Florence Hardy is planning to offer Illinois investors an opportunity to stimulate local business through truCrowd Illinois, Inc., an online equity investment platform.
Hardy, of Flossmoor, was given the chance to develop her ideas when her proposal for truCrowd was selected one of six startups in the BMO Harris/1871 FinTech Partnership mentorship program.
For the past three months, Hardy has been mentored by three BMO Harris executives as she finessed her ideas on how to educate the public about equity investing, develop a campaign to reach businesses and investors and learn how truCrowd can work within the financial industry.
Donor platforms, such as GoFundMe, work for some ventures, but not necessarily for businesses that need to meet start-up costs, she said. Investors are more willing to provide money if they know they have a stake in the business.
“Equity crowd funding is the way to truly create economic development in areas where it doesn’t exist, because it provides both an opportunity for local businesses to raise funds from local residents and in turn it allows residents to have a share of ownership in their community,” Hardy explained.
“On top of that, it is an opportunity for business owners to develop the most loyal customers” Hardy believes, because they now have a share in the business.
She gives the example of a $1 million company needing $100,000. Someone who puts $1,000 into the equity investment fund would have a 0.01 percent ownership in the company.
BMO Harris Bank has partnered with 1871 to create advancements within the banking industry and provide opportunities to both businesses, customers of the future and startups. 1871 is a leading technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem that houses almost 500 high-growth digital start-ups in Chicago.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned (from the program) is perspective,” Hardy said. “It’s very easy for me to know why this is great for me, but from a corporate or financial institution point of view it’s really good to see what the obstacles are as well as having another sounding board for my messaging.”
Mentors Andrew Matheou, Kanch Iswar and Taneka Tucker have provided Hardy with feedback and helped her refine her message. And learning from those within the banking industry helped her get a foundation on financial institution operations that will be a benefit in the future.
Hardy is using her personal expertise in developing the second registered equity intrastate crowdfunding platform in Illinois.
She has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Howard University, an MBA from DePaul University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School.
She says her interest has always been in business, so when she did practice law it was business law. In 2014, she approached Vincent Petrescu, founder of truCrowd, for advice on how to establish an equity online platform. She did some volunteer work for him and helped him get the word out on equity crowdfunding. In 2017, he named her CEO of the Illinois intrastate division of truCrowd.
Laws in business investing in Illinois have recently changed, and Hardy believes it is an opportune time for her to officially launch truCrowd in October.
“When you think of wealth in this country, it’s ‘I own a piece in this business,’ and this business goes off and does something and it gives me dividends,” she said.
“That’s how wealth is built in this country, and so you see this great income inequality and you think: ‘Well, how can we fix it?’ This is a way to fix it. It allows individuals to say ‘Here’s my $100 help me make it into $200.’”