Growing companies are singing the praises of a 2012 law that allows them to file for "secret IPOs."

The JOBS Act--an acronym for Jumpstart Our Business Startups--loosened the rules of going public for companies with less than $1 billion in revenue. Most significantly, it allows businesses to keep their filings out of the public record until 21 days before the IPO, meaning that they can talk to investors--or even reverse course--before going through with their plans.

"It's a great tool for any small business that’s thinking of doing an IPO," says Frank Sorrentino, the chief executive of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, bank ConnectOne. His company, which went public in 2013, was the first financial institution to pull off an IPO using the law’s stealth provisions.

ConnectOne has found a lot of fellow fans since then. This year’s IPO boom has been powered by the JOBS Act and the so-called emerging growth companies that are using it to go public, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Such small firms have accounted for 87 percent of all U.S.-listed IPOs so far in 2014, versus 80 percent in 2013 and 50 percent in 2012, according to Dealogic statistics reported by the Journal.

One of the JOBS Act’s "great advantages is the ability to go out and speak to investors and test the waters," Sorrentino said in a video interview last week with Inc., and "see what they say about your business plan." 

"A lot of people sometimes are very enamored with their own plans, and yet, when they sit in front of investors, they [realize], 'Wow, we didn't really think of that. We need to rethink this whole process,'" he added.

The JOBS Act and its confidential IPO process also have their critics, who say that companies may be able to distort the perception of their financial health by withholding crucial documentation from the public. The law has also helped stoke fears of a tech bubble, since it’' been used by high-profile--if unprofitable at the time--startups including Twitter and Box.

But the JOBS Act has paid off pretty well for ConnectOne and Sorrentino. In January, the bank signed a complex $243 million deal with New Jersey's Center Bancorp. While ConnectOne technically was the seller, its name and its CEO have now taken over the combined company.

Published on: Aug 19, 2014