Investment funds

Most community-owned businesses are financed by selling shares -- as in a cooperative (where all shares are equal and each member owns one share), or a community-owned corporation, where individuals may own multiple shares.

(Selling shares in a community-owned corporation requires a prospectus, which must be approved by your state's attorney general. An example of a prospectus for the Community Store in Saranac Lake, NY, can be found here.)

An investment fund provides venture capital (equity) or loans (debt) to an entrepreneur. Unlike traditional venture capital, community-development investment funds have less interest in high returns and more interest in stimulating new businesses – especially great business ideas that cannot gain access to capital (or sufficient capital) through traditional channels. Instead of owning and operating a business directly, this tool allows a community to invest in one or more businesses – and, potentially, revolve the capital into additional new businesses over time.

Community businesses can also use crowdsource lending tools (e.g., VirginMoney) to secure debt financing from friends, family, community members, and other non-bank investors.
  • Business Alliance for Local Living Economies' (BALLE) Community Capital program links local entrepreneurs to community-based financing institutions.
  • Clean Yield Asset Management in Greensboro, VT, has helped local, private investors make equity investments in Vermont-based local start-up businesses.
  • Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation makes equity investments in businesses in a nine-county region of Southeast Kentucky.
  • Customers are financing new businesses: A new bookstore in Brooklyn was financed by micro-loans from the store's neighbors and future customers.
  • Boston Community Capital runs venture and loan funds that make equity investments and loans to emerging businesses in Massachusetts and the Northeast. BCC seeks high-potential businesses with a "double bottom line" of both financial and social returns.
  • Pacific Community Ventures makes equity investments in California businesses that generate "exceptional financial returns" as well as economic gains for low and moderate-income employees.
  • Kiva allows individuals to make micro-loans to small-scale entrepreneurs around the world.
  • VirginMoney (formally CircleLending) facilitates "social lending" by setting up formal documents and repayment systems. This makes it safer and easier for entrepreneurs to borrow money through their own networks of friends and family.
  • Chicago Community Ventures is a non-profit business development organization that offers counseling and financial services to small, under-resourced companies in three target markets: women- and minority-owned enterprises, and businesses operating in low and moderate income areas of the Chicago region.