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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There is a revived push to allow mom-and-pop investors to buy shares in private companies, something from which they have been generally prohibited.

The state of play: At issue is how a lot of startup value creation has become over-weighted to the private markets, with fewer gains being generated post-IPO.

It wasn't always this way. Amazon, for example, went public in 1997 with a market cap of just $382 million. Google took the plunge 8 years later at a $23 billion market cap, still just a fraction of its subsequent worth.

  • Combined, the two companies raised less than $100 million in venture capital — in a pre-cloud era of higher fixed IT costs.
  • Today, 4 different startups announced $100 million+ rounds.

The current environment was created by 3 main factors:

  1. Low interest rates. This forced investors to search for yield, in order to beat the benchmarks, and that leads to increased interest in alternative assets like venture capital and growth equity. Included in the rush have been startup "tourists" like mutual fund, hedge fund and sovereign wealth fund managers.
  2. Bull public equity markets. Even if a public pension maintains a stable allocation to venture capital and growth equity, it represents more actual dollars.
  3. The JOBS Act of 2012. When passed with bipartisan support, most of the attention was on how it would permit equity crowdfunding for startups. Plus the advent of "confidential" IPO submissions and some new general solicitation provisions. But it also eviscerated the so-called 500 Shareholder Rule, which basically forced startups (including Google) to go public once they reached a certain scale.

The big picture: SEC chair Jay Clayton has regularly bemoaned how Main Street investors are being shut out of private capital formation, saying in a speech last week that his agency will "take a fresh look" at enabling retail access. It's possible this would increase a relaxing of accredited investor rules, which conflate wealth with sophistication.

  • Also last week, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on the matter. This was the one in which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mistakenly suggested that retail investors had access to WeWork, and therefore got "fleeced" by its recent valuation drop.

Bipartisan consensus is that D.C. must make it easier for startups to go public, so that they'll no longer want to remain private.

  • But it's not filing costs or reporting requirements that are creating "unicorns" on the sidelines.
  • It's broader market conditions, which only have been exacerbated by recent policy pushes: White House pressure to lower interest rates even further, corporate tax cuts juicing public equities, Clayton and the SEC's refusal to revisit the 500 shareholder rule change.

The bottom line: D.C. can help mom and pop, but only if it first comes to grip with how it hurt them.

Go deeper: The 55 minotaur companies

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New data from South Africa suggests the Omicron variant spreads more than twice as quickly as the Delta variant, and that immunity from prior infection doesn't appear to protect a person very well against Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The findings are extremely preliminary, and there are still many open questions about how well vaccines work against the variant. But these initial breadcrumbs of data are helping the world begin to understand what it's up against.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Technology

AI could end foreign-language subtitles

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

AI companies are developing methods to translate and synthesize voices in ads, movies and TV.

Why it matters: The advances in voice synthesis could help fix bad movie dubbing — and they come as international content is becoming increasingly important to studios and streaming platforms as part of the globalization of entertainment.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 11 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.

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