Fintech funding has been on a tear.
In 2021, fintech funding hit a record $132 billion globally, according to CB Insights, more than double 2020’s mark.
Insider has been tracking the next wave of hot new startups that are blending finance and tech.
Check out these pitch decks to see how fintech founders are selling their vision and nabbing big bucks in the process. You’ll see new financial tech geared at freelancers, fresh twists on digital banking, and innovation aimed at streamlining customer onboarding.
New twists on digital banking
The majority of these fintechs target those who are underbanked, and rely on usage of their debit cards to make money off interchange. But fellow startup HMBradley has a different business model.
“Our thesis going in was that we don’t swipe our debit cards all that often, and we don’t think the customer base that we’re focusing on does either,” Zach Bruhnke, cofounder and CEO of HMBradley, told Insider. “A lot of our customer base uses credit cards on a daily basis.”
Instead, the startup is aiming to build clientele with stable deposits. As a result, the bank is offering interest-rate tiers depending on how much a customer saves of their direct deposit.
Notably, the rate tiers are dependent on the percentage of savings, not the net amount.
“We’ll pay you more when you save more of what comes in,” Bruhnke said. “We didn’t want to segment customers by how much money they had. So it was always going to be about a percentage of income. That was really important to us.”
Personal finance is only a text away
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the growing preference of mobile banking as customers get comfortable managing their finances online.
The financial app Albert has seen a similar jump in activity. Currently counting more than six million members, deposits in Albert’s savings offering doubled from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to May of this year, from $350 million to $700 million, according to new numbers released by the company.
Founded in 2015, Albert offers automated budgeting and savings tools alongside guided investment portfolios. It’s looked to differentiate itself through personalized features, like the ability for customers to text human financial experts.
Budgeting and saving features are free on Albert. But for more tailored financial advice, customers pay a subscription fee that’s a pay-what-you-can model, between $4 and $14 a month.
And Albert’s now banking on a new tool to bring together its investing, savings, and budgeting tools.
‘A bank for immigrants’
Rohit Mittal remembers the difficulties he faced when he first arrived in the United States a decade ago as a master’s student at Columbia University.
As an immigrant from India, Mittal had no credit score in the US and had difficulty integrating into the financial system. Mittal even struggled to get approved to rent an apartment and couch-surfed until he found a roommate willing to offer him space in his apartment in the New York neighborhood Morningside Heights.
That roommate was Priyank Singh, who would go on to become Mittal’s cofounder when the two started Stilt, a financial-technology company designed to address the problems Mittal faced when he arrived in the US.
Stilt, which calls itself “a bank for immigrants,” does not require a social security number or credit history to access its offerings, including unsecured personal loans.
Instead of relying on traditional metrics like a credit score, Stilt uses data such as education and employment to predict an individual’s future income stability and cash flow before issuing a loan. Stilt has seen its loan volume grow by 500% in the past 12 months, and the startup has loaned to immigrants from 160 countries since its launch.
An IRA for alternatives
Fintech startup Rocket Dollar, which helps users invest their individual retirement account (IRA) dollars into alternative assets, just raised $8 million for its Series A round, the company announced on Thursday.
Park West Asset Management led the round, with participation from investors including Hyphen Capital, which focuses on backing Asian American entrepreneurs, and crypto exchange Kraken’s venture arm.
Co-founded in 2018 by CEO Henry Yoshida, CTO Rick Dude, and VP of marketing Thomas Young, Rocket Dollar now has over $350 million in assets under management on its platform. Yoshida sold his first startup, a roboadvisor called Honest Dollar, to Goldman Sachs’ investment management division for an estimated $20 million.
Yoshida told Insider that while ultra-high net worth investors have been investing self-directed retirement account dollars into alternative assets like real estate, private equity, and cryptocurrency, average investors have not historically been able to access the same opportunities to invest IRA dollars in alternative assets through traditional platforms.
A trading app for activism
An up-and-coming fintech is taking aim at some of the world’s largest corporations by empowering retail investors to push for social and environmental change by pooling their shareholder rights.
London-based Tulipshare lets individuals in the UK invest as little as one pound in publicly-traded company stocks. The upstart combines individuals’ shareholder rights with other like-minded investors to advocate for environmental, social, and corporate governance change at firms like JPMorgan, Apple, and Amazon.
The goal is to achieve a higher number of shares to maximize the number of votes that can be submitted at shareholder meetings. Already a regulated broker-dealer in the UK, Tulipshare recently applied for registration as a broker-dealer in the US.
“If you ask your friends and family if they’ve ever voted on shareholder resolutions, the answer will probably be close to zero,” CEO and founder Antoine Argouges told Insider. “I started Tulipshare to utilize shareholder rights to bring about positive corporate change that has an impact on people’s lives and our planet — what’s more powerful than money to change the system we live in?”
