Keeping Small Businesses in Business Through Crowdfunding

When I find a business that provides a product or service I love, I want to share it with the world because I want my family and friends to have a great experience and (a bit self-servingly, I’ll admit) because I want the business to continue existing so that I can continue being a customer.

To that end, if a favorite local business was in need of a cash infusion to fight off a takeover or to survive a financial hardship or a health crisis, I’d be willing to support the business. Would others be willing to do that? It seems likely. Crowdfunding via the internet is a medium to which more small business owners are turning in times of trouble.

On its face, the idea of a business – which is essentially designed to make money by selling its product or service – needing money from customers without exchanging those products or services is a bit absurd. Businesses fail for various reasons and getting close to closing down doesn’t necessarily instill confidence in the business owner’s capability.

But that’s a cynical viewpoint. Sometimes stuff just happens.

Crowdfunding small business

Communities can rally around their local small businesses. While crowdfunding is more traditionally used to launch new businesses or creations, small business owners are pursuing crowdfunding to raise money for survival. Some raise enough money; others attempt and fail.

This article from Entrepreneur highlights the stories of several small business owners, including a Brooklyn-based bar that needed money to survive a hurricane and then a protracted family dispute; and this story about a Philadelphia-based book store:

One of these businesses is Philly’s Black and Nobel, one of the last remaining black-owned independent bookstores in the country. Earlier this year, founder Hakim Hopkins was on the verge of shutting down the hulking, 14-year-old shop. Book sales were down, and the bulk of Black and Nobel’s revenue – currently about three-quarters, Hopkins says – came from shipping books to prison inmates, a business that can be run without a pricey brick-and-mortar location. “That’s why we’re still here. They’re still reading in prison. They still have time,” he says.

There was only one problem with Hopkins’ plan to wind down the business: His customers wouldn’t let him. “I’ve been fighting for the past few years to keep the doors open. The younger people were like, ‘No! This place saved my life!’”

So in June, he launched an ambitious $250,000 campaign on GoFundMe to keep Black and Nobel’s doors open and maintain the bookstore’s vital role as an event space, supporter of independent black writers and artists, and community hub. The campaign has gotten plenty of local press, and support from a few high-­profile local artists and athletes. But by the three-month mark, Black and Nobel raised just shy of $10,000, a far cry from what Hopkins was seeking.

At a glance, the Black and Nobel campaign appears doomed. But Hopkins says he’s just getting started. He is planning a neighborhood block party to raise more funds, and he wants to launch a series of promotional videos. “I’m not just gonna brush it off after six months,” he says.

If he can make it to the $250,000 goal, Hopkins has big plans: buying his own building, renovating and expanding the bookstore space, buying a tour bus to put Black and Nobel’s programming on wheels and take it around the country. And although the campaign has a long way to go, he’s heartened by the progress he’s made. “Mainly we started it to keep up with rent,” he says. “It’s getting to the point now where I feel like we’re going to be open, because we do have people who care.”

Promoting the fund-raising campaign is a bit like having a second job, Hopkins says – a sentiment shared by many campaign founders. “It’s very draining. It’s like begging. And I’m an earner,” he says. Hopkins, who started his business as a street vendor with a table and a box of books, says he’s never had a bank loan, or even a credit card. Every dollar he spends on his business is a dollar he earned.

But Black and Nobel is too important to give up without a fight, he says. He’s watched elementary school kids who saw the bookstore as a haven grow up and graduate from college, and he feels his store made a difference in their lives.

“We helped build the community,” he says. “It’s more than a bookstore.”

Road Plan Under Construction as Senate Takes Its Turn

The Indiana Chamber was pleased overall to see the Senate response to the House road funding bill. Several aspects of the plan will be determined as this bill goes forward – including how it interfaces with the budget bill’s (HB 1001) evolution.

Some key Senate changes from the House road funding plan are:

  • removal of the sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that would directly go to roads
  • a Chamber-supported $75 annual registration fee for hybrid vehicle
  • modified distribution of the state/local road funds
  • requirement change from “may” to “shall” for INDOT to seek a waiver to toll interstate highways
  • addition of a $100 annual transportation infrastructure improvement fee that applies to commercial
  • vehicles greater than 26,000 lbs.
  • addition of a $5 fee per new tire sale (currently 25 cents per tire)
  • addition of a 10-cents per gallon aviation fuel excise tax with revenue going to the airport development grant fund

This version of the bill should bring in about $672 million per year. Tolling has the potential of bringing in up to $400 million per year, when implemented. Removing the House proposed sales tax revenue collected on fuel sales that were earmarked for the highway fund reduces the total by over $300 million. As the bill moves forward, the Senate may have other cashflows in mind that can be repurposed to replace that revenue stream. Doing so will help get the road funding bill close to the $1.2 billion a year the extensive Funding Indiana’s Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow taskforce recommended last year.

