Word to Semantic Web Startups: The JOBS Act Is On

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If there’s one thing the Semantic Web arena is full of, it is start-ups. In fact, the slew of creative and innovative ideas out there coming from young companies is one of the reasons for the first Start-Up Competition to be held at the Semantic Tech & Business conference in San Francisco this June.

If you fit the bill and haven’t checked out this opportunity, you should, right this way. Are more opportunities waiting in the wings for entrepreneurs? Yesterday Congress sent the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business) Act bill to President Obama for his signature. Once he signs it – and the White House has said that is the intention – entrepreneurs no longer will be prohibited from advertising their intentions to raise funds for their companies to investors, because the Act abolishes the general solicitation ban. As reported by The Washington Post, “the bill also establishes a framework for crowdfunding — which enables small companies to solicit equity capital from myriad small-dollar investors.”

What’s the reaction from some members of the Semantic Web community?

We’ve seen pro and con discussions on the Google Plus circuit from some prominent names, with the case made that there’s a need for capital acquisition to be fairer than it is, and that fundraising has been skewed in favor of large companies for too long.

On the other hand, another argument goes that the small investor provisions are distracting from the real issue of the bill, as described in this Slate article from Eliot Spitzer, that the bill removes critical protections that will re-open a door to fraudulent Wall Street analyst practices. That’s thanks to greater leeway in disclosure practices that apply to companies that have up to $1 billion in revenue — considered small businesses in the Act’s terms. (By the way, if there are any Semantic Web vendors out there with that kind of revenue, we’d love to know who you are!)

Dan Gillmor at The Guardian weighs in that the bones of the key idea seem sound enough – to help entrepreneurial startups, a vital part of the economy, find investors and grow rapidly after they’ve gotten off the ground, and to remove obstacles that have been shown to deter such growth, such as Sarbox requirements introduced in the wake of the Enron scandal that made it hard for small companies to issue shares to the public. Crowd-funding to raise money from individual investors, he writes, would “be a boon that would lead to excellent new enterprises” – but he worries that we can’t count on all founders to be honest.

That said, there seems to be a hunger by Web 3.0 entrepreneurs to secure funds in novel ways, such as the information evaluation project that had a successful fundraising round in Kickstarter (see story here). Diaspora, the open-source and distributed community of social networks that lets users own their own data also met its funding goals on Kickstarter; while not semantic yet, discussion is underway at github about use cases for Linked Data in Diaspora here. (While not quite in the start-up vein, this month, we also saw Sebastian Trüg blog that he wasn’t able to secure the funding to continue to devote his work to the Nepomuk semantic desktop project – see our story about that here – though he will continue to maintain its core components.) The Biotechnology Industry Organization sent out a press release applauding the Act – and certainly that’s a sector where semantic web startups can make their mark.

What might the passage of the Act mean to your semantic web startup? As you see it, is this a case of cracked eggs-making-omelets, just omelets, or just cracked eggs? Let us know your comments below. And don’t forget to enter your startup in the SemTechBiz competition; entries are due by April 23.

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