The equity that is created in a company or some other asset as a direct result of hard work by the owner(s). Sweat equity is a term used to describe the contribution made to a project by people who contribute their time and effort. It can be contrasted with financial equity which is the money contributed towards the project. It is used to refer to a form of compensation by businesses to their owners or employees. The term is sometimes used in partnership agreements where one or more of the partners contributes no financial capital. In the case of a startup company, employees might, upon incorporation, receive stock or stock options in return for working for below-market salaries (or in some cases no salary at all).
The term is sometimes used to describe the efforts put into a start-up company by the founders in exchange for ownership shares of the company. This concept, also called "stock for services" and sometimes "equity compensation" or "sweat equity" can also be seen when startup companies use their shares of stock to entice service providers to provide necessary corporate services in exchange for a discount or for deferring service fees until a later date, see e.g. "Idea Makers and Idea Brokers in High Technology Entrepreneurship" by Todd L. Juneau et al., Greenwood Press, 2003, which describes equity for service programs involving patent lawyers and securities lawyers who specialize in start-up companies as clients.
The term can also be used to describe the value added to real estate by owners who make improvements by their own toil. The more labor applied to the home, and the greater the resultant increase in value, the more sweat equity that has been used.
In a successful model used by Habitat for Humanity, families who would otherwise be unable to purchase their own home (because their income level does not allow them to save for a down payment or qualify for an interest-bearing mortgage offered by a financial institution) contribute up to 500 hours of sweat equity to the construction of their own home, the homes of other Habitat for Humanity partner families or by volunteering to assist the organization in other ways. Once moved into their new home, the family makes monthly, interest-free mortgage payments into a revolving "Fund for Humanity" which provides capital to build homes for other partner families.
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