He has invented 21 products for treating heart disease. He led the growth of two multi-million dollar health companies, which eventually sold to Medtronic for over $4 billion in the late '90s. He has even run for governor of California. Now serial entrepreneur Howard Leonhardt wants another notch on his belt: To help create 23 million American jobs. He plans to do it by starting the California Stock Exchange—think NASDAQ for start-ups and small businesses only. Pipe dream? Maybe not. Here, he talks about starting from scratch with Inc.com's Nicole Carter.
How did you come up with the idea for the CSE?
In 2008, I was still at Bioheart (a stem cell research company that Leonheardt founded in 1999). We were going public at a very bad time. The company needed to raise money to complete the final leg of clinical trials. We were able to raise $6.5 million. But the idea for the California Stock Exchange was formed the moment my CFO gave me a run-down of costs of the dog-and-pony show to raise that money: $4.8 million. I almost fell out of my chair. The legal fees, accounting fees, printing costs, and such all added up thanks to our delayed IPO process and the bad economy. I got angry. So I called a few people, and we started the California Stock Exchange.
But what does the California Stock Exchange have to do with IPO costs?
Basically, we believe that NASDAQ has moved away from an interest in smaller companies and we want to fill that gap. Eventually, our dream is to become the premiere stock exchange for smaller companies.
How exactly do you start a stock exchange?
Well, we aren't a stock exchange yet. Right now, when you come to our site, we sell business optimization software and services, and we match entrepreneurs to other crowdfunding sites. We aren't making a substantial amount of money right now.
There are two more steps. One, we are awaiting the passage of the McHenry Crowdfunding bill, which aims to ease regulations for investing in small companies. It will hopefully allow small companies to raise up to $2 million, and let investors give up to $10,000 or 10 percent of their income in that class of stock (not company) without messy regulations. Once that happens, we will become a crowdfunding site. The last step is for us to register as a stock exchange, and we will specifically cater to companies making under $50 million. It will probably take years to get to that last step
What kinds of investors are you targeting?
First, let's adjust the way you are thinking about "investors." We want to attract people that want to invest in their local business. We've even test marketed, and the people that tested the best were average people that had never invested before.
So you're thinking Average Joe investing in Average Joe Entrepreneur on Main Street USA?
People want to see the person that they are investing in. Plus most people want to improve the community in which they live. We're even working with Patch.com to in the future help facilitate local meetings, that will get small companies and investors in the same room together.
Are you planning to raise any money?
We are planning a venture round of $30 million to coincide with the McHenry bill becoming law, which is expected in March. We have 20 advisory board members and consultants which include former members of NASDAQ, The Boston Stock Exchange, The Toronto Venture Exchange and leading venture funds and business incubators. Though our network is pretty big, we have only three part-time employees.
Advocates claim that 23 million jobs could be created if the McHenry Bill passes. How would this happen?
Small companies are the engine of job creation and innovation in this country. All of us working on the CSE, a network of about 50 people, are entrepreneurs. We've all suffered under the current environment. Take Bioheart. Those people who invested in my company did it because they believe in our work. Instead, that money went to pay off the costs of raising the money. You take out the mess, let more of the capital be used to grow a company, and there you go. More jobs.