The Chamber testified in support of this version of the bill. It keeps the discussion going and presents other ideas and options to be considered for the final version of the bill, which we will work to bring to a good landing at the end of session.

The Chamber will continue to advocate for a strong, user-fee based model to address Indiana’s $1.2 billion per year road funding gap. We encourage members of the business community to contact your state senator to let them know they need to support HB 1002 to address the huge $1.2 million gap in Indiana’s road funding.

Call to Action: Connect with your state senator via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term road funding is important to you and your company!

Local Option Transportation Bill Moves Forward

SB 128 was amended on the Senate floor last week and passed third reading yesterday. It was previously determined that HB 1141, with similar language, would not move out of committee and efforts would be focused on the Senate legislation.

These were two bills with similar goals – to allow for communities all around Indiana to supplement road funding to enhance the possibility for a priority regional project – and were introduced in their respective legislative bodies. Both bills would apply to all areas of the state and create a mechanism for local communities to create a regional development authority, which can be used to apply for federal grants, create separate funding for a particular road project, give them the authority to issue bonds and have a referendum to raise property taxes to pay for transportation infrastructure.

The authors of both bills are from Jasper, and they see great economic value in connecting their community and surrounding communities with Interstate 69. They want to create options for communities to step up to provide additional local funds to enhance the possibility of getting a road built sooner.

The Chamber supports the effort as it creates a viable local funding option and it doesn’t require INDOT to elevate the priority. However, if the funding is there, it is more likely to happen. The authors and other supporters will continue to work on moving the Senate bill through the process.

Purdue’s Income Share Agreement Program Takes On Philanthropic Component

We covered Purdue’s new income share agreement program, a measure to help students lessen the debt they incur, in BizVoice last year.

Purdue recently announced its “Back a Boiler” program has added a philanthropic aspect by allowing donors to contribute as well. A release from the school has more:

Beginning this fall, Purdue students who apply to take part in Back a Boiler – designed to offer students and their families an alternative financing option – may also apply for available funding support from the new Pave the Way program.

Addressing Purdue alumni and friends at a dinner in Naples, Florida, President Mitch Daniels recognized the support of Bob and Patti Truitt, Purdue alumni who approached the university about expanding Back a Boiler so that donors could participate, in addition to investors.

“Our hope is that we can not only help students finance their education, but also help teach the importance of charitable giving, including the joy and importance of giving back to Purdue,” said Bob Truitt, a 1962 graduate of Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Patti and I are honored to make the initial commitment to Pave the Way.”

Back a Boiler participants receive education funding in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of their post-graduation income over a set number of months. In addition to signing a Back a Boiler contract, Pave the Way participants are asked to make a voluntary pledge. After graduation, students fulfill their Back a Boiler commitment and are encouraged to donate to Purdue through charitable giving, creating an evergreen Pave the Way fund to benefit future students.

“It’s what we like to call a virtuous cycle,” said Amy Noah, vice president for development, Purdue Research Foundation. “We’re grateful to Bob and Patti for establishing an ongoing legacy of philanthropy, and we’re hopeful that our generous alumni and friends will be interested in supporting future generations of Boilermakers through this new way of giving to Purdue.”

To learn more, visit purdue.edu/evertrue/pavetheway.

Real Journey Begins for Transportation Funding Bill

During a six-hour hearing before the House Roads and Transportation Committee, there were some technical changes made in the bill and the annual increase for the fuel tax was capped to no more than one cent per year. Chamber President Kevin Brinegar provided testimony that this bill was about “revenue recovery” on the lost buying power of the gas tax since it was last raised. (Read the Chamber’s full testimony.) That lost revenue, plus better fuel economy means less money for roads. The Chamber is grateful to board members Drew Coolidge with SIRVA (moving company) in Fort Wayne and John Thompson (owner of several Indiana-based businesses) who testified how better roads impact their business, their communities and Indiana. House Bill 1002 will be considered in the coming weeks by the Ways and Means Committee before the desired House floor vote.

