Online Syndicates and Startup Investment

Christian Catalini, Xiang Hui

NBER Working Paper No. 24777
Issued in June 2018
NBER Program(s):Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Early crowdfunding platforms were based on a premise of complete disintermediation from traditional experts. This approach becomes problematic when equity is involved because of asymmetric information between entrepreneurs and investors. Moreover, it favors regions that already attract a disproportionate share of capital offline. We find that the introduction of intermediaries through online syndicates reverses this trend, leading to a large 33% increase in capital flows to new regions. At the same time, this "democratization effect" relies on the presence of intermediaries with professional networks that can bridge these new regions with California. Evidence from a large-scale field experiment with over 26,000 investors corroborates the idea that social networks constitute a key friction to additional democratization, since they shape how online investors screen and evaluate intermediaries. Intermediaries use their reputation to vouch for high potential startups that would otherwise be misclassified because of information asymmetry. This allows them to arbitrage opportunities across regions and shift capital flows to startups from new regions that are 36.9% more likely to generate above median returns. We discuss implications for the design of equity crowdfunding platforms.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24777

NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us