U Alumna’s website pairs small businesses with backers

The site aims to bring small investments to startups.

by Jennifer Bissell

University of Minnesota alumna Sally Outlaw is a self-described âÄúentrepreneurship addict.âÄù
Since graduating from the University in the 1980s, Outlaw has worked a number of film and TV production jobs, but on the side sheâÄôs built more than six robust companies, including a real estate group, two media production companies and a company that imports Russian coats.
âÄúItâÄôs an illness, I just canâÄôt help myself,âÄù Outlaw said. âÄúI see opportunities every day. I wake up and see an opportunity.âÄù
Her latest project, Peerbackers, is a testament to that passion. The entrepreneurship crowd-funding website is designed to get startup money for other entrepreneurs.
The crowd-funding site gives a platform for fundraising for any startup good or service company, from video companies to environmentally-friendly lampshades.
âÄúIâÄôd like to think weâÄôre tackling the No. 1 pain point right now, which is trying to get seed capital and grow a business,âÄù
Outlaw said.
Traditional ways of getting funding are more difficult to find these days, Outlaw said, which led her to start Peerbackers.
âÄúI was trying to raise money about a year ago for a venture and it was very difficult,âÄù Outlaw said. âÄúWith the economy right now, banks arenâÄôt lending [and] investors are hard to come by.âÄù
Now, instead of having to know one person with $5,000, with Peerbackers, entrepreneurs just need to know 100 people with $50, Outlaw said.
To provide backers with more of an incentive to invest, the site mandates that users provide rewards for backers. For instance, if backers invested $100 in a dog spa, they would receive complimentary dog grooming.
Peerbackers only collects and distributes funds once entrepreneurs have reached at least 80 percent of their funding goal. Once a check is written, Peerbackers will take a 5 percent cut as the only charge for using the site. President of the UniversityâÄôs Entrepreneurship Club, Mitch Krautkramer, said the hardest part of starting a business for college students can be establishing
âÄúA lot of the time people just want to give funding to experienced entrepreneurs âÄî people that understand business and that they know are going to be successful and a little bit more risk-free for them,âÄù Krautkramer said.
He said the site sounded like a great way for student entrepreneurs to get their start.
Outlaw said she expects the site to help college-aged entrepreneurs starting their own companies âÄúright out of their dorm room.âÄù
Outlaw said her best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those still in college, is to âÄújust start.âÄù
âÄúA lot of people spend too much time, planning and planning âÄî everything has to be right,âÄù Outlaw said. âÄúYou just have to take the first step and do it. Grab a partner who complements you and take that first step.âÄù
Steve Aldeus, an entrepreneur listed on Peerbackers and a recent graduate from the Art Institute of Boston agreed, and said starting his company in college really helped him get it off the ground.
âÄúIf I could go back, IâÄôd totally work harder on my business in collegeâÄù Aldeus said. âÄúIt gives you so much of a leg up.âÄù
Ragnarok, AldeusâÄô clothing and accessory company, has been doing well in BostonâÄôs street-wear culture since he graduated in 2005. But he said extra funding from Peerbackers could really help the company grow.
Reflecting on how many of his classmates arenâÄôt working with art after graduating, Aldeus said he attributes his success to the fact that he had already got into the business mentality while in college.
âÄúJust from being in your room and messing around and just starting a business âĦ can really change the course of your life,âÄù Aldeus said.