This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner INVESTinNC.
Being in the military requires discipline, commitment and interpersonal skills. In the entrepreneurial world, these skills can translate to determination, perseverance and the ability to network, which makes many veterans well suited for small business ownership.
John Panaccione, CEO of software company LogicBay and a veteran himself, is helping veteran-owned businesses seek financial opportunity through investment crowdfunding.
“Investment crowdfunding now allows North Carolina residents the opportunity to invest in local companies whose mission, management team and products appeal to them. The state’s NC PACES Act makes it legal for any North Carolina resident to invest up to $5,000 in private companies. Until the PACES Act was passed, only accredited investors could do so,” Panaccione explained.
He added, “This new law and the ability for entrepreneurs to raise capital this way has opened the door to previously inaccessible sources of investment, and for the 90 percent of us that are not accredited investors, a previously inaccessible opportunity to invest in companies we believe in.”
The concept of investment crowdfunding is pretty straightforward, but the rules around it are a bit more dense. It’s one of the reasons why Panaccione launched INVESTinNC, an educational program created to inform North Carolina based small business owners and potential investors about the opportunities investment crowdfunding provides.
The North Carolina Providing Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs and Small Business (PACES) Act makes investment crowdfunding legal and possible, and Panaccione believes it’s a great avenue for small businesses looking for capital.
“We were interested in the process of fundraising. My partners and I had heard about [investment] crowdfunding before. We sat down with INVESTinNC and it sounded like a good opportunity,” said Ron Holmes, director of training and product development at Ryker USA Inc., a firearms accessory company. “We had a company meeting and we all agreed it can’t hurt to try it. It’s pretty exciting.”
Ryker USA is part of INVESTinNC’s inaugural veteran-owned six-pack.
A six-pack campaign is designed to help groups comprised of individual businesses that share a common demographic to participate in investment crowdfunding. The companies prepare and file their applications to the state for authorization individually and can fundraise on their own, but have the added benefit of being promoted as an affinity group to the public for an opportunity to invest in one or several of them.
“These groups can be promoted as a whole to like-minded investors,” Panaccione said. “By being part of the six-pack offering, issuers are able to create more buzz for themselves in hopes of attracting potential investors. Veteran-owned, minority-owned and women-owned businesses in particular have strong support for each other within their own groups. Plus, these focused campaigns attract others who aren’t members of these demographic groups but who have a passion for supporting them. ”
Holmes, a retired marine, invented a firearms grip intended to help people with shoulder injuries to shoot more effectively. This evolved into what is now the Ryker Grip shooting method, which Holmes created with the help of his two business partners who are also veterans. The shooting method is said to improve speed, accuracy and stability for the operator.
Holmes said he is proud to be part of a group comprised of fellow veteran business owners.
Also in this six-pack is Rob Marrin, CEO of Marrins’ Mooving, a Raleigh-based moving company. Marrin originally started the company in 1997 in his home state of New York but opened up operations in Raleigh in 2006, eventually shutting down the New York offices. He said even though he had decades of skin in the game, he had to essentially “start from scratch” in North Carolina.
An Army Reserves veteran, Marrin is a board member of the N.C. Veteran Businessman’s Association and met Panaccione through a symposium put on by the NCVBA.
“They have breakout sessions and there was a new thing called crowdfunding,” Marrin recalled. “It intrigued me how you can get nontraditional funding in a way that actually works.”
Because Marrin treated the North Carolina offices of Marrins’ Mooving as a separate entity from the New York offices, he didn’t have a lot of seed money to get it up and running. Additionally, a couple of former employees stole money from the company.
Marrin linked up with a new business partner and rebranded the company in 2014.
“Even though we had been in business for 20 years, we needed to almost start over. And so we did. We started fresh,” Marrin said. He hopes his involvement with the six-pack will help attract the investment opportunities he’s been looking for to take Marrin’s Mooving to the next level.
Chris Brunner, CEO of In Demand Real Estate Services, has been pursuing angel investors for a while, but said many are interested exclusively in tech companies. Another member of this six-pack, Brunner said the investment crowdfunding model is appealing because he doesn’t want to give up equity in his own company.
“I took a VETToCEO class online, and wrote to John [Panaccione] and presented a business plan,” he said. “I got into business when I was still in the military — real estate wasn’t it, but I got in the real estate game when I bought my first house.”
Brunner comes from a military family and served in the Marines for 20 years. Upon retiring, he earned his B.A. in business administration and is currently pursuing an MBA. His vision for In Demand Real Estate Services is simple — deliver honest honest service to every one of his customers. He said there’s nothing more aggravating as a customer than having to call dozens of different places to get all the things on your list checked off. In Demand offers a multitude of in-house real estate and home services with set prices.
“I’m a big believer that any business owner can be driven, but there’s no one more driven than a veteran,” he opined.
Roderick Robinson, president and founder of Black Claw Energy Inc., exemplifies drive. Prior to starting his renewable energy company, he spent a year researching business opportunities, tax structures and economic growth areas.
“I visited several companies to see how they were structured and how they operated. I researched website design, tax laws, codes, permitting and all other aspects of the business,” the Army veteran continued. “I wanted to build a company that others would want to model, a company that would provide U.S. jobs, energy savings and help the environment.”
Robinson found his way to the six-pack through a local venture capital group that he pitched for capital.
“We have self-funded the company about as far as we can,” he said. “As an entrepreneur, unless you have deep pockets you will need to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising. I am excited about the crowdfunding program and joining the veteran’s six-pack group to get the word out to investors about the program. Investment crowdfunding is a way for ordinary folks and seasoned investors to back solid growing companies within North Carolina.”
This story was written for WRAL TechWire Innovator partner INVESTinNC.