Call to Action: Connect with your state representative via our grassroots page. Let them know today that long-term funding is important to you and your company!

Senate Needs to Hear from You on Top Issue

36601064Highways and bridges are easily taken for granted. They only come to mind for most of us when something goes wrong: A car hits a large pothole or there is an inconvenient road closure. But if you look around, the inevitable aging of our infrastructure system is happening.

There are three legislative proposals to address a $1 billion a year maintenance shortfall in funding for roads and bridges. Only one, HB 1001, helps meet long-term needs.

Yes, it will cost the average driver $25 more a year in gasoline taxes. But we are all spending much more than that (an average of $366 per year) on automobile repairs due to poor quality roads.

Senators are reluctant to increase taxes in an election year. Employers and voters, however, want a long-term solution. It’s too important to our economy and the time to act is NOW.

Please email your state senator urging passage of HB 1001 and long-term road funding.

Learn more: Read the write-up on the HB 1001 committee hearing and this one-pager which outlines additional infrastructure facts.

Paving the Way for Good Roads

PollQuestion

We’ve got a new poll question (top right) asking about a strategy to pay for long-term infrastructure funding. The current House Republican plan calls for a modest gasoline tax increase and higher cigarette taxes (that would go toward Medicaid spending, with sales tax funds currently used in that area shifting to transportation).

More details on the legislation: HB 1001

The most recent poll asked for your top legislative priority. Civil rights expansion (36%) topped the list, followed by increased transportation funding (28%) and education testing reform (16%).

Lawmakers Hear from INDOT on Road Funding; Gov. Makes $1 Billion No-Tax Proposal

30449450Two key events in recent weeks on the transportation front in Indiana: A long-awaited Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) study on long-term funding options for Indiana’s roads, highways and bridges was presented on Oct. 15 to the Interim Study Committee on Roads and Transportation; and just a few days before, on Oct. 13, Gov. Pence proposed a $1 billion, four-year plan for short-term transportation needs whose most prominent feature was no tax increases. INDOT Commissioner Brandye Hendrickson appeared with the governor at his announcement and testified before the interim study committee.

Hendrickson provided a broad overview of the state of Indiana’s roads and bridges during her testimony and INDOT’s study vendor, Cambridge Systematics, testified at length on the options available to the state to address long-term transportation funding, concluding that policymakers need to “decide what Indiana should invest in and how best to pay for it.” Both federal and state highway revenues are expected to decline in future years due to a number of factors, including increased fuel efficiency standards and more alternative-fuel vehicles hitting the roads.

All fuel excise tax revenues from the state’s highway fund are required for maintenance of existing infrastructure; no funding is available for expansion projects such as completion of I-69, adding lanes to I-65 or I-70, or new bridges across the Ohio River. Additionally, more than half of the state’s bridges are in the last 25 years of their useful life (50-plus years or older) and will need significant reconstruction or remediation in coming years.

Bottom line: The state needs more revenues to address a growing need for maintenance of existing infrastructure – let alone expansion of the state’s highway network.

Pence proposes a mix of bonding (debt), general fund appropriations and use of the state’s reserves in his “21st Century Crossroads” plan. His proposal would seek $450 million over three years to be appropriated by the General Assembly from the state’s general fund, $250 million to be used from the state’s reserve funds, $50 million from the state’s Next Generation Trust Fund (established by Major Moves monies) and roughly $240 million in new bond financing as existing debt gets retired or refinanced. The plan is short term in nature and, while tapping appropriate sources, needs the consent of the Legislature (where several Statehouse voices expressed reservations about the bonding aspect of the plan).

The Indiana Chamber would like to see a mix of increased fuel excise taxes, indexation, tolling, fees on alternative fuel vehicles and other tools based upon a “user fee” model discussed in the 2016 legislative session, along with the use of existing tax authority by cities, towns and counties to address the needs of local streets and county roads. Policymakers must make some hard choices with the support of the state’s business community to address the scale and scope of the challenge.

In short, the era of strategic investments fueled by the Major Moves program is over. The prevailing (default) practice of making stop-gap appropriations from the state’s general fund is not a reliable or strategic means to pay for future maintenance and upgrades to Indiana’s surface transportation network. Currently, we risk wasting strategic investments already made, and our roads and highways will deteriorate along with our reputation as “The Crossroads of America.”