Exit interview

July 6, 2012
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First it was computer software and data that moved to “the cloud.” Now it turns out there may be some capital up there, too.

RelayFund.com is the first “crowdfunding” website started in Michigan and one of the first in the nation, we are told. There’s not much going on yet on that website, but it says “Simplified Crowdfunding Coming Soon!”

With crowdfunding, anyone with Internet access is a potential investor. Crowdfunding websites have been used to collect small donations from a lot of people for charitable reasons, and also to fund projects and pre-sell products or services. It’s kind of like social networking with cash flow.

RelayFund is based in Detroit, but is the creation of investment banking firm Hartwick Capital and investor relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates. Both firms are in GR, and their announcement last week says they “view crowdfunding for equity as the next major catalyst in transforming the capital markets and connecting everyday Americans with private equity.”

“There is a generation of Americans that has witnessed the power of the Internet to connect and empower people, yet seen little of this applied to capital formation,” said Jeff Lambert, a principal in RelayFund and president of Lambert Edwards. “Crowdfunding bridges the void between Wall Street and Main Street. It will be a catalyst for small business growth, fuel to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the spark for middle-America investors to participate in private equity.”

The JOBS Act passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in April now allows online micro-investments for startup businesses “and creates a platform for private equity for the masses,” according to the RelayFund statement.

The RelayFund announcement notes that private equity and venture capital had been accessible only to Wall Street, large institutions and corporations, and high-net-worth investors, due to state and federal securities regulations. Government regulation to prevent investment swindles had kept the lid very tight on crowdfunding, until the JOBS Act legislation was passed. Now the SEC is working on rules specifically for crowdfunding.

“Correctly implemented, the JOBS Act is a common-sense mechanism to give investors equal access to private equity and the financial markets, while simultaneously helping them invest responsibly,” said Phil Blachard, a principal in RelayFund and co-founder of Hartwick Capital. “We know the equity crowdfunding space will quickly become littered with opportunists trying to enter the market, but we believe the sites that prosper will have capital markets expertise and a focus on providing resources to both the entrepreneurs and investors to take a long-term view, which is the hallmark of good investing.”

RelayFund said its website is expected to go live later this year to coincide with the SEC’s completed review of crowdfunding rules.

Fore score

There are golf outings for pleasure, and then there are golf outings for a purpose. Consider these two part of the latter’s camp.

Today marks the 17th annual outing put on by Mill Steel to benefit the D.A. Blodgett/St. John’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Last year alone, the outing raised just more than $100,000 for the program, and has banked more than $1 million during the course of the event.

This year’s outing at Blythefield attracted 170 golfers, and organizers hope to top last year’s $102,000 donation.

Golf outings can seem like a necessary evil to those in the corporate world (especially in this weather!), but it’s nice to know even those jaundiced to the ritual can still have their eyes opened.

“If you’re like me, your eyes glaze over when someone mentions another golf outing,” said Amy LeFebre, a PR professional at Hanon McKendry charged with spreading the word. “My left-handed clubs, purchased at Meijer 30 years ago, have been collecting cobwebs in the corner of the basement for 20 years.”

The determination for the cause exhibited by Mill Steel’s David Samrick and Bill Buck changed her mind, however. “Raising $102,000 last year alone — that woke me up,” she said.

The D.A. Blodgett/St. John’s story is not unique, of course, but it is heartwarming to see a lot of good coming from these events.

At another golf event next Tuesday, the 25th Annual Martin J. Edema Golf Outing to raise donations for Widowed Person Service, the leader board is changing.

The outing, sponsored by the Grand Rapids chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, has raised more than $344,000 for WPS since it was named 25 years ago for Martin J. Edema, a local financial advisor who died unexpectedly at the age of 32, leaving behind a wife and daughter.

The golf fundraiser has special meaning to David Muilenberg, owner of Discovery Financial LLC, who has served as past president of WPS.

“The loss of a family member is one of the toughest things to face, and WPS has helped thousands of people to cope,” said Muilenberg, who was just 18 when his father died of lymphoma. “My mom became a widow at a young age, and I can still recall the challenges she had.”

A fresh start is as essential in fundraising as it is in life, and Muilenberg recognizes that fact. The event’s original charitable golf committee, of which Muilenberg is a member, is stepping down after 25 consecutive years of service. The other original committee members include John Perras, Bob Mills, Jane Owen and Steve Wendt.

Those charged with guiding the outing through its next quarter century are Muilenberg’s wife, Angela Muilenberg, director of operations and an insurance consultant at Discovery; Jeffrey Keessen, a registered financial rep also at Discovery; Ryan Smith of Argus Financial Consultants; and Victor Chiodini of Chiodini Financial Services.

For Muilenberg, the change will be bittersweet.

“David Muilenberg originally worked with Martin Edema, 26 years ago, to organize a golf outing as a strictly social event,” explained Claire Horlings, marketing director at Discovery. “However, when Edema died unexpectedly, it was renamed for him and became a charitable fundraiser the following year, with all proceeds going to the Grand Rapids chapter of Widowed Persons Service.”

You’re leaving?

Ever wonder why your employees really quit? Ardon Schambers and the gang at P3HR Consulting and Services LLC offer some insight, based on a study of nearly 20,000 job quitters.

Schambers, the president of the HR consulting firm and a contributing writer to the Business Journal, says the “myth” is 89 percent of employers believe employees leave because of money, but the “reality” is 88 percent of employees leave for reasons other than money.

And those are?

  • Limited career opportunities (16 percent)

  • Lack of respect/support from supervisor (13 percent)

  • Money (12 percent)

  • Lack of interesting/challenging job duties (11 percent)

  • Lack of leadership from supervisor (9 percent)

  • Bad work hours (6 percent)

  • Unavoidable reasons (5 percent)

  • Bad employee relations by supervisor (4 percent)

  • Favoritism by supervisor (4 percent)

  • Lack of recognition for contributions (4 percent)

Well, at least “lack of air conditioning” didn’t make the list of reasons — yet.

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