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STARTUP

4 Start-ups Help Entrepreneurs Get Cash
 

Lighter Capital, Rebirth Financial, Weemba, and Kabbage are four start-ups on a mission to connect you with cash.

AMagill via Flickr

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Need cash? Your chance of getting an infusion has multiplied, thanks to four start-ups.

Got a "weird" company? You may want to turn to serial entrepreneur and investor Andy Sack's year-old Lighter Capital for funding. "We fund stuff that VCs aren't looking for," says Sack. "We're not looking for the next Google."

Sack's Seattle-based Lighter Capital aims to hit the sweet spot between angel investors/VCs and banks in hopes of disrupting small business lending by "renting" money to companies. Lighter, which bills itself as entrepreneurs funding entrepreneurs, takes three to four percent monthly of top line revenues until you pay the loan off times three to five. (Not cheap, but it could work out cheaper than handing over equity in the company.)

This means you'll need to have real revenues, though the company does make exceptions, he says. Earlier this year, Lighter handed over $100,000 to TomatoBattle, where people pay $50 apiece for a gigantic tomato fight.

"We fund weird stuff that makes money," Sack says with a laugh. This year, Lighter funded eight companies, with checks ranging from $50,000 to $500,000—most in the $200,000 range.

Lighter's evaluation process includes evaluating your social media presence. And their online application may be the only request for money you make that also asks you your favorite movie. Says Sack: "We want to bring the coffee meeting online."

(Sack will present the company today at the Finovate financial services innovation conference. Watch a video of his presentation or that of the following three companies.)
 
Lighter Capital isn't the only outfit checking out your Facebook feeds and Twitter followings before showing you the money.

On Tuesday, Atlanta-based start-up Kabbage debuted "Social Klimbing," which uses social behavior as a predictor of risk, giving cash advances to online merchants based on factors such as responsiveness to customers on Facebook and Twitter, likes, retweets, posts, and more. (Read more on the riskiness of cash advances.)

"Other companies are talking about customer engagement," says co-founder Kathryn Petralia. "But we are actually quantifying it and using it to give small business more capital to grow."

The company—founded in December, 2008—claims to hand over money faster than anyone else. "We're advancing funds from $500 to $40,000, and it can be in your PayPal account within minutes," says Marc Gorlin, the company's chairman. Kabbage charges you 10 percent to 18 percent, and the longest advance—these are not loans—is for six months.

Because you need to show how you interact with customers, not surprisingly, you have to have some first to qualify—meaning Kabbage won't fund just you and your idea.

"I don't like to specify minimum gates, but you've got to have been doing business for a year or more," Gorlin says.
 
The name "Weemba" is like "Yelp;" "It doesn't mean anything yet, but it will mean 'multiply your chances of getting a loan,'" CEO Annette Gallagher says confidently.

The Miami-based company helps both consumer and small business borrowers find lenders by letting those seeking money post "loan projects" (they are not applications) and profiles that include everything from video ("You're a landscaping company? Show your guys landscaping," she says) to tax returns. You choose who is allowed access to the information.

Lenders can then search for borrowers who fit their criteria. Borrowers pay nothing, but lenders pay for those they contact. Weemba verifies hopeful borrowers using Equifax (for consumers) and Dun & Bradstreet (for businesses). Lenders must be nonpredatory and professional; "no individuals," Gallagher says.

The site went live on August 15. So far, there are 86 projects (a mix of consumer and small business), and a network of some 200 lenders, including community banks and a Bank of America small business lender.

The company does not match or funnel, so Gallagher says they don't (yet) have any way of knowing who has been successful getting a loan. (It probably doesn't help that early adopters, she admits, "are on the desperate side"—meaning perhaps not the best credit risk.) Lenders have been making contact though, she says.

She adds: "We believe there's a lid for almost every pot."

Like Weemba, New Orleans-based Rebirth Financial, founded by two Tulane University MBAs, lets small firms put up profiles and the amount they'd like to borrow. But the company—which calls itself a kind of eBay for loans—actually brokers the loans, charging individuals or institutions investors a three percent servicing fee, deducted from the borrower's interest rate. Borrowers pay $150 to submit an application, a 1.25 percent closing fee, and they must repay the loan monthly.  (Co-founder Xavier Cabo says there are plans to slash the application fee.)

The company's latest project is the JAS Rating System, which it calls a first-of-its-kind scoring system to determine the financial health of a privately held company with 86 percent accuracy. S&P and Moody's can predict that of a publicly traded business with 96 percent accuracy. Companies receive a one through 100 score, and are compared to others in their industry. (Insider tip: You can see your score without actually spending anything besides time; when you click submit, all you pay is the application fee.)

Like eBay, requests for loans are listed for a fixed time (21 days), with a countdown showing how long is left. At the end of 21 days, you get the option to relist for free.

Companies need to have been in operation for a year and be requesting at least $5,000. Rebirth's network of lenders includes community banks and private equity firms. (Read more about Rebirth in this Inc. story about the coolest start-up city in America.)

One early success for the company, which launched in February 2010: It helped secure a $390,000 loan from ASI Credit Union for NOLA Brewing, which wanted to can its Blonde Ale. Cheers to that.

Last updated: Sep 21, 2011

Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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