Digital tools for independent financial advisors
Jason Wenk started his career at Morgan Stanley in investment research over 20 years ago. Now, he’s running a company that is hoping to broaden access to financial advice for less-wealthy individuals.
The startup raised $50 million in Series B funding led by Insight Partners with participation from investors Vanguard and Venrock. The round brings the Los Angeles-based startup’s total funding to just under $67 million.
Founded in 2018, Altruist is a digital brokerage built for independent financial advisors, intended to be an “all-in-one” platform that unites custodial functions, portfolio accounting, and a client-facing portal. It allows advisors to open accounts, invest, build models, report, trade (including fractional shares), and bill clients through an interface that can advisors time by eliminating mundane operational tasks.
Altruist aims to make personalized financial advice less expensive, more efficient, and more inclusive through the platform, which is designed for registered investment advisors (RIAs), a growing segment of the wealth management industry.
Rethinking debt collection
For lenders, debt collection is largely automated. But for people who owe money on their credit cards, it can be a confusing and stressful process.
Relief is looking to change that. Its app automates the credit-card debt collection process for users, negotiating with lenders and collectors to settle outstanding balances on their behalf. The fintech just launched and closed a $2 million seed round led by Collaborative Ventures.
Relief’s fundraising experience was a bit different to most. Its pitch deck, which it shared with one investor via Google Slides, went viral. It set out to raise a $1 million seed round, but ended up doubling that and giving some investors money back to make room for others.
Helping small banks lend
For large corporations with a track record of tapping the credit markets, taking out debt is a well-structured and clear process handled by the nation’s biggest investment banks and teams of accountants.
But smaller, middle-market companies — typically those with annual revenues ranging up to $1 billion — are typically served by regional and community banks that don’t always have the capacity to adequately measure the risk of loans or price them competitively. Per the National Center for the Middle Market, 200,000 companies fall into this range, accounting for roughly 33% of US private sector GDP and employment.
Dallas-based fintech CollateralEdge works with these banks — typically those with between $1 billion and $50 billion in assets — to help analyze and price slices of commercial and industrial loans that previously might have gone unserved by smaller lenders.
On October 20th, CollateralEdge announced a $3.5 million seed round led by Dallas venture fund Perot Jain with participation from Kneeland Youngblood (a founder of the healthcare-focused private-equity firm Pharos Capital) and other individual investors.
A new way to assess creditworthiness
Growing up, Kurt Lin never saw his father get frustrated.
A “traditional, stoic figure,” Lin said his father immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. Becoming part of the financial system proved even more difficult than assimilating into a new culture.
Lin recalled visiting bank after bank with his father as a child, watching as his father’s applications for a mortgage were denied due to his lack of credit history.
“That was the first time in my life I really saw him crack,” Lin told Insider. “The system doesn’t work for a lot of people — including my dad,” he added.
Lin would find a solution to his father’s problem years later while working with Anish Basu, and Curtis Lee on an automated health savings account. The trio realized the payroll data integrations they were working on could be the basis of a product that would help lenders work with consumers without strong credit histories.
“That’s when the lightbulb hit,” said Lin, Pinwheel’s CEO.
In 2018, Lin, Basu, and Lee founded Pinwheel, an application-programming interface that shares payroll data to help both fintechs and traditional lenders serve consumers with limited or poor credit, who have historically struggled to access financial products.
An alternative auto lender
An alternative auto lender that caters to thin- and no-credit Hispanic borrowers is planning a national expansion after scoring a $90 million investment from BlackRock-managed funds.
Tricolor is a Dallas-based auto lender that is a community development financial institution. It uses a proprietary artificial-intelligence engine that decisions each customer based on more than 100 data points, such as proof of income.
Half of Tricolor’s customers have a FICO score, and less than 12% have scores above 650, yet the average customer has lived in the US for 15 years, according to the deck.
A 2017 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found 31.5% of Hispanic households had no mainstream credit compared to 14.4% of white households.
“For decades, the deck has been stacked against low income or credit invisible Hispanics in the United States when it comes to the purchase and financing of a used vehicle,” Daniel Chu, founder and CEO of Tricolor, said in a statement announcing the raise.
A new way to access credit
Kristy Kim knows first-hand the challenge of obtaining credit in the US without an established credit history.
Kim, who came to the US from South Korea, couldn’t initially get access to credit despite having a job in investment banking after graduating college.
“I was in my early twenties, I had a good income, my job was in investment banking but I could not get approved for anything,” Kim told Insider. “Many young professionals like me, we deserve an opportunity to be considered but just because we didn’t have a Fico, we weren’t given a chance to even apply,” she added.
Kim started TomoCredit in 2018 to help others like herself gain access to consumer credit. TomoCredit spent three years building an internal algorithm to underwrite customers based on cash flow, rather than a credit score.
