European start-ups court crowds for cash

Wed May 9, 2012 9:47am EDT
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By Natalie Huet

PARIS (Reuters) - When Vincent and Heloise opened a mash eatery in Strasbourg, they had a feeling their unusual concept could thrive elsewhere in France. But one thing was painfully missing: cash.

Like more and more budding entrepreneurs in Europe, the pair of trained engineers turned to individuals, not banks, to help their business sprout and one day open a venue in Paris.

At this self-service food bar, customers scoop from a colorful display of mashed vegetables, all seasonal, local and organic. They top them with sausage, tofu or another protein, and some gravy.

This is "a new generation of fast food: still fast, but good," said Vincent Viaud, 26, co-founder of Pur et Caetera.

Friends and family supported the idea, but that was it.

"Our bank had been straightforward, saying it wouldn't lend to us before we'd been in business for two or three years," Viaud told Reuters. "Seed capital is really what's missing."

As European banks keep tight control on lending and investors face poor returns on their savings while financial markets are still jittery from the region's debt crisis, cash-hungry companies are increasingly turning to an alternative form of financing known as crowdfunding.

This involves a number of small investors pooling together online to raise a targeted sum, whether through donations, loans or equity stakes.   Continued...

A machine counts and sorts out euro notes at the Belgian Central Bank in Brussels October 26, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Roge