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Doing Company Research: A Resource Guide

U.S. Private Companies

Bain News Service. Grown teaching Jap[anese] runners how to start. [between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920] George Grantham Bain Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

There are many difficulties in researching private companies, defined here as companies that do not trade on stock exchanges. Consequently, researching private companies often requires considerable creativity and patience.

Unlike public companies, private companies are not required to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), so the type of information and the depth of information that can be found in those documents is not necessarily going to be available for private companies. There are however, two exceptions that can be used in limited cases. First, if the company you are researching merged with or was acquired by, a public company it is possibly that the public company may provide investors information about the deal via SEC filings. Second, if the company was once public but goes private, previous SEC filings will still be available and may can be helpful for a limited time.

After exhausting some of the more basic directories that are found in the Basic Information section, the sources and strategies suggested below might reveal more information. Keep in mind that for many companies, it is likely going to be hard to find information beyond name and location.

Where to Search & How

  • When it comes to researching private companies, the first place to look would be the company's web page if they have one. Never underestimate the information that companies publish on their own web sites. Even if some companies use their web pages as glorified catalogs, brochures, or advertisements how they present that information may still be helpful. Often, for private companies, their web pages may be what provides the most information information. Companies will often organize their website in ways that can provide a sense of how they do business. If the company has an About Us area, that may be where they provide a company overview, history information, etc.
  • Try directory sources which may provide details that just aren't found on a company website like competitors, sales/employee figures, etc. While there are some still in print, databases like Mergent Intellect and Data Axle Reference Solutions (previously ReferenceUSA). They are good for information on a company or companies but you are looking at who their competitors might be these databases can allowing someone to tailor their search and their output. Users to limit their search to a specific geography (city, state, metro area, etc), industry, company type, etc. and may even have the ability to choose what data elements they want to download.
  • Searching the internet may be helpful and you may find some information, but be wary because anyone can put up anything, and information can be very dated and often just wrong. You may be able to find out about who the company does business with, projects they may be working on, etc. Use the advanced function in web browser like Google that allows you to find out what companies link to the company you are researching.
  • The state agency responsible for registering companies in the state will often have an online search that may provide information but it will be limited.  There are a few things to remember. First, most often this function is in the Secretary of State (Corporations Division) but in some cases like New Jersey, it can being the Revenue/Taxation agency.  Third, this information regardless of state, is going to be very much information is available will vary state to state. Some states provide .pdfs of filings for the past few years, some just basic citation information, others require a fee to even search.
  • Another option is searching full-text news databases that include local news sources and trade literature. A smaller private company may not be discussed in bigger, more national newspapers, but these businesses will likely be something their local newspapers cover because they matter to the local economy. Conversely, if a business is in a particular industry that has national trade publications, the industry will be interested in all companies in the industry regardless of size. See our Searching for the News section for sources.

Subscription & Internet Resources

Below are databases and openly accessible sources that are company information - location, contact information, officers. It may be that you will find important information on private companies and their executive in full-text articles. For more general full-text news sources available at the Library of Congress see the Searching for the News tab.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock  are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress.  If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

On July 18, 2023 the staff of Business Reference Services hosted a webinar going over how to do private company research. We went over some of the databases and websites as well as focusing on some strategies that may be particularly helpful.

If you are looking for the text transcript one is available.