It’s hard raising money as a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company, but one startup wants to make it easier. CircleUp, which already helps consumer brands raise millions in equity financing, is now going to issue loans to help smaller CPG companies raise working capital and avoid cash crunches.
Historically CircleUp has operated an equity investment marketplace focused specifically on emerging CPG companies. In essence, it lets new consumer businesses apply to raise funding on its platform, and gives investors a new way to find and back those businesses.
To do that, CircleUp has built a proprietary algorithm focused specifically on analyzing the industry. Called Helio, the system analyzes each company’s financial performance as well as its competitors’ performance, while also taking into account the strength of the company’s brand, its retail and online distribution, and the underlying team behind it.
To date, CircleUp has used the data collected from Helio to make recommendations to investors and help 243 companies have raised a total of $365 million in equity financing.
But not every CPG company wants to raise millions (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars to fund its growth. Some are just in need of additional working capital, and in the CPG world and small and medium-sized business world in general, fundraising is hard to come by.
As a result, CircleUp is now applying its learnings from Helio to help extend lines of credit to companies just looking for smaller amounts of capital to finance their growing businesses.
With the launch of CircleUp Credit Advisors, it has begun issuing loans ranging in size from $25,000 to $600,000 to help businesses fund future purchase orders, increase inventory and smooth out cash flow while waiting on late accounts receivable payments.
To launch the new lending product, CircleUp has partnered with Community Investment Management (CIM), an investment manager focused specifically on economic development and social impact that comes from backing small and medium-sized businesses. To get the program off the ground, CIM is contributing a $20 million credit facility which CircleUp will use to fund the loans it issues.
According to CIM managing director Jacob Haar, the partnership with CircleUp fit right into his firm’s sweet spot. “Most banks are uninterested… in lending to small businesses,” Haar said. And many of the lenders that are available for those companies aren’t always transparent. CircleUp wanted to do what few banks in the industry were willing to do, which is provide reasonable and responsible lending products to help small businesses grow.
Because it plans to recycle the credit as borrowers repay their loans, Haar expects that credit line to fund more than $100 million worth of cumulative loan originations. And $20 million is just the start — if the pilot goes well, CIM or another partner could increase CircleUp’s credit facility over time.
Already, CircleUp has issued 50 loans to CPG borrowers, and it expects to do about 200 over the course of the year. One of those early borrowers was Carlos Ramirez, founder of Powerful Yogurt, a maker of high-protein yogurt, yogurt drinks and oatmeal for consumers with an active lifestyle.
Powerful Yogurt had previously raised $2 million in equity financing through CircleUp, but when it came time for Ramirez to invest more into his business, he didn’t want to dilute himself further.
“Raising equity is very expensive,” Ramirez told me. By contrast, he said the process of borrowing money was easy and transparent. “Now I’m able to fund my working capital with this, which is what i wanted to do from day one,” he said.
Now that its trial has proven successful, CircleUp is expanding its credit product even further. With more than 17,000 companies having already applied to its investment platform and millions of data points to help evaluate them, the lending option is well on its way to providing a much lower-cost way of raising working capital for consumer brands.