Abstract

This study analyzes the relationship between debt and outside equity investments in early stage firms. The existing evidence on this relationship is scarce and inconclusive, mostly due to the pervasive opaqueness of early stage firms. We argue that outside investors who face the severe information asymmetries that exist in entrepreneurial firms may use the level of debt as a signal. In addition, personal and business debt could signal different information to outside investors. We use the Kauffman Firm Survey and develop an empirical strategy based on a Heckman selection model and a propensity score matching analysis. Our results consistently show that debt, and particularly business debt, is positively related to outside equity investments, especially in times of economic distress. We posit that start-ups with higher levels of business debt can send more credible signals to capital markets, and identify cash holdings and the firm-bank relationship as possible information channels for outside investors.