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Company & Industry Information: Public vs Private

Find information on companies & industries.

Determining if a Company is Public or Private

What's the difference between "public" and "private"? 

Public companies are those whose ownership shares are regulated and sold to the public on the open market. Although many of the largest and most well-known companies are public, the vast majority of companies are not. Disclosure laws require public companies to reveal information that would affect the financial decisions of investors, such as the company's financial statements or the fact that the company is facing a lawsuit. Because of these laws, it is much easier to find information about public companies. Public companies are sometimes called "publicly held."

SEDAR Canadian Securities Regulatory Authorities.
 The official site providing access to most public securities documents and information filed by public companies and investment funds with the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA). The SEDAR collection includes reports from 1997 or later.
Public Website: [ ]

EDGAR US Securities Commission. Mid-1990s-present  Publicly traded US and Non-US companies
The 'SEC's EDGAR provides free public access to corporate information, allowing you to quickly research a company’s financial information and operations by reviewing registration statements, prospectuses and periodic reports filed on Forms 10-K and 10-Q. 
Public Website: [ ]

Private companies are owned by a limited group of individuals, usually the principals in the company (for example, the founders, members of their families, key employees). Shares of ownership may be sold or transferred to anyone the owner chooses, but there is no marketplace for buying and selling these shares. Because private companies are not subject to the same disclosure laws as public companies, it is often very difficult to find information about them. Private companies are sometimes called "closely held."

Here are some strategies for researching private companies:

  1. Look for basic information (owners and top management, etc.) in company directories. Some directories are available on industry association websites. They can also be found in local newspapers or via trade journals on the web or via the Library's First Search, Business Source Complete, or Proquest Central databases. The same resources might have news articles about your company.
  2. Another source of basic information is Reference Canada, which is a business directory. This is available via the Vancouver Public Library.  You can search by company name, and it sometimes provides estimates of revenue and sales volume. 
  3. Capital IQ has basic information on large private companies, including revenue estimates in some cases.
  4. A Google search for the company website, LinkedIn page, news articles, etc. might also produce insights on company size, recent developments and strategic direction.
  5. When you are really stuck, contact a BCIT Business Librarian!

How can I determine if a company is public or private?

Here are several suggestions. You may need to try more than one of these:

  • Try to find the company's Web site and look for a link called "investor relations" or similar heading. Many public companies will provide information here about the stock exchange on which their shares are sold. If the company's stock is sold on an exchange, it's a public company.
  • For Canadian Companies: Go to Sedar, a free web database provide by Canadian Securities Regulators. Search the database for the company name at
  • For US Companies: Go to EDGAR, the free Web database provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at Click "Search for company filings" then "Company or fund name..." and enter the company name. If you find reports in EDGAR, that means the company is public.
  • Ask for help at the reference desk at BCIT Library.