Helping streamline how debts are repaid
When Jose Bethancourt graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2019, he faced the same question that confronts over 43 million Americans: How would he repay his student loans?
The problem led Bethancourt on a nearly two-year journey that culminated in the creation of a startup aimed at making it easier for consumers to more seamlessly pay off all kinds of debt.
Initially, Bethancourt and fellow UT grad Marco del Carmen built GradJoy, an app that helped users better understand how to manage student loan repayment and other financial habits.
GradJoy was accepted into Y Combinator in the summer of 2019. But the duo quickly realized the real benefit to users would be helping them move money to make payments instead of simply offering recommendations.
“When we started GradJoy, we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll just give advice — we don’t think people are comfortable with us touching their student loans,’ and then we realized that people were saying, ‘Hey, just move the money — if you think I should pay extra, then I’ll pay extra.’ So that’s kind of the movement that we’ve seen, just, everybody’s more comfortable with fintechs doing what’s best for them,” Bethancourt told Insider.
Even though banks and hedge funds are still several years out from adding quantum computing to their tech arsenals, that hasn’t stopped Wall Street giants from investing time and money into the emerging technology class.
And momentum for QC Ware, a startup looking to cut the time and resources it takes to use quantum computing, is accelerating. The fintech secured a $25 million Series B on September 29 co-led by Koch Disruptive Technologies and Covestro with participation from D.E. Shaw, Citi, and Samsung Ventures.
QC Ware, founded in 2014, builds quantum algorithms for the likes of Goldman Sachs (which led the fintech’s Series A), Airbus, and BMW Group. The algorithms, which are effectively code bases that include quantum processing elements, can run on any of the four main public-cloud providers.
Quantum computing allows companies to do complex calculations faster than traditional computers by using a form of physics that runs on quantum bits as opposed to the traditional 1s and 0s that computers use. This is especially helpful in banking for risk analytics or algorithmic trading, where executing calculations milliseconds faster than the competition can give firms a leg up.
It was a match made in heaven — at least the Wall Street type.
Joseph Squeri, a former CIO at Citadel and Barclays, had always struggled with the digitization of financial documents. When he was tapped by Brady Dougan, the former chief executive of Credit Suisse, to build out an all-digital investment bank in Exos, Squeri spent the first year getting let down by more than a dozen tools that lacked a depth in financial legal documents.
His solution came in the form of Alex Schumacher and Eric Chang who had the tech and financial expertise, respectively, to build the tool he needed.
Schumacher is an expert in natural-language processing and natural-language understanding, having specialized in turning unstructured text into useful business information.
Chang spent a decade as a trader and investment strategist at Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, and AQR. He developed a familiarity with the kinds of financial documents Squeri wanted to digitize, such as the terms and conditions information from SEC filings and publicly traded securities and transactions, like municipal bonds and collateralized loan obligations (CLOs).
The three converged at Exos, Squeri as its COO and CTO, Schumacher as the lead data scientist, and Chang as head of tech and strategy.
A fintech that helps financial institutions use quantitative models to streamline their businesses and improve risk management is catching the attention, and capital, of some of the country’s biggest investment managers.
Beacon Platform, founded in 2014, is a fintech that builds applications and tools to help banks, asset managers, and trading firms quickly integrate quantitative models that can help with analyzing risk, ensuring compliance, and improving operational efficiency. The company raised its Series C on Wednesday, scoring a $56 million investment led by Warburg Pincus with support from Blackstone Innovations Investments, PIMCO, and Global Atlantic.
Blackstone, PIMCO, and Global Atlantic are also users of Beacon’s tech, as are the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Shell New Energies, a division of Royal Dutch Shell, among others.
The fintech provides a shortcut for firms looking to use quantitative modelling and data science across various aspects of their businesses, a process that can often take considerable resources if done solo.
Sussing out bad actors
An encounter with an impersonation hacker led Doron Hendler to found RevealSecurity, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity startup that monitors for insider threats.
Two years ago, a woman impersonating an insurance-agency representative called Hendler and convinced him that he made a mistake with his recent health insurance policy upgrade. She got him to share his login information for his insurer’s website, even getting him to give the one-time passcode sent to his phone.
Once the hacker got what she needed, she disconnected the call, prompting Hendler to call back. When no one picked up the phone, he realized he had been conned.
He immediately called his insurance company to check on his account. Nothing seemed out of place to the representative. But Hendler, who was previously a vice president of a software company, suspected something intangible could have been collected, so he reset his credentials.
“The chief of information security, who was on the call, he asked me, ‘So, how do you want me to identify you? You gave your credentials; you gave your ID; you gave the one time password. How the hell can I identify that it’s not you?’ And I told him, ‘But I never behave like this,'” Hendler recalled of the conversation.
A new data feed for bond trading
For years, the only way investors could figure out the going price of a corporate bond was calling up a dealer on the phone. The rise of electronic trading has streamlined that process, but data can still be hard to come by sometimes.
