Private companies do not sell shares on a publicly-traded stock exchange. They include partnerships, sole proprietorships, or corporations. They usually do not want to be public so that they can protect proprietary technologies, maintain unique marketing strategies, and control disclosure of their financials. Therefore, in order to find information about a private company, you need to determine likely sources where they would be found. In addition to directories and websites, those include industry publications, regional sources, trade shows and expert interviews.
Directories and Web sites
SEC Filings - Going Public
The URLs listed on this page aren't solely for private companies, but can list both public and private companies. Since private companies aren't required to publish as much data as public companies, you probably won't be able to find out as much about them.
- America's largest private companies
Published by Forbes magazine. The list can be sorted by name, rank, industry, state, revenues, and employees.
- Business Insights Global (see also: Company Background Information)
This database provides information about more than 400,000 companies. Most are public, but there will be beneficial information on private companies, as well.
- Lexis/Nexis Academic (see also: Company Background Information)
This database pulls from numerous sources, some of which are completely devoted to covering private companies.
Fastest growing private companies in America. Offers the most comprehensive look at the entrepreneurial engine driving the U.S. economy.
- Price Waterhouse Coopers, National Venture Capital Association: Money Tree Report
When private companies need capital, one of the alternatives is Venture Capital. The MoneyTree Report is a quarterly study of venture capital investment activity in the United States. The MoneyTree Report is the definitive source of information on emerging companies that receive financing and the venture capital firms that provide it.
- Thomas Register
A large index of manufacturers. In some cases, links to on-line product catalogs. Good site to visit if you want to know what a company does, or if you want to know which companies make a certain type of product.
Finding information on public companies in ABI/Inform Complete or Business Source Premier is not very difficult. The same is not true for private companies and/or divisions of public companies. Try to find Promega in the company search box of ABI/Inform or the Company Profile section of Business Source Premier. The results will be satisfactory but general. All this means is that you have to change your search strategy.
You can tighten the search for information on the private companies by changing the parameters of your search to look for mentions of the company name in the kind of documents that will dwell on more in depth information.
In ABI/Inform Complete, the search screen would look like this:
The problem with this type of text searching is that an article can mention the word Promega but the article might not have anything meaty to say about the company or yield very little information. What often happens is that an official of the company is quoted in an article. There are ways to handle this.
You can sort your results by date or relevancy. The default is date, but in this kind of search if you change the box to relevancy it will rank your searches by how many times (relevancy) the word you are searching for is mentioned in the article. Also, you can select the Document type, which means you can eliminate seeing wire stories and brief news articles.
Search results box in ABI/Inform, using relevancy and limiting the Document Type:
You can do the same thing in Business Source Premier.
In Business Source Premier, the search screen defaults to showing the results by relevancy and the screen would look like this:
It doesn't matter if a firm is large or small; local companies are usually well-covered by the local press. Coverage is generally more in-depth and ongoing than what you may find in the national sources. Newspaper and periodical articles can provide extensive and varied types of information on companies--for example, historical background, new ventures, marketing campaigns, analyses of financial situations, and biographical profiles of key executives. Remember that news comes in all forms. Be sure to check radio and television news in addition to newspapers.
- Lexis/Nexis Academic
There is an important technique that involves searching in newspapers, and especially databases that support an "at least" connector, like Lexis/Nexis. Let's say you wanted to find information about your company's main competitors specifically in newspaper articles. You can command the system to retrieve articles where the name of the company appears at least five times, and the truncated form of the word, competitor, occurs one or more times. Limiting your query in this manner practically ensures that the search yields articles that discuss the company.
In Lexis/Nexis, using the Power Search option, the search screen would look like this:
- Regional Business News
Often you will find more info on a private company in the hometown newspaper, or a special regional business publication. This
database provides full text coverage for 75 business journals, newspapers and newswires from all metropolitan and rural areas
within the United States.
Links to webpages and audio streams of private and public radio stations around the world.
Local organizations are a great place to turn when you need to fill in the blanks about privately held companies.Try the following sites by searching or browsing by location:
One of the best strategies for locating information on private companies is to contact the trade association that monitors the company's specific industry or product. On the web, their home pages cover news, legislative concerns, and, most productively, data, analysis, and trends for their industry.
To identify the name and address of a trade association:
- Encyclopedia of Associations (R 061.3 G13e)
Multi-volume set that covers more than 22,000 non-profit American membership organizations of national scope. Every entry offers a wealth of contact data.
- Business Insights Global
You can find a subset of the Encyclopedia of Associations, featuring only associations that are linked to business.
In Business Insights Global, follow these steps:
- Select: Advanced Search
- In the search box, enter the name of the association. In the fields box, scroll down to Associations and highlight Name:
To Locate a Trade Association in a Search Engine:
|Key in the name of the association using quotation marks: "national restaurant association." From the home page, look for links called "research", "trends", "library", or other terms indicating industry data.
Form D is the document that startup firms need to file when they are raising money and are a type of firm that is exempt from registering with the SEC. While you can search those documents on the official SEC EDGAR site, this site is optimized just for finding a Form D. It has several advanced and filtering functions, including a "newest" filings feature. A range of startups are included, from high tech, social media, bio-tech, hedge funds, and those that are considered in "stealth" mode. Consider this site if you need to find information on all kinds of startup firms around the country.
- Secretaries of State
Depending on the state in which it is registered, a private company may have to file annual reports with the Secretary of State, although the actual reports may or may not be available on the web. Secretary of State offices may provide articles of incorporation, UCC info, etc. Use this site to access each Secretary of State's web site.
- Securities and Exchange Commission
When a company is private, but has plans to go public, they must file either a form S-1 or SB-2 with the SEC. The S-1's and SB-2's contain the full prospectus of a company at the time of filing, including financials, marketing, risk factors, competition, industry overview, executive compensation, and other information.
Another reason a private company might have to file with the SEC is because they have issued public debt. In that case, they file registration statements (S1, S3, Prospectus), financials (10Q And 10K) and some material events (8K). It does not file a proxy and there are no insider/stakeholder filings (forms 3,4,5 and 13D).