Tips for Researching Private Companies

One of the first things you’ll want to figure out when beginning to research a company is if the company is publicly or privately owned. Most of the time, a private company is owned by its founders, management, or a group of private investors. A publicly traded company is a company that has sold all or part of itself to the public, i.e. its shareholders have a claim to part of the company’s assets and profits. To figure out if a company is public, google its stock symbol. If the company has one, it’s publicly owned. 

Many of the research strategies we’ve shared in our guide to researching corporations and organizations will apply to private companies as well as public ones, but it can sometimes be easier to research public companies, because they are subject to more governmental regulation and disclosure requirements. Some of the tools described in this guide apply only to publicly traded companies or will provide more information about public companies (e.g. most of the SEC filings we highlighted). However, there are still many creative ways to gather information about private companies. Below are some of our go-to sources for researching privately owned companies. 

State corporation filings

What its good for: Official name, mailing address, leadership 

In the United States, every corporation has to register itself at the state level in order to receive a charter to do business. These charters are publicly accessible and usually contain helpful information including the company’s official name, the company’s mailing address, the company’s articles of incorporation, and, in some cases, information about its leadership, including who owns how much of the company. 

Most of the time, the state Secretary of State oversees these corporate filings. To access them, you could go to the Secretary of State’s office in person. Most states also have the filings accessible online. Often, these online search engines are called “business entity search engines.” So, if you are having trouble finding one for a particular state, you can try googling that, or, simply “[state] secretary of state business search.” Another tip: many corporations register their charters with the state of Delaware, due to tax and other regulatory benefits, so if the company you are looking for isn’t coming up in the state database you think it should, try looking in Delaware! 

Company Websites

What its good for: Leadership, plans for expansion, headquarters location 

Often, private companies (especially bigger ones) have publicly facing websites. These websites can provide valuable information about the company’s leadership and business model. Check to see if the company you are researching has a website. Do they list their leadership with biographies? Do they have a “Newsroom” section where they post news articles and press releases? Often, even small private companies want some kind of public profile to attract investors and build their brand name.   

Local business journals and industry trade publications

What they’re good for: Plans for expansion, investors

When researching a private company, news sources–particularly business press and trade publications–are your best friend! These kinds of publications will cover the corporate world in more detail than mainstream publications. Plus, it’s likely that the leaders of the corporation you are researching read business and industry press; reading it can help you think about the world from their perspective–what are their priorities when they wake up every morning? What are their plans for expansion? What are their competitors doing? How are they succeeding or failing at creating a public profile that will attract investors and boost profits?  

Most major metropolitan areas have a business journal. Local business journals are very helpful, especially if you are researching a smaller, more regional company. They often have a significant and detailed focus on real estate companies. They report on when a corporation is undertaking a new project, beginning a fundraising round, or hitting financial trouble. Business journals also sometimes do profiles on particular business leaders, which can be good places to find details about their social networks. Trade publications also often report on industry trends and concerns that might be relevant for the target you are researching. 

Other business press including Forbes, Fortune, The Financial Times, Bloomberg can also be helpful sources for understanding a private company.


Sometimes, privately held companies do have to file information with the SEC. So, even if a company is private, it’s worth doing a quick search to see if EDGAR turns up any disclosures. You can search by a company’s name here. This search interface allows you to do a full text search using keywords. Sometimes, a private company will show up in the disclosures from a public company and could provide useful information.

Public Subsidy Applications

What they’re good for: Leadership, financing 

When does the private company you are researching interact with the public sector? In these scenarios, you may be able to access public records about your target. Often, private companies (especially real estate companies) apply for public subsidies. If this is the case with the company you are researching, you can try to obtain their subsidy applications, which sometimes disclose information about how the company is organized, their investors, etc. Often, a local economic development corporation is in charge of doling out public subsidies. Call yours and ask if there is a way to access subsidy applications, either in person, or online. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to file a public records request. Muckrock is also a great resource for submitting public records requests. ProPublica has also created a helpful loan tracker that catalogs every company that received a Paycheck Protection Program loan during the COVID pandemic.

Paid databases

There are also many paid databases that aggregate information about private companies. These are usually quite expensive, but sometimes labor unions and universities have access to them. Some of these include Dun&Bradstreet, Mergent Intellect, and Orbis. LexisNexis also allows you to search for company profiles that sometimes include private companies. There are also specialized databases focused on private equity, including Pitchbook and Preqin. Since these databases are not free or widely available, we won’t go into them here, but Dirt Diggers Guide to Strategic Corporate Research has more detailed information about them.

