OAKLAND -- Now you can invest in a solar project even if you don't own a roof.
Oakland-based Mosaic has created a financing platform that allows individuals to put as little as $25 into solar projects on commercial buildings. The crowdsourcing platform, founded in 2011, has generated widespread interest: 622 people invested a total of $377,600 to put solar panels on a University of Florida apartment community, while 993 investors from 402 cities collectively invested $1.3 million to put solar on the Wildwoods Convention Center on the New Jersey shore.
"I Googled 'solar' and 'investing' and Mosaic came up right away," said Jake Blackshear, 33, a financial manager at UC San Francisco. Blackshear has invested $3,000 total in support of three solar projects, including a charter school in Colorado. "You know that the sun is going to come up tomorrow, so for me it seems really safe. I like the idea of getting cash flow off of it."
Mosaic says its 2,200 investors range in age from 18 to 95, with a median age of 31. They are 75 percent male, and 60 percent live in California.
In most states, laws require individual investors to be accredited or have a high net worth to participate in Mosaic. But by working with securities regulators, Mosiac has made it possible for anyone over 18 years old in New York and California to invest in many of their qualifying projects.
In California, investing in Mosaic projects has largely spread by word-of-mouth in the state's solar and cleantech communities. But investors can "share" information about their solar projects via Facebook and Twitter, so social media has played a role.
"At the core of this product is an idea that people are excited about," said Mosaic president and co-founder Billy Parish. "We're working to bring more projects onto the platform so people can have a diverse portfolio."
Parish said Mosaic has a close relationship with its investors, and that 89 percent of them said in a recent survey that they would reinvest with Mosaic, while 75 percent said they'd recommend Mosaic to a friend.
While Kickstarter relies on donations to fund creative projects like documentary films, Mosaic, which has been called the "Kickstarter for solar," connects investors to commercial solar projects in need of financing. As the solar project produces electricity, it generates revenue and investors are paid back with interest. For many of the projects, each of which comes with a full prospectus, Mosaic predicts annual returns of 4.5 percent or higher, which greatly exceeds the rates of savings accounts or CDs.
But the rate of return is not guaranteed, and Mosaic's website acknowledges that investors could lose some or all of their investment. Still, many investors are thrilled with the chance to put their money, however small, to good use.
Noah Proser, who graduated from Claremont McKenna College last year, first heard about Mosaic via a cleantech blog.
"I like the idea of being able to participate in solar in some way, and since I'm going to be a renter for the foreseeable future I thought this was a really good way to get involved," said the 23-year-old Sacramento resident.
Proser recently made his first Mosaic investment: He contributed $50 to help put a solar project on the roof of a U.S. Foods distribution center in Albuquerque, N.M., which Mosaic expects to earn a 5.75 percent annual return. So far, the project is roughly 67 percent funded and has attracted 440 investors.
"I like that I'm directly funding a project, not the company," said Proser, who works for the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority. "I had money in a savings account and made nothing."
Though solar projects are the company's focus for now, there's nothing stopping Mosaic -- which used to be called Solar Mosaic -- from putting other clean-energy projects, from wind farms to electric-vehicle charging stations to energy-storage devices, on its platform.
"San Francisco voted to divest from fossil fuels," said Parish. "So are they going to invest in energy storage? Can communities finance their own infrastructure? We changed our name from Solar Mosaic to Mosaic for that reason." Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.