A startup founded by a former Goldman Sachs exec has big plans to change that.
BondCliQ is a fintech that provides a data feed of pre-trade pricing quotes for the corporate bond market. Founded by Chris White, the creator of Goldman Sachs’ defunct corporate-bond-trading system, BondCliQ strives to bring transparency to a market that has traditionally kept such data close to the vest.
Banks, which typically serve as the dealers of corporate bonds, have historically kept pre-trade quotes hidden from other dealers to maintain a competitive advantage.
But tech advancements and the rise of electronic marketplaces have shifted power dynamics into the hands of buy-side firms, like hedge funds and asset managers. The investors are now able to get a fuller picture of the market by aggregating price quotes directly from dealers or via vendors.
Fraud prevention for lenders and insurers
Onboarding new customers with ease is key for any financial institution or retailer. The more friction you add, the more likely consumers are to abandon the entire process.
But preventing fraud is also a priority, and that’s where Neuro-ID comes in. The startup analyzes what it calls “digital body language,” or, the way users scroll, type, and tap. Using that data, Neuro-ID can identify fraudulent users before they create an account. It’s built for banks, lenders, insurers, and e-commerce players.
“The train has left the station for digital transformation, but there’s a massive opportunity to try to replicate all those communications that we used to have when we did business in-person, all those tells that we would get verbally and non-verbally on whether or not someone was trustworthy,” Neuro-ID CEO Jack Alton told Insider.
Founded in 2014, the startup’s pitch is twofold: Neuro-ID can save companies money by identifying fraud early, and help increase user conversion by making the onboarding process more seamless.
In December Neuro-ID closed a $7 million Series A, co-led by Fin VC and TTV Capital, with participation from Canapi Ventures. With 30 employees, Neuro-ID is using the fresh funding to grow its team and create additional tools to be more self-serving for customers.
AI-powered tools to spot phony online reviews
Marketplaces like Amazon and eBay host millions of third-party sellers, and their algorithms will often boost items in search based on consumer sentiment, which is largely based on reviews. But many third-party sellers use fake reviews often bought from click farms to boost their items, some of which are counterfeit or misrepresented to consumers.
That’s where Fakespot comes in. With its Chrome extension, it warns users of sellers using potentially fake reviews to boost sales and can identify fraudulent sellers. Fakespot is currently compatible with Amazon, BestBuy, eBay, Sephora, Steam, and Walmart.
“There are promotional reviews written by humans and bot-generated reviews written by robots or review farms,” Fakespot founder and CEO Saoud Khalifah told Insider. “Our AI system has been built to detect both categories with very high accuracy.”
Fakespot’s AI learns via reviews data available on marketplace websites, and uses natural-language processing to identify if reviews are genuine. Fakespot also looks at things like whether the number of positive reviews are plausible given how long a seller has been active.
Helping fintechs manage data
As the flow of data becomes evermore crucial for fintechs, from the strappy startup to the established powerhouse, a thorny issue in the back office is becoming increasingly complex.
Even though fintechs are known for their sleek front ends, the back end is often quite the opposite. Behind that streamlined interface can be a mosaic of different partner integrations — be it with banks, payments players and networks, or software vendors — with a channel of data running between them.
Two people who know that better than the average are Kyle Maloney and Travis Gibson, two former employees of Marqeta, a fintech that provides other fintechs with payments processing and card issuance.
“Take an established neobank for example. They’ll likely have one or two card issuers, two to three bank partners, ACH processing for direct deposits and payouts, mobile check deposits, peer-to-peer payments, and lending,” Gibson told Insider.
E-commerce focused business banking
Business banking is a hot market in fintech. And it seems investors can’t get enough.
Novo, the digital banking fintech aimed at small e-commerce businesses, raised a $40.7 million Series A led by Valar Ventures in June. Since its launch in 2018, Novo has signed up 100,000 small businesses. Beyond bank accounts, it offers expense management, a corporate card, and integrates with e-commerce infrastructure players like Shopify, Stripe, and Wise.
Founded in 2018, Novo was based in New York City, but has since moved its headquarters to Miami.
Shopify for embedded finance
Productfy is looking to break into embedded finance by becoming the Shopify of back-end banking services.
Embedded finance — integrating banking services in non-financial settings — has taken hold in the e-commerce world. But Productfy is going after a different kind of customer in churches, universities, and nonprofits.
The San Jose, Calif.-based upstart aims to help non-finance companies offer their own banking products. Productfy can help customers launch finance features in as little as a week and without additional engineering resources or background knowledge of banking compliance or legal requirements, Productfy founder and CEO Duy Vo told Insider.
“You don’t need an engineer to stand up Shopify, right? You can be someone who’s just creating art and you can use Shopify to build your own online store,” Vo said, adding that Productfy is looking to take that user experience and replicate it for banking services.
