences. So they like supporting people with great stories and supporting things that they could potentially be a user of.”