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How Equity Crowdfunding Can Swell to a $300 Billion Industry

Crowdfunding represents a "true business case" for the social Web presence for businesses, he says.

"For the last few years businesses have been told you've got to have a Facebook (FB) profile, you've got to have a LinkedIn (LNKD) profile, you got to be on Twitter. You have to do all these things, but as the owner of a business, the question is 'Why?' And where's the revenue model and why am I going to spend this time on it? ... Because it's also going to be how you raise capital going forward," Best says.

Not everyone believes the crowdfunding industry has the potential to become so widespread.

To put it in perspective, at the end of the third quarter, small-business lending by banks (loans with a balance of $1 million or less) totaled $642 billion, according to FDIC call data.

That compares to just $1 billion to $1.2 billion in funding annually by the entire category of alternative lending, according to Biz2Credit.com

"Crowdfunding is a good idea, but the question is how to build it into long-term scalable business? Can a business owner keep coming back for funding two to three times each year? The regulations aren't set in stone yet. I don't think they have figured out the mechanism [to repay] the investors. You can't always repay lenders in cupcakes and watches. So there is still some uncertainty in the industry of crowdfunding," says Rohit Arora, CEO of Biz2Credit.

He adds that while the process might work well for niche projects and startups, "it is less appropriate for buying equipment loans, capital improvements and working capital. These are the things needed day-to-day by small businesses such as a Dunkin' Donuts (DD) franchise or a medical office," Arora adds. "I don't foresee crowdfunding replacing SBA loans or business lines of credit. For a mainstream business, I don't think it works."

Still, crowdfunding will have a large impact on the investment world and fundamentally change the U.S. business culture, Camillo and other panelists agreed.

"Crowdfunding is social funding. So if you have an idea, you no longer have to be concerned about finding an angel investor or venture capital that understands [for instance] the camping industry. Build out your network of consumers that would ultimately buy your product ... those are your investors," Camillo says. "That's really amazing if you think about it. I'm no longer going to Wall Street to raise money for my camping product; I'm going to campers who get it to raise [money] for my camping product."

If the average investor took part in equity crowdfunding, the country could move from one that has 60,000 angel investors to 6 million angel investors, according to Camillo.

"I think over the course of the next decade you'll see crowdfund investments taking over the angel [investment] space," he said. "Today we have very small circles of people that go out to lunch and discuss investing and startups. I believe that becomes mainstream. That said, it's very hard to predict how long that will take and what that ecosystem really looks like."

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

>To submit a news tip, email: tips@thestreet.com.

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