Deploying algorithms and automation to small-business financing
Bernard Worthy and Justin Straight, the founders of LoanWell, want to break down barriers to financing for small and medium-size businesses — and they’ve got algorithms and automation in their tech arsenals that they hope will do it.
Worthy, the company’s CEO, and Straight, its chief operating and financial officer, are powering community-focused lenders to fill a gap in the SMB financing world by boosting access to loans under $100,000. And the upstart is known for catching the attention, and dollars, of mission-driven investors. LoanWell closed a $3 million seed financing round in December led by Impact America Fund with participation from SoftBank’s SB Opportunity Fund and Collab Capital.
LoanWell automates the financing process — from underwriting and origination, to money movement and servicing — which shaves down an up-to-90-day process to 30 days or even same-day with some LoanWell lenders, Worthy said.
SMBs rely on these loans to process quickly after two years of financial uncertainty. But the pandemic illustrated how time-consuming and expensive SMB financing can be, highlighted by efforts like the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
Community banks, once the lifeline to capital for many local businesses, continue to shutter. And demands for smaller loan amounts remain largely unmet. More than half of business-loan applicants sought $100,000 or less, according to 2018 data from the Federal Reserve. But the average small-business bank loan was closer to six times that amount, according to the latest data from a now discontinued Federal Reserve survey.
Branded cards for SMBs
Jennifer Glaspie-Lundstrom is no stranger to the private-label credit-card business. As a former Capital One exec, she worked in both the card giant’s co-brand partnerships division and its tech organization during her seven years at the company.
Now, Glaspie-Lundstrom is hoping to use that experience to innovate a sector that was initially created in malls decades ago.
Glaspie-Lundstrom is the cofounder and CEO of Tandym, which offers private-label digital credit cards to merchants.
Store and private-label credit cards aren’t a new concept, but Tandym is targeting small- and medium-sized merchants with less than $1 billion in annual revenue. Glaspie-Lundstrom said that group often struggles to offer private-label credit due to the expense of working with legacy players.
“What you have is this example of a very valuable product type that merchants love and their customers love, but a huge, untapped market that has heretofore been unserved, and so that’s what we’re doing with Tandym,” Glaspi-Lundstrom told Insider.
Catering to ‘micro businesses’
Startups aiming to simplify the often-complex world of corporate cards have boomed in recent years.
Business-finance management startup Brex was last valued at $12.3 billion after raising $300 million last year. Startup card provider Ramp announced an $8.1 billion valuation in March after growing its revenue nearly 10x in 2021. Divvy, a small business card provider, was acquired by Bill.com in May 2021 for approximately $2.5 billion.
But despite how hot the market has gotten, Stefanie Sample said she ended up working in the space by accident.
Sample is the founder and CEO of Fundid, a new fintech that provides credit and lending products to small businesses.
This May, Fundid announced a $3.25 million seed round led by Nevcaut Ventures. Additional investors include the Artemis Fund and Builders and Backers. The funding announcement capped off the company’s first year: Sample introduced the Fundid concept in April 2021, launched its website in May, and began raising capital in August.
“I never meant to do Fundid,” Sample told Insider. “I never meant to do something that was venture-backed.”
Embedded payments for SMBs
Branded cards have long been a way for merchants with the appropriate bank relationships to create additional revenue and build customer loyalty.
The rise of embedded payments, or the ability to shop and pay in a seamless experience within a single app, has broadened the number of companies looking to launch branded cards.
Highnote is a startup that helps small to mid-sized merchants roll out their own debit and pre-paid digital cards.
The fintech emerged from stealth on Tuesday to announce it raised $54 million in seed and Series A funding.
Speeding up loans for government contractors
The massive market for federal government contracts approached $700 billion in 2020, and it’s likely to grow as spending accelerates amid an ongoing push for investment in the nation’s infrastructure.
Many of those dollars flow to small-and-medium sized businesses, even though larger corporations are awarded the bulk of contracts by volume. Of the roughly $680 billion in federal contracts awarded in 2020, roughly a quarter, according to federal guidelines, or some $146 billion that year, went to smaller businesses.
But peeking under the hood of the procurement process, the cofounders of OppZo — Randy Garrett and Warren Reed — saw an opportunity to streamline how smaller-sized businesses can leverage those contracts to tap in to capital.
Securing a deal is “a government contractor’s best day and their worst day,” as Garrett, OppZo’s president, likes to put it.
“At that point they need to pay vendors and hire folks to start the contract. And they may not get their first contract payment from the government for as long as 120 days,” Reed, the startup’s CEO, told Insider.
Helping small businesses manage their taxes
After 14 years in tax accounting, Shiloh Johnson had formed a core philosophy around corporate accounting: everyone deserves to understand their business’s money and business owners need to be present in their bookkeeping process.
