New Wisconsin crowdfunding platform plans expansion

Though the first four non-profit campaigns on the nVestWisconsin platform didn’t meet their goals, the president of the new crowdfunding website says he’s excited about its future.

“The success was beginning and building the network [of donors],” said Mike Semmann, who’s also the executive vice president and COO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

The nVestWisconsin platform, launched late last year, offers people a chance to donate to local Wisconsin nonprofits. It also will soon begin offering an equity crowdfunding platform in which people can take an equity or debt stake into a company.

Instead of using the popular crowdfunding websites GoFundMe and Indiegogo, donors are currently able to use nVestWisconsin to donate to a local project or a “building they’re driving past,” Semmann said.

But the challenge will be to gather enough excitement around the platform. The WBA, which runs the project with Crowdfund i94, is therefore reaching out to its members and holding listening sessions with nonprofit groups that want to join the effort.

“We’re inviting anybody that wants to come along and learn more about this to contact us, get involved,” Semmann said. “It’s a call to action about investing local. … We think there’s a great opportunity for the state of Wisconsin and for the people of Wisconsin.”

The groups that have participated so far praised the effort, saying they weren’t able to meet their goals but were able to reach new donors through WBA’s network.

“We have never done anything like this before [so] it was a good opportunity to dip our toes in the water,” said Robin Higgins, a spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. The group raised almost $200 through the platform, but Higgins said they’ve learned how they can do better next time.

One advantage of the platform, the participants said, is it allows Wisconsin groups to compete for dollars with Wisconsin-based nonprofit groups, as opposed to projects all over the nation or world. The latter approach makes it “hard to get your story out,” said Sara Kierzek, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Wisconsin.

Kierzek’s group raised about $5,000 on the platform, helping them fund new windows for a man whose energy inefficient windows drove up his heating bills to unaffordable amounts. Another project installed a wheelchair ramp at a home of a senior couple.

“They would’ve probably had to leave their home they’ve been in for decades,” she said. “Just doing something as simple as that can increase the quality of life substantially for a senior.”

Habitat for Humanity “jumped at the chance” of participating on the website and is hoping to raise more money on it again soon. Kierzek said they were able to get about 20 new donors.

The Special Olympics of Wisconsin, meanwhile, was able to fund one more athlete by raising $533 on the platform. The group, whose major fundraising campaigns include the Polar Plunge, had set an ambitious goal of $40,000.

“We didn’t reach the goal the goal that we had hoped [but] we do absolutely feel this is a total win,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner. “We wouldn’t have had this revenue otherwise.”

The second phase of nVestWiscosnin — the equity crowdfunding one — will launch in the coming months, Semmann said.

That platform would take advantage of a law passed in the last legislative session, which took effect in 2014 but has seen little interest. A check of the state’s Department of Financial Institutions database shows only four such offerings so far.

Semmann attributes that to people not having “a ton of practical experience” to the relatively new funding method, although he said there’s definitely interest. And banks, he said, can become among the leaders in helping these sorts of deals happen.

“This area of [financial technology] could have the potential, we feel, to be a great complement to what is traditional banking,” he said.

— By Polo Rocha,