Opening Remarks at the 38th Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation
Aug. 14, 2019
Good morning and welcome everyone. On behalf of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, I am pleased to see each of you here today for the 38th annual Government-Business Forum on Small Business Capital Formation. We are particularly grateful to the Heider College of Business at Creighton University for hosting us and helping make this event a success. I am thrilled to see in the room today a mix of familiar and new faces joining us here in Omaha to shape the future of small business capital formation. The Forum is a unique event where members of the private and public sectors converge to identify and highlight issues they experience in accessing capital and investing in small businesses and then formulate solutions on which we can take action.
For those I have not yet had the opportunity to meet, I am Martha Miller, the SEC’s new Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation—a long title proportionate to our big mission of working to support capital formation consistent with the SEC’s mission. For those who are familiar with the Forum, you may have noticed a change this year: our new office has taken over planning and organizing this important event. We owe special thanks to Julie Davis, Jenny Riegel and Malika Sullivan for the heavy lift of planning what I know will be a thought-provoking and productive day. Beyond the Forum, our office is responsible for advocating for policy solutions that encourage capital formation across the spectrum of small businesses and their investors, from the smallest start up scaling with seed capital all the way to a reporting company that has a public float under $250 million. We have received tremendous support from across the agency in operationalizing our start-up office in record time. The support that our office and this event have enjoyed from each of the Commissioners is a testament to their commitment to small businesses and their investors, and we are thrilled to have them all here today. I want to especially welcome the SEC’s newest Commissioner, Allison Lee.
Before we move into the program, I will make an omnibus disclaimer on behalf of all speakers and presenters that the comments shared by any SEC employee or Commissioner represent their own individual perspectives and not necessarily the perspective of the Commission. I hope that by disclaiming for all up front, we can break for lunch five minutes early with the time saved.
As we began planning the 2019 Forum, we wanted to venture outside of D.C. to take in fresh perspectives on capital formation. Familiar with the Maha Discovery Festival, an entrepreneurship conference formerly known as Big Omaha that takes places this week, we knew that this region was defining entrepreneurship with its own unique “Silicon Prairie” personality. The local Chamber of Commerce’s motto says it best: “We don’t coast.” It’s both a factual statement for a state situated in the heart of the country far from the coastal cities whose large VC deals and IPOs are often in the spotlight. “We don’t coast” is also an apt metaphor for a community framing its identity through the power of hard work, not content to drift along aimlessly.
That intentional, build-it-yourself mentality reflects the region’s pioneer roots, when people came to Nebraska to start a new adventure, whether by settling on the prairie or by venturing further west into uncharted territory. A century later, Nebraska entrepreneurs and innovators filled American homes with their novel and practical inventions, from food products like the first boxed cake mix, microwave TV dinners, Raisin Bran and the Reuben sandwich; to time saving inventions like pink foam hair curlers to style hair overnight, the ski lift to get up the mountain faster, and even Cliff’s Notes to make studying a breeze; to life saving inventions like the 911 system of emergency communications we now use nationwide. This is a region where ideas take root and innovators figure out how to scale, evidenced by the pervasiveness of the aforementioned inventions. Today Omaha is perhaps known best for the College World Series, its famous steaks, and the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.
I highlight these elements of Nebraska’s entrepreneurial spirit to shine a light on the importance of entrepreneurial ecosystems. In a world where technology bridges many geographic boundaries, entrepreneurship still is largely a local phenomenon, occurring in early stages through networks of founders, funders and talent who operate in proximity through relationships of trust, experience and accountability. After welcoming remarks from our Commissioners, we will hear from leaders in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, starting with remarks from Dean Hendrickson of the Heider College of Business. After that we will kick off a panel titled “Capital Formation in the Silicon Prairie” to hear from local experts about how companies and investors are finding success in building and growing companies here in the prairie states.
We will then proceed with a panel titled “Harmonization: What a Concept!” to delve into the current concept release on harmonization of the exempt offering framework. Our rulemaking leadership will take you behind the Emerald Curtain on the ideas being discussed—an apt metaphor in the hometown of the Wizard from L. Frank Baum’s classic story. We look forward to hearing from Bill Hinman, Director of the Division of Corporation Finance, and his team, alongside leaders from the field who will share insights into the breadth of this rulemaking initiative. Our speakers from both panels this morning will lay the groundwork for your thoughtful discussion this afternoon of the capital formation issues facing small businesses and their investors and formulation of recommendations to address those issues.
We are fortunate to have with us today a wide range of businesses, their investors and other market participants in the small business ecosystem, and we want to kick off this afternoon’s discussion with hearing your views on the most significant capital formation issues. For example, what are the issues that small businesses have with securing access to capital? What are the issues facing entrepreneurial investors? We hope this discussion of the issues will help guide, focus and prioritize your discussion of recommendations to address the issues identified in small business capital formation.
Participants may join breakout sessions along three tracts, depending on the stage of capital formation of interest: (1) seed and early stage capital, (2) growth and mature capital, and (3) public capital for smaller reporting companies. We have shifted the structure of the breakout sessions to encourage discussion among Forum participants based upon your expertise with niches within the capital formation lifecycle, although we welcome you to move between rooms.
Capital formation and investing in promising new companies is critical to the future of our economy, from creating new jobs, to developing new solutions to emerging problems, to seeding companies that may one day ring the opening bell as a public company. The nature of what it means to raise capital, thrive and scale has changed in the past few decades. Today you can help us craft a vision for what the securities framework should look like to ensure that we are well positioned for a vibrant future ahead.
In closing, for fans of professional football, you may be familiar with Peyton Manning’s famous shouting of “OMAHA, SET HUT!” from the line of scrimmage. While somewhat mysterious in its origins, Manning famously shouted the name of the city where we are gathered today to signal play changes to his team. He had a unique ability to read the field, react and adjust at the line, cryptically signaling to his team how the play would change with the single word “OMAHA!” This afternoon I hope that you will do more than cryptically shout “OMAHA!” to signal that the rulebook needs to change without further direction. Tell us how you would redraw the playbook to work better for issuers and investors.
Thank you for spending the day with us. It is now my pleasure to welcome Chairman Jay Clayton and the other Commissioners to share their opening remarks.
 See, e.g., Brad Feld, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (2012), which details entrepreneurial ecosystem growth effects and opportunities, including an exemplar of Big Omaha’s startup efforts.
 Concept Release on Harmonization of Securities Offering Exemptions, Release No. 33-10649 (June 18, 2019), available at https://www.sec.gov/rules/concept/2019/33-10649.pdf.
 L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900).