To launch a startup to help the underserved, it helps if the fintech entrepreneur actually faces the challenge he or she is trying to address.
That personal link between developer and product was reflected in several winners of new capital awards from JPMorgan Chase and the Center for Financial Services Innovation in a joint project to seed promising fintechs.
This year, for the first time, the annual Financial Solutions Lab competition focused on entrepreneurs of color, people with disabilities and women. Applicants were encouraged to support diversity in the solutions they created, the customer demographics they targeted and in the members of their founding teams.
“This year’s challenge winners leverage technology in profound ways — often informed by their own personal challenges and life experiences — to provide help for the 138 million people in America who struggle with their financial health,” said Jennifer Tescher, CFSI's founder and CEO.
Several of the startups announced as winners Thursday reflect the personal financial struggles faced by the founders. The winners offer solutions serving college students, young families, underserved populations and seniors.
Take Sixup, which provides high-achieving, low-income college students with gap loans to help cover tuition and digital resources and support to help them succeed academically.
"The Sixup team shares the DNA of the students we serve," founder Sunwoo Hwang said in a press release. "We grew up in single-parent, low-income families. We were immigrants and the first in our families to go to college. We had no options but to hack our own financing and mobility within a system biased against us.”
The fourth annual competition will award $250,000 in capital to each of the eight winners, selected from among more than 300 applicants, as well as resources to research and develop their products. The companies will also receive mentorship from CFSI and JPMorgan, which launched the Financial Solutions Lab eight years ago, as well as Google and Promontory Financial. The winners were revealed at the CFSI’s annual EMERGE conference in Los Angeles.
Another winner was Goalsetter.co, a goal-based savings and gifting platform. “I had to learn about sound financial management on the fly and later in life,” said Tanya Van Court, the company's founder, who was raised by a single mother. “Because kids with saving accounts in their names are six times more likely to go to college, Goalsetter can teach them about financial planning at an early age and set them on a path towards a brighter future.”
The companies were evaluated by how novel and effective their solutions were in improving consumers' financial health, whether or not an innovation could be produced at scale.
The FinLab’s focus on financial health was inspired by CFSI research that found that around 57% of consumers in the U.S. are financially unhealthy. According to the JPMorgan Chase Institute, women exhibit roughly 20% lower levels of income, spending and liquid assets.
“We are excited to welcome these companies to a community of fintechs that are improving and scaling solutions for millions of underserved Americans,” said Colleen Briggs, the head of community innovation at JPMorgan Chase.