She wanted to help small businesses understand “this is why you need to do what you’re doing and why you have to change the way you think about tax and be present in your bookkeeping process,” she told Insider.
The Los Angeles native wanted small businesses to not only understand business tax no matter their size but also to find the tools they needed to prepare their taxes in one spot. So Johnson developed a software platform that provides just that.
Automating accounting ops for SMBs
Small- and medium-sized businesses can rely on any number of payroll, expense management, bill pay, and corporate-card startups promising to automate parts of their financial workflow.
Smaller firms have adopted this corporate-financial software en masse, boosting growth throughout the pandemic for relatively new entrants like Ramp and massive, industry stalwarts like Intuit.
But it’s no easy task to connect all of those tools into one, seamless process. And while accounting operations might be far from where many startup founders want to focus their time, having efficient back-end finances does mean time — and capital — freed up to spend elsewhere.
For Decimal CEO Matt Tait, there’s ample opportunity in “the boring stuff you have to do to survive as a company,” he told Insider.
Launched in 2020, Decimal provides a back-end tech layer that small- and medium-sized businesses can use to integrate their accounting and business-management software tools in one place.
On Wednesday, Decimal announced a $9 million seed fundraising round led by Minneapolis-based Arthur Ventures, alongside Service Providers Capital and other angel investors.
Invoice financing for SMBs
About a decade ago, politician Stacey Abrams and entrepreneur Lara Hodgson were forced to fold their startup because of a kink in the supply chain — but not in the traditional sense.
Nourish, which made spill-proof bottled water for children, had grown quickly from selling to small retailers to national ones. And while that may sound like a feather in the small business’ cap, there was a hang-up.
“It was taking longer and longer to get paid, and as you can imagine, you deliver the product and then you wait and you wait, but meanwhile you have to pay your employees and you have to pay your vendors,” Hodgson told Insider. “Waiting to get paid was constraining our ability to grow.”
While it’s not unusual for small businesses to grapple with working capital issues, the dust was still settling from the Great Recession. Abrams and Hodgson couldn’t secure a line of credit or use financing tools like factoring to solve their problem.
The two entrepreneurs were forced to close Nourish in 2012, but along the way they recognized a disconnect in the system.
“Why are we the ones borrowing money, when in fact we’re the lender here because every time you send an invoice to a customer, you’ve essentially extended a free loan to that customer by letting them pay later,” Hodgson said. “And the only reason why we were going to need to possibly borrow money was because we had just given ours away for free to Whole Foods,” she added.
Amazon has long dominated e-commerce with its one-click checkout flows, offering easier ways for consumers to shop online than its small-business competitors.
Bolt gives small merchants tools to offer the same easy checkouts so they can compete with the likes of Amazon.
The startup raised its $393 million Series D to continue adding its one-click checkout feature to merchants’ own websites in October.
Bolt markets to merchants themselves. But a big part of Bolt’s pitch is its growing network of consumers — currently over 5.6 million — that use its features across multiple Bolt merchant customers.
Roughly 5% of Bolt’s transactions were network-driven in May, meaning users that signed up for a Bolt account on another retailer’s website used it elsewhere. The network effects were even more pronounced in verticals like furniture, where 49% of transactions were driven by the Bolt network.
“The network effect is now unleashed with Bolt in full fury, and that triggered the raise,” Bolt’s founder and CEO Ryan Breslow told Insider.
Payments infrastructure for fintechs
Three years ago, Patricia Montesi realized there was a disconnect in the payments world.
“A lot of new economy companies or fintech companies were looking to mesh up a lot of payment modalities that they weren’t able to,” Montesi, CEO and co-founder of Qolo, told Insider.
Integrating various payment capabilities often meant tapping several different providers that had specializations in one product or service, she added, like debit card issuance or cross-border payments.
“The way people were getting around that was that they were creating this spider web of fintech,” she said, adding that “at the end of it all, they had this mess of suppliers and integrations and bank accounts.”
The 20-year payments veteran rounded up a group of three other co-founders — who together had more than a century of combined industry experience — to start Qolo, a business-to-business fintech that sought out to bundle back-end payment rails for other fintechs.
Better use of payroll data
Employees at companies large and small know the importance — and limitations — of how firms manage their payrolls.
A new crop of startups are building the API pipes that connect companies and their employees to offer a greater level of visibility and flexibility when it comes to payroll data and employee verification.
On Thursday, one of those names, Atomic, announced a $40 million Series B fundraising round co-led by Mercato Partners and Greylock, alongside Core Innovation Capital, Portage, and ATX Capital.
The round follows Atomic’s Series A round announced in October, when the startup raised a $22 million Series A from investors including Core Innovation Capital, Portage, and Greylock.
Saving on vendor invoices
When it comes to high-flying tech startups, headlines and investors typically tend to focus on industry “disruption” and the total addressable market a company is hoping to reach. Expense cutting as a way to boost growth typically isn’t part of the conversation early on, and finance teams are viewed as cost centers relative to sales teams.