All of our sources for power mapping individuals

It can be helpful to remember that, when researching private companies, understanding their leadership is very important! The leaders and owners of a private company have a tremendous amount of power over the company. If you’re having trouble finding information about the company itself, focus on the individuals behind the company using our guide to power mapping individuals and you’re likely to find useful information.

Researching landlords

Real estate interests are some of the most powerful political actors, especially on the state and local level. Landlords exercise a great deal of influence over our lives by extracting profit from their control of the places we live, work, shop, and play. Landlords and real estate developers seek to maximize these profits by cultivating close relationships with elected officials and public administrators to obtain favorable policies like the ability to evict tenants without good cause, to raise rents without regulation, and tax breaks and subsidies that subsidize real estate profits with public funds.

Landlords build this political influence by donating heavily to the political campaigns of elected officials and by hiring lobbyists to advance their interests in city halls and statehouses. Landlords also organize themselves into trade groups that lobby on behalf of the real estate industry as a whole, conduct public relations campaigns and create front groups to influence public opinion while hiding their role, and file lawsuits to try to overturn laws that protect tenants and make housing more affordable. 

Depending on the goals of your campaign, different types of information about landlords will be more valuable than others. Common research questions in real estate campaigns include:

  • Who owns a house or apartment building?
  • What properties does a particular landlord own?
  • Who are the people behind corporations or LLCs that own property?
  • Where do landlords get financing and subsidies?
  • What are landlords’ personal and political Networks?

In general, property ownership records are available to the public and most cities and counties have free online databases that allow you to search property records by the address of the property or by the owner’s name. 

You can find your local real property database on your local government’s website or by searching for the name of your city or county and “property records” in a search engine.

When you have found your local property database, you can search by address if you want to find the owner of a specific property or properties or by owner name if you want to find the properties owned by a specific person or company. 

Property records will usually include the address of a property, a unique identification number called an S-B-L number, the name of the owner (either an individual or a business entity like an LLC) and the owner’s address where tax bills for the property are sent. 

Keep in mind that landlords – especially large landlords – frequently set up LLCs or corporations that are named as the official owners of properties. If the property you are researching is owned by an LLC, take a note of the owner’s address in the property record. Large landlords that use LLCs to hold their properties will frequently have tax bills sent to their corporate headquarters (or even landlords’ personal homes). By looking up the property record for the owner’s address or by searching for that address in a search engine, you may be able to identify the human owner or owners behind an LLC. Once you have identified the owner of a specific property, you may want to search for that owner’s name in the real property database to identify other properties owned by that same owner.

  • Research tip: Keep lists of the names of people and companies associated with properties and the addresses (both of properties owned and where tax bills are sent) associated with the names of those people and companies. This will allow you to map the property holdings of a large landlord and the various LLCs they have set up to hold their assets.


Researching the people behind corporations or LLCs that own properties


If you are unable to identify the people behind corporate or LLC property owners through public property records or search engine searches, there are other tools you can use to try to identify the owners or officers of an LLC.

You can find your state’s corporate database on your state government’s website or by searching for the name of your state and “corporate database” in a search engine. There, you can search for the name of a corporation or LLC and find more information about them. Depending on the laws in your state you could find:

  • The names of the owners (sometimes referred to as “managers”) of an LLC
  • The address where the LLC is registered (though sometimes an LLC will be registered at a law office or a service called a registered agent and not the address of the LLC owner)
  • The names of the executives or officers of an LLC

There are other free tools – like OpenCorporates – that compile data from state corporate databases on corporations and LLCs that you can use to find LLC owners, though you should always try to follow sources back to primary documents if possible.

Researching landlords’ financing and subsidies

If you’re interested in the banks financing a landlord or real estate development or the government subsidies they have received, you may be able to find this information through news searches in an online search engine, your state’s UCC database, or your state or local economic development agency.

A UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) filing is created and filed with the state when a landlord borrows money from a bank for a real estate investment. You can find your state’s UCC database on your state government website or by searching for your state name and “UCC database” in a search engine. In the UCC database you can search by a landlord’s name – or the name of any of their LLCs or corporations – and find information about what banks they have borrowed money from.

If a landlord has received subsidies for a project, you may find information about that in news articles – especially if your city has a real estate-focused news outlet – or from your state or local economic development agency. Check economic development agency websites for subsidy applications, press releases, or reports that disclose subsidy awards to landlords or real estate developers.

Researching landlords’ personal and political networks

You can use the tools and methods described elsewhere in this guide to research landlords’ personal and political networks, including the politicians they donate to, the lobbyists they hire, the non-profit or government boards they sit on, and the social clubs or religious organizations they belong to.