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In hunt for 'unicorn' companies, new show invites audience to invest

Executives of early-stage companies who appear on "Unicorn

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Long Island securities executive Scott Livingston are among the "Unicorn Hunters" on a new streaming show where they make investing in startups accessible. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca; Unicorn Hunters

Mom-and-pop investors will join Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a Long Island securities executive in hunting for potential billion-dollar "unicorn" companies on a new streaming show.  

"Unicorn Hunters," which debuts Monday, will make crowdfunding pitches available to millions of homes in a new form of populist capitalism.

Unicorn: A private company valued at more than $1 billion.

"I believe this show has the potential to be revolutionary," said Scott Livingston, a panelist on the show and chief executive of Uniondale-based Livingston Securities LLC.  

How is it different from ‘Shark Tank’?

Unlike the popular "Shark Tank," where panelists like Mark Cuban and Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O’Leary evaluate, and invest in, startup companies, "Unicorn Hunters" offers a path for investors big and small via new government regulations.

"What we’re talking about is crowdfunding," said Alon Kapen, a securities lawyer at Uniondale-based Farrell Fritz PC. "Companies are pitching to the entire world."  

Executives of early-stage companies appear on the show and make their case for investment to a rotating panel, whose initial cast also includes NSYNC vocalist and investor Lance Bass.

The show will stream on outlets including Amazon Prime, Vimeo and YouTube.

"The main difference between this new program and ‘Shark Tank’ is suggested by the title: ‘Unicorn Hunters,’ " said Kapen. "They’re going to let viewers invest."

Kapen said "Shark Tank" is "far removed" from the way an early-stage investment deal typically is done, where considerations of potential market size and entrepreneurial record are paramount.

A seat at the table for the 99%

Livingston said "Unicorn Hunters" will be a "kinder, gentler ‘Shark Tank’ " and avoid "game show" theatrics.

"It’s not about sharks circling and swimming," he said. "It’s about helping the companies have access to capital."  

The "Circle of Money" Scott Livingston, Chairman/CEO of

 

'It's not about sharks circling and swimming ... It's about helping the companies have access to capital.'

 

- Scott Livingston, a panelist and Long Island executive

Photo credit: Ben Brodsky/ TransparentBusiness

To do that, the show will offer the "99% of us, a seat at the table," said Livingston, who connected to the show through "Unicorn Hunters" co-creator and attorney Moe Vela, a former senior adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration.

Alex Konanykhin, CEO of remote-work productivity company TransparentBusiness Inc. and a developer of the show, said five episodes are ready for streaming and sponsors include Microsoft Corp.

Small investors historically have been shut out of coveted venture capital deals for fast-growing private companies like SpaceX or Robinhood, in part because they didn’t meet high net worth or income requirements to qualify as "accredited" investors.

Raising equity for startups

The 2012 JOBS Act opened the door for companies to use crowdfunding as a way to raise capital outside the public markets from investors who didn’t meet those requirements.

That door swung wider in March when the Securities and Exchange Commission updated its rules for Regulation Crowdfunding, known as "Reg CF."

The new rules let startups raise as much as $5 million through crowdfunding in a 12-month period, versus $1.07 million previously.

On "Unicorn Hunters," investments by non-accredited mom-and-pop investors start at $100, with investment limits based on income.  

Once the $5 million crowdfunding maximum is reached, companies on the show will be able to raise additional millions from accredited investors — generally people with a high net worth or income of more than $200,000.

Investors will be able to get additional information on investing in presenting companies on the web sites of the "Unicorn Hunters," Livingston Securities or Netcapital Funding Portal Inc., which hosts crowdfunding campaigns.

Investing ‘not a zero-sum game’

Konanykhin said traditional venture capitalists might be less than thrilled by the new program.

"I don’t think they’ll be excited about this show," he said. "They’re not going to like someone coming and making them less relevant. [This will] democratize access to investment opportunity."  

'We're being very explicit about the risk. That said, risks don't discourage millions of people from flying to Las Vegas each year.'

Alex Konanykhin, the show's developer and CEO of TransparentBusiness Inc.

Konanykhin, who said that plans call for the show to receive an equity stake in presenting companies, acknowledged that investing in startups offers no guarantee of success.

"We’re being very explicit about the risk," he said. "That said, risks don’t discourage millions of people from flying to Las Vegas each year," where the house takes a cut off the top.

By contrast, Konanykhin said, investing "is not a zero-sum game."  

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