But one fast-growing area of business payments has turned its focus to managing those costs. Startups like Ramp and established names like Bill.com have made their name offering automated expense-management systems.
Now, one new fintech competitor, Glean, is looking to take that further by offering both automated payment services and tailored line-item accounts-payable insights driven by machine-learning models.
Glean’s CFO and founder, Howard Katzenberg, told Insider that the genesis of Glean was driven by his own personal experience managing the finance teams of startups, including mortgage lender Better.com, which Katzenberg left in 2019, and online small-business lender OnDeck.
“As a CFO of high-growth companies, I spent a lot of time focused on revenue and I had amazing dashboards in real time where I could see what is going on top of the funnel, what’s going on with conversion rates, what’s going on in terms of pricing and attrition,” Katzenberg told Insider.
Real-estate management made easy
For alternative asset managers of any type, the operations underpinning sales and investor communications are a crucial but often overlooked part of the business. Fund managers love to make bets on markets, not coordinate hundreds of wire transfers to clients each quarter or organize customer-relationship-management databases.
Within the $10.6 trillion global market for professionally managed real-estate investing, that’s where Tel Aviv and New York-based startup Agora hopes to make its mark.
Founded in 2019, Agora offers a set of back-office, investor relations, and sales software tools that real-estate investment managers can plug into their workflows.
On Wednesday, Agora announced a $9 million seed round, led by Israel-based venture firm Aleph, with participation from River Park Ventures and Maccabee Ventures. The funding comes on the heels of an October 2020 pre-seed fund raise worth $890,000, in which Maccabee also participated.
Access to commercial real-estate investing
Drew Sterrett was structuring real-estate deals while working in private equity when he realized the inefficiencies that existed in the market.
Only high-net worth individuals or accredited investors could participate in commercial real-estate deals. If they ever wanted to leave a partnership or sell their stake in a property, it was difficult to find another investor to replace them. Owners also struggled to sell minority stakes in their properties and didn’t have many good options to recapitalize an asset if necessary.
In short, the market had a high barrier to entry despite the fact it didn’t always have enough participants to get deals done quickly.
“Most investors don’t have access to high-quality commercial real-estate investments. How do we have the oldest and largest asset class in the world and one of the largest wealth creators with no public and liquid market?” Sterrett told Insider. “It sort of seems like a no-brainer, and that this should have existed 50 or 60 years ago.”
Insurance goes digital
Fintechs looking to transform how insurance policies are underwritten, issued, and experienced by customers have grown as new technology driven by digital trends and artificial intelligence shape the market.
And while verticals like auto, homeowner’s, and renter’s insurance have seen their fair share of innovation from forward-thinking fintechs, one company has taken on the massive life-insurance market.
Founded in 2017, Ladder uses a tech-driven approach to offer life insurance with a digital, end-to-end service that it says is more flexible, faster, and cost-effective than incumbent players.
Life, annuity, and accident and health insurance within the US comprise a big chunk of the broader market. In 2020, premiums written on those policies totaled some $767 billion, compared to $144 billion for auto policies and $97 billion for homeowner’s insurance.
Data science for commercial insurance
There’s been no shortage of funds flowing into insurance-technology companies over the past few years.
Private-market funding to insurtechs soared to $15.4 billion in 2021, a 90% increase compared to 2020. Some of the most well-known consumer insurtech names — from Oscar (which focuses on health insurance) to Metromile (which focuses on auto) — launched on the public markets last year, only to fall over time or be acquired as investors questioned the sustainability of their business models.
In the commercial arena, however, the head of one insurtech company thinks there is still room to grow — especially for those catering to small businesses operating in an entirely new, pandemic-defined environment.
“The bigger opportunity is in commercial lines,” Tanner Hackett, the CEO of management liability insurer Counterpart, told Insider.
“Everywhere I poke, I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re still in 1.0, and all the other businesses I’ve built were on version three.’ Insurance is still in 1.0, still managing from spreadsheets and PDFs,” added Hackett, who also previously co-founded Button, which focuses on mobile marketing.
Smarter insurance for multifamily properties
A veteran of the online-insurance world is looking to revolutionize the way the industry prices risk for commercial properties with the help of artificial intelligence.
Insurance companies typically send inspectors to properties before issuing policies to better understand how the building is maintained and identify potential risks or issues with it. It’s a process that can be time-consuming, expensive, and inefficient, making it hard to justify for smaller commercial properties, like apartment and condo buildings.
Insurtech Honeycomb is looking to fix that by using AI to analyze a combination of third-party data and photos submitted by customers through the startup’s app to quickly identify any potential risks at a property and more accurately price policies.
