Covid-19 didn't stop disrupting business in 2021, but for many small-business owners, this was the year their company rebounded from the pandemic in a big way. Large amounts of business activity came back online for the first time since March 2020, leading to widespread revenue growth and increased merger and acquisition activity.
Here are five major business moments that stood out in 2021.
A Regulation Crowdfunding change
"Back in the old days," we'll tell future small-business owners, "a founder could only raise $1.07 million in crowdfunding in a single year." A long-anticipated change to the SEC's rules for Regulation Crowdfunding nearly quintupled that, to $5 million, in March. Solid seed-stage rounds can now be raised entirely without VC funds and large angel investors. Already, we can see some companies raising beyond the old cap on crowdfunding sites like Republic, where Sugarfina has raised more than $2.5 million from more than 1,400 investors in its current campaign.
SPACs hit the big time
A potentially easier but often more expensive way to offer stock to the public through a kind of reverse merger, special purpose acquisition companies have been around for a very long time, but hit a new level of popularity over the past year, with well-known companies taking that route to investor exits. Some of the biggest names included the genetic-testing company 23andMe, going public in June through a SPAC sponsored by billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group. Other big names to go the SPAC route in recent months include WeWork and BuzzFeed.
NFTs grow in value
NFTs were more theory than virtual reality heading into 2021, but an explosion in market value for many crypto assets saw non-fungible tokens blow up. Much of the value created so far is tied to receipts claiming ownership of digital images, and critics are referring to it as the latest tulip mania, as what's been termed "the right-click brigade" keeps pointing out that they can simply download and "own" the digital image in all but blockchain recognition. That skepticism hasn't stopped the artist Beeple from seeing his work garner $69 million in an auction at Christie's.
The Reddit crowd fights back in the public markets
It started with GameStop, and then added AMC, Nokia, and a bunch more. The Reddit group WallStreetBets targeted short sellers and spawned an industrywide discussion of "meme stocks" to shift the markets. Many market observers were surprised that a group of retail investors could gather in such size and uniformity, to alter companies' trajectories across many billions of dollars in market capitalization. Industry insiders now have something else to worry about whenever they decide to take a significant position that rubs the Reddit crowd the wrong way. And their moves have proved surprisingly sustainable: GameStop stock is well below its peak but is still trading at more than 10 times the price as of a year ago.
Facebook/Meta goes under the microscope
Amid book-length investigations into its practices, hundreds of pages of leaked internal documents, and congressional testimony by former employees, Meta (née Facebook) is showing that even for the seventh-largest company in the world by market cap, practices undertaken since its founding can put the company in harm's way. Meta threw a bone to ethical overseers by abandoning facial-recognition technology, but the pressure is only growing.