Sweat Equity

Non-monetary benefits that stakeholders of a company receive for their labor and time.

Author: Aimaan Shergill
Aimaan Shergill
Aimaan Shergill
A student at the University of Toronto, where I major in Finance, Economics, and Data Science. I have held internships at Deloitte, Ontario Health, IBM, and PwC, contributing to projects in financial advisory, strategic funding, and consulting.
Reviewed By: David Bickerton
David Bickerton
David Bickerton
Asset Management | Financial Analysis

Previously a Portfolio Manager for MDH Investment Management, David has been with the firm for nearly a decade, serving as President since 2015. He has extensive experience in wealth management, investments and portfolio management.

David holds a BS from Miami University in Finance.

Last Updated:November 2, 2023

What Is A Sweat Equity?

Sweat equity is the non-monetary benefits that stakeholders of a company receive for their labor and time. The work done is then rewarded as part of sweat equity shares which are used to incentivize stakeholders. 

Some of the things we should know about sweat equity are:

  • It looks at the physical labor, mental capacity, and time needed by employees to boost the value of a project or venture. 
  • It is common to see such forms of work in sectors like real estate, construction, and startups, which are firms within the early stages of a business. 
  • It is also known as a reward that companies offer to their employees to motivate them to contribute more to the growth of the business.

The concept is seen across cash-strapped startups and business owners who typically use their own equity to fund their companies in hopes of future monetary benefits.

Companies offer sweat equity shares to employees to attract and retain the talent that helps the company grow. 

When an employee has equity shares, they can receive a part of the company’s profit as a return on their investment, motivating them to work harder and more diligently toward the company’s goals and objectives.

Key Takeaways

  • Sweat equity involves individuals contributing work to a company or property in exchange for equity shares, commonly seen in startups and real estate.

  • It motivates employees and helps companies attract and retain talent, providing a deeper understanding of the business.

  • Calculating sweat equity involves assessing the business value and the labor's monetary value.

  • In real estate, sweat equity is gained through unpaid work that increases property value, commonly used by investors who renovate or flip houses.

  • Sweat equity benefits both the business and employees, offering potential financial gains and a sense of ownership.

Why do companies offer sweat equity shares?

In a partnership, the initial partners may get an equity share of the company while requiring any future partners to buy an equity stake in the company. 

When offering partners equity in a company, various factors are taken into consideration, such as each partner’s effort, work experience, and the business they bring in to help the firm grow. 

Early-stage companies provide employees with stock options as a part of their reward system for accepting below-market rate salaries. This occurs when companies have immense long-term growth potential but lack the short-term capital required to pay employees. 

Sweat equity is common in these sectors:

Shares could also be issued at a discount to directors and employees to retain talent, while performance shares are awarded if certain specified measures are met, such as earnings per share or return on equity objective. 

A common period in which a company offers such shares to its employees is at the beginning of its growth stage.

It incentivizes employees to help the company grow through its development stage by allowing them to have a stake in the company’s success.

How to Calculate Sweat Equity

It provides an overview of the value added by an individual for the time spent developing a business. Therefore, it is measured by the amount of money an investor will put in for a share of the company.

To calculate, you must first calculate the value of the business. 

Next, you must determine the value of each share of the company. This is specifically for public companies, where the number of shareholders is public. For private companies without explicit share prices, you will need to use valuations of the company instead, either self-conducted or done by a third party. 

Finally, you will need to calculate the value of the labor itself by analyzing value-added from a competitive standpoint. To do this, you must understand the monetary value of the work they did.

With these factors taken into consideration, you then take the original investment amount and divide it by the percentage of equity it represents. Then, subtract the original investment, and the remaining number expresses the dollar value of your sweat equity in the business.

benefits of Sweat equity

Two key stakeholders often stand to gain from sweat equity shares (SES): the business and the employee. 

1. Business

One of the most significant reasons a company issues SES is to attract and keep employees in a business. 

This is because it motivates employees and helps limit short-run turnover, as there is often a compulsory lock-in for the amount of time that an employee must work for the shares to be liquidated. 

This is especially important when companies are in their growth stage and need working capital for their short-run operations. 

Additionally, owning such shares gives employees a deeper understanding of the various aspects of the business, as they often receive the right to vote and get dividends.

Such shares are preferred as they negate the need to raise paychecks by taking on debt. Therefore, if an employee gets a pay cut at any point, their equity shares can make up for the lost money.

2. Employee 

Employees can also receive equity shares at a discounted price as compared to traditional ESOPs (Employee Stock Option Plans), where there is no obligation to buy shares at predetermined prices and allow employees to be in control of their investment decisions, particularly during periods of volatility.

Such incentives are used to reward an extraordinary director or executive who adds significant value to the company’s growth. Sweat equity can be issued to such directors to acknowledge their efforts and keep them interested in the work they do.

Sweat equity in Real Estate

Within real estate, sweat equity is associated with unpaid work that increases the value of a property. In cases where more improvements are made to a house, such as adding furniture or painting the walls, the sweat equity is added, and the greater the value of the house is. 

Real estate investors who flip houses for profit can also use it to their advantage by doing repairs and renovations on properties before putting them on the market. 

Paying carpenters, painters, and contractors get expensive, so a do-it-yourself renovation creating sweat equity can be profitable when it comes time to sell.

Individuals who renovate or flip houses and sell them at a higher price would define it as the difference between the value of the home before renovations and the market value of the home after repairs.

An example of its use is during landlord-tenant agreements, where some tenants offer the option of using it to either earn an equity stake in the property or to lower their overall housing costs. 

This is done by offering your services for renovations/repairs in exchange for equity instead of cash. In such a scenario, you’re working to earn the equity or to pay your housing costs.

Sweat Equity FAQs


Researched and authored by Aimaan Shergill | LinkedIn 

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

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