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Raising capital takes much longer than you think

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Recently I met with a budding entrepreneur who has developed an interesting Internet-based business. If successful, his idea will change the way many people think about how to combine television-based media advertising and the Internet.

He has taken his idea to a national restaurant chain and has a commitment for a September 2004 implementation. The customer will provide a broad-based market release for his technology and give him instant credibility in the industry. All he has to do is build the customer-specific application in time for the campaign. Price tag for the work is estimated at $200,000 plus.

We talked for some time about his alternatives for fund raising: friends and family, angels, venture capitalists and debt financing. Although he had some viable options, he faced one enormous obstacle — time. He needs the funds immediately in order to build his team, develop the code and test the application in the proposed environment. The problem is not new and is all too common in emerging companies.

How much time does it really take to procure funding for a new company?

The most frequent response from those in the know is that obtaining capital will take longer than you think — at least twice as long.

Some of the factors that will effect the time to your funding include the amount of money that you are raising, your track record, the economy, your ability to network, the quality of your team, the stage of your idea and your preparation in addressing all of the above. Though each factor warrants a separate discussion, let's look at your preparation and what you can do to shorten the process as much as possible.

Develop a plan and the amount of required funding. Time spent in preparing a solid plan will help investors more quickly conduct due diligence on you, the company, the industry and your competition. I have seen entrepreneurs flip-flop on the amount of funding needed when talking with investors, which is usually not a smart move. Know what you need, why you need it and how and when it will be used.

Identify your stage. The most common terms used to describe stages are seed (proof of concept or prototype), start-up (complete product development and start marketing), market rollout (begin manufacturing and sales) and business expansion, followed by other stages that may include further expansion or an initial public offering.

Select a funding source. Attempting to raise funds from the wrong source will delay your funding and increase your frustration with the process. As a guideline, match your funding needs with your stage of development and then look for sources as follows: friends and family (seed stage with funding of a few thousand dollars), angel investors (seed or start-up stages with $25,000 to $1 million in funding needs), venture capitalists/private equity investors (market rollout, business expansion and later stages with funding from $1 million and up). As with any guidelines, there are exceptions to the rules, but start with the above and work to find the right match for your needs.

Be prepared to address the concerns of potential investors. Due diligence by the investor is a process that can feel intrusive and will sometimes offend individuals who are not prepared. Be open and honest and understand that the investor does not expect you to know everything. An entrepreneur that paints a perfect picture is often viewed as someone who is either hiding something or may not be realistic.

Bottom line, it often takes two to four months to raise money. Plan ahead to be successful.

Gary Williams is associated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at cfe@byu.edu.