How Businesses Raise Financial Capital
Firms often make decisions that involve spending money in the present and expecting to earn profits in the future. Examples include when a firm buys a machine that will last 10 years, or builds a new plant that will last for 30 years, or starts a research and development project. Firms can raise the financial capital they need to pay for such projects in four main ways: (1) from early-stage investors; (2) by reinvesting profits; (3) by borrowing through banks or bonds; and (4) by selling stock. When owners of a business choose sources of financial capital, they also choose how to pay for them.
Early Stage Financial Capital
Firms that are just beginning often have an idea or a prototype for a product or service to sell, but few customers, or even no customers at all, and thus are not earning profits. Such firms face a difficult problem when it comes to raising financial capital: How can a firm that has not yet demonstrated any ability to earn profits pay a rate of return to financial investors?
For many small businesses, the original source of money is the owner of the business. Someone who decides to start a restaurant or a gas station, for instance, might cover the startup costs by dipping into his or her own bank account, or by borrowing money (perhaps using a home as collateral). Alternatively, many cities have a network of well-to-do individuals, known as “angel investors,” who will put their own money into small new companies at an early stage of development, in exchange for owning some portion of the firm.
Venture capital firms make financial investments in new companies that are still relatively small in size, but that have potential to grow substantially. These firms gather money from a variety of individual or institutional investors, including banks, institutions like university endowments, insurance companies that hold financial reserves, and corporate pension funds. Venture capital firms do more than just supply money to small startups. They also provide advice on potential products, customers, and key employees. Typically, a venture capital fund invests in a number of firms, and then investors in that fund receive returns according to how the fund as a whole performs.
The amount of money invested in venture capital fluctuates substantially from year to year: as one example, venture capital firms invested more than $48.3 billion in 2014, according to the National Venture Capital Association. All early-stage investors realize that the majority of small startup businesses will never hit it big; indeed, many of them will go out of business within a few months or years. They also know that getting in on the ground floor of a few huge successes like a Netflix or an Amazon.com can make up for a lot of failures. Early-stage investors are therefore willing to take large risks in order to be in a position to gain substantial returns on their investment.