It's nothing new when an athlete invests money in a business. But tennis player and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is doing something a little different: He's getting into equity crowdfunding. Murray, who's currently competing for a second Wimbledon win as the No. 3 player in the world, will invest undisclosed amounts of money in early-stage investments through Seedrs, a firm that funds startups in a range of industries. He'll also sit on the company's board.
By joining Seedrs, Murray boosts the platform's profile at a time when the equity crowdfunding industry is taking off in the U.K. and U.S., with capital commitments growing more than 30% per quarter in each nation. Think of equity crowdfunding as VC for the masses. The average Seedrs user puts up anywhere from $1,500, and they've helped fund over 200 businesses.
The move appears to makes sense for Murray for when his tennis career inevitably ends, but it's an even bigger boon for Seedrs as it looks for publicity in the U.K. and abroad. Co-founder and CEO Jeff Lynn says that his company has found success at home, but mostly among people within the tech community. He wants Seedrs to branch out and expand its base of users, and he believes Murray can help.
With a background as a lawyer, Lynn co-founded Seedrs in 2009. He trumpets the company as the "first in the world" to go by the books and get Financial Conduct Authority approval in the U.K., something Lynn said a lot of similar equity crowdfunding platforms didn't do. Seedrs employs 32 full-time staff members since it got regulatory approval in 2012, and Lynn says with a laugh that his goal is to hire people "who are a lot smarter that I am."
Murray's personality jibes well with Seeders' culture, according to Lynn. He says the tennis star is a "techie and forward-thinking," and that, "he's also just a hard-worker ... [being a good athlete] is really about going out there day in and day out and busting [your] butt," an ethic with which any hard-working entrepreneur is familiar.
Beyond Seedrs and Murray, the match-up is a big deal for equity platforms around the world, which have seen a surge in funding as average investors want to get in on startups. "At the end of the day, our industry is relatively new and unknown by [most] people," says Luan Cox, CEO of Crowdnetic, which tracks the amount of money invested in equity crowdfunding platforms in the U.S. and abroad. "I think it's important that we have folks that can elevate and bring more attention to these opportunities."
Crowdnetic data shows significant growth in money committed to crowdfunding platforms. In the U.S., investments grew from $164 million to $210 million from April through June for a 32% quarter-over-quarter rise. In the U.K., $42 million was committed from January through March, with quarter-over-quarter growth of 37%.
Recently it got even easier for small investors to participate in equity crowdfunding. Last Friday the Securities Exchange Commission authorized Regulation A+, a provision of the 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (known as the JOBS Act). Prior to the approval, accredited investors had to make $200,000 a year or have a $1 million-plus net worth. Now startups can raise up to $50 million from non-accredited investors. "What’s ironic," Cox says with a laugh, "is a lot of the regulators in Washington [weren't] able to invest" ahead of the approval.
Although it's unclear just how large a part Andy Murray will play in his partnership with Seedrs, he's expected to take an active role in the investments he makes, especially in budding sports and health businesses as they relate to tech.
“I’ve always been interested in investment, and being able to get involved in an innovative way to help support British startups really appealed to me," Murray said in a statement when the partnership was announced. He tested the waters with Seedrs through a few anonymous investments and liked what he saw, which led him to make his bigger stake.
Murray was unavailable to speak with Fortune for this piece, but according to Lynn, his involvement could turn into a new passion once his sports career ends. "He's a very smart guy, and I think he realizes his tennis successes have made him a lot of money," says Lynn. "He’d like to parlay that to the [next] 50, 60 years that will follow his tennis career into an active business life."