SBICs (Small Business Investment
Companies) . . .
are lending and investment firms that
are licensed by the U.S. federal government to make loans to and
invest in qualifying small businesses. The licensing, which is
administered by the SBA, enables these firms to borrow from the
federal government to supplement the private funds of their investors.
For example, a privately owned and operated SBIC with $10 Million of
its own capital might borrow up to an additional $30 Million from the
U.S. government to increase its funds available for investment to $40
In addition to private firms, many
banks use the SBA licensing procedure to create self-funded SBIC
affiliates that enable them to make equity investments they would
otherwise be precluded from making under existing banking laws. Many
of these SBICs do not borrow from the SBA to supplement their funds
available for investment. These are sometimes referred to as
Some SBICs engage only in making long
term loans to small businesses or invest only in specific industries.
Most SBICs, however, are organized to provide long term loans and
equity investments in a wide variety of small businesses. Only firms
that meet the definitional requirements of a 'small business'
according to the SBA's rules qualify to receive funding from and SBIC.
For most industries, this requires a company to have a net worth of
less than $18 Million and average net income over the preceding two
years of less than $6 Million. Some industries have other standards.
Current standards can be reviewed on the SBA's web site at
In practice, leveraged SBICs usually
require that a significant part of their investment in a company be in
the form of loans or income-producing securities. This is because the
majority of the funds they invest are borrowed moneys on which they
have to pay interest and repay principal. For the same reason, may
leveraged SBICs avoid earlier stage investments where the risks of
nonpayment are greater.
Nonetheless, SBICs, both leveraged and
unleveraged, represent a valuable source of funds, particularly for
later stage companies whose prospects are more secure. If the
prospects are secure enough, an SBIC will sometimes invest in a
company that offers a more moderate potential for growth than might be
required to attract a more traditional private venture capital firm. See:
CDCs (Community Development Corporations),
SSBICs (Specialized Small
Business Investment Companies),