There is a big banking reform bill working its way through the Senate right now. It is sponsored by Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. It has a long name I can't remember, so I'll call it the Dodd Banking Bill.
What does a bill attempting to regulate the banking industry have to do with startups? Well unfortunately, it contains two provisions that are quite problematic and hurtful to entrepreneurs and startups. They are:
1) Changing the definition of a "qualified investor" in angel and venture deals. Not just anyone can invest in a startup company. You have to be a qualified investor. A qualified investor is currently defined as anyone with a net worth of over $1mm or net income of over $250k. Dodd's bill would increase that to $2.3mm and $450k respectively. And then index those numbers to inflation.
2) Eliminate the existing federal pre-emption over state regulation of "accredited offerings." Angel and venture financings could be regulated state by state creating a fairly burdensome set of rules and regulations that each financing would need to be subject to. Currently there is a federal pre-emption that makes getting these kinds of deals done fairly easy.
I have no idea why either of these provisions ended up in a bill designed to regulate the banking industry. Entrepreneurs and startups don't use banks to finance them. They get their initial capital from angel investors and then VCs as they grow. This system works well, did not blow up in 2008, and is not in need of reform of the type Dodd wants to throw at us.
In fact, what we need is to eliminate all accredited investor requirements for small investments of up to $25k. Why does someone have to be a millionaire to invest in a friend's startup? I understand that we don't want someone mortgaging their home, or betting their entire life's savings on a startup. But for a small amount, like $25k, we should not be regulating angel investing.
My dad sent me an email the other day pointing out a news story about an incubator in Texas that was cranking out startups and creating jobs. He told me that he believes that the work entrepreneurs and the people who work with them (ie me) are doing is incredibly important to the health of our economy. He's right and we need to explain that to Chris Dodd and his friends in the Senate. If they are going to reform accredited investor regulations, they should liberalize them, not constrain them further.
I'll get on the phone and call my Senators and Representatives. Hopefully you'll do the same. This is nonsense.
UPDATE: Irene left these details in the comments which will be helpful when you contact your representatives:
The section numbers in question are Sec. 412 for accredited investors and Sec. 926 for federal pre-emption or Reg D.
Link to pdf of bill: http://bit.ly/duxjSr
Link to TechFlash article with more info on possible influences: http://bit.ly/96uuEx
UPDATE #2: Dan Primack of PE Hub has just posted that congress is listening to all the uproar over this. Maybe we'll get to keep things the way they are. But I am still going to make the case that we need an exclusion for small investments made by non-qualified investors.