As the alternatives in financing from the crowd expand beyond the more mainstream options of perk- and equity-based campaigns, more niche opportunities for those needing capital -- and those seeking a return on their investment -- are surfacing. Here are a few clever and more unique funding platforms you may have not yet run across.
1. Pave allows accredited investors to invest in the next generation of youth. This platform supports motivated young people who are looking for backers willing to bet on their future success. The money might go to launch a new business idea or cover time off for them to learn new skills or pursue a community-development project. The backers help talented prospects reach their next level of achievement.
Backers on Pave invest for financial return as well as the social impact: They might support a filmmaker needing capital to create her first feature or a young man with an entrepreneurial itch seeking funds to move beyond his day job. Those funded through the site also gain access to a network of Pave mentors for advice.
Anyone backed by Pave makes recurring payments through the site based on what he or she earns over a 5- or 10-year period. (Exceptions are made for those in school full-time or with scant income that's close to the poverty level.) Pave aims to provide investors a 7 percent return.
The difference between Pave's approach and a traditional crowdfunding site is described as being focused “on the person, not the project” by Pave. What more important asset is there to invest in than youth?
2. SoFi is a site that offers students loan refinancing to save them money. The company claims to make possible a savings of $9,400 on average over the lifetime of the typical loan. The platform offers borrowers benefits like entrepreneurship support, career coaching and unemployment protection. Investors in the platform gain not only attractive financial returns but also the satisfaction of investing in the futures of promising young adults.
This platform is targeted only to accredited investors but all borrowers can benefit from the loan savings.
3. Crowd Settlements is a debt-based crowdfunding platform built for nontraditional asset holders looking for liquidity. Those holding legal settlements, distressed real-estate notes, lottery winnings or other structured settlements can obtain that money in a lump sum instead of waiting for future payments. People offer the specialty finance products they hold via the platform and Crowd Settlements lets its base of accredited investors bid on them.
"It’s our belief that this type of nontraditional, asset-based marketplace lending is just in the top of the first inning," David Halabu, founder of Crowd Settlements, explained in an email. "We see a void in the market with many underserved asset classes that deliver meaningful yield to investors. By leveraging our years of experience, investors can participate in investments, backed by solid credit fundamentals, that were formerly reserved for large private equity and hedge funds.”
4. Experiment.com funds what its investors hope will become the next wave in scientific research. The research could involve a noninvasive way to measure the blood sugar of someone with diabetes or a method to save an endangered seabird. Researchers post projects and ask for donations.
Unlike what's the case for other donation-based crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, however, backers do not get tangible rewards in exchange for their contributions. They are instead provided with what the site calls “insights behind the science” as project creators share their lab notes and project updates. The site founders hope this approach will help backers better understand how the research they support affects the world.
5. Fundbox is not really a crowdfunding site but it does help solve entrepreneurs' financing issues. Many small and emerging businesses have gaps in their cash flow as they await customers' payments. Fundbox grants business owners a simple way to bridge such gaps by advancing payments on outstanding invoices. These are short-term advances to cover shortfalls, and the owners repay the loans as clients pay up.
The site offers an easy-to-use dashboard enabling users to evaluate which invoices might be best to clear first. The site's pricing mechanism is straightforward. An entrepreneur of a startup just adds its invoices directly into the dashboard from its accounting software (QuickBooks, for instance), sees what the fee will be to clear them, and the site advances payment for the selected invoices to the firm's bank account.
Note that Square recently announced a new service to help its customers gain access to quick cash.
As the number of nontraditional financing platforms expands, they are rapidly reducing pain points for entrepreneurs and others in need of funding while offering promising returns to investors.