“That whole physical inspection thing had really good things in it, but it wasn’t really something that is scalable and, it’s also expensive,” Itai Ben-Zaken, Honeycomb’s cofounder and CEO, told Insider. “The best way to see a property right now is Google street view. Google street view is usually two years old.”
Helping freelancers with their taxes
Some people, particularly those with families or freelancing businesses, spend days searching for receipts for tax season, making tax preparation a time consuming and, at times, taxing experience.
That’s why in 2020 Jaideep Singh founded FlyFin, an artificial-intelligence tax preparation program for freelancers that helps people, as he puts it, “fly through their finances.”
FlyFin is set up to connect to a person’s bank accounts, allowing the AI program to help users monitor for certain expenses that can be claimed on their taxes like business expenditures, the interest on mortgages, property taxes, or whatever else that might apply.
“For most individuals, people have expenses distributed over multiple financial institutions. So we built an AI platform that is able to look at expenses, understand the individual, understand your profession, understand the freelance population at large, and start the categorization,” Singh told Insider.
Digital banking for freelancers
Lance is a new digital bank hoping to simplify the life of those workers by offering what it calls an “active” approach to business banking.
“We found that every time we sat down with the existing tools and resources of our accountants and QuickBooks and spreadsheets, we just ended up getting tangled up in the whole experience of it,” Lance cofounder and CEO Oona Rokyta told Insider.
Lance offers subaccounts for personal salaries, withholdings, and savings to which freelancers can automatically allocate funds according to custom preset levels. It also offers an expense balance that’s connected to automated tax withholdings.
In May, Lance announced the closing of a $2.8 million seed round that saw participation from Barclays, BDMI, Great Oaks Capital, Imagination Capital, Techstars, DFJ Frontier, and others.
Software for managing freelancers
The way people work has fundamentally changed over the past year, with more flexibility and many workers opting to freelance to maintain their work-from-home lifestyles.
But managing a freelance or contractor workforce is often an administrative headache for employers. Worksome is a startup looking to eliminate all the extra work required for employers to adapt to more flexible working norms.
Worksome started as a freelancer marketplace automating the process of matching qualified workers with the right jobs. But the team ultimately pivoted to a full suite of workforce management software, automating administrative burdens required to hire, pay, and account for contract workers.
In May, Worksome closed a $13 million Series A backed by European angel investor Tommy Ahlers and Danish firm Lind & Risør.
Payments and operations support
While countless small businesses have been harmed by the pandemic, self-employment and entrepreneurship have found ways to blossom as Americans started new ventures.
Half of the US population may be freelance by 2027, according to a study commissioned by remote-work hiring platform Upwork. HoneyBook, a fintech startup that provides payment and operations support for freelancers, in May raised $155 million in funding and achieved unicorn status with its $1 billion-plus valuation.
Durable Capital Partners led the Series D funding with other new investors including renowned hedge fund Tiger Global, Battery Ventures, Zeev Ventures, and 01 Advisors. Citi Ventures, Citigroup’s startup investment arm that also backs fintech robo-advisor Betterment, participated as an existing investor in the round alongside Norwest Venture partners. The latest round brings the company’s fundraising total to $227 million to date.
Pay-as-you-go compliance for banks, fintechs, and crypto startups
When Themis founder and CEO Neepa Patel set out to build a new compliance tool for banks, fintech startups, and crypto companies, she tapped into her own experience managing risk at some of the nation’s biggest financial firms.
Having worked as a bank regulator at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and in compliance at Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, and the enterprise blockchain company R3, Patel was well-placed to assess the shortcomings in financial compliance software.
But Patel, who left the corporate world to begin work on Themis in 2020, drew on more than just her own experience and frustrations to build the startup.
“It’s not just me building a tool based on my personal pain points. I reached out to regulators. I reached out to bank compliance officers and members in the fintech community just to make sure that we’re building it exactly how they do their work,” Patel told Insider. “That was the biggest problem: No one built a tool that was reflective of how people do their work.”
Connecting startups and investors
Blair Silverberg is no stranger to fundraising.
For six years, Silverberg was a venture capitalist at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Private Credit Investments making bets on startups.
“I was meeting with thousands of founders in person each year, watching them one at a time go through this friction where they’re meeting a ton of investors, and the investors are all asking the same questions,” Silverberg told Insider.
He switched gears about three years ago, moving to the opposite side of the metaphorical table, to start Hum Capital, which uses artificial intelligence to match investors with startups looking to fundraise.
On August 31, the New York-based fintech announced its $9 million Series A. The round was led by Future Ventures with participation from Webb Investment Network, Wavemaker Partners, and Partech.
Helping LatAm startups get up to speed
There’s more venture capital flowing into Latin America than ever before, but getting the funds in founders’ hands is not exactly a simple process.
In 2021, investors funneled $15.3 billion into Latin American companies, more than tripling the previous record of $4.9 billion in 2019. Fintech and e-commerce sectors drove funding, accounting for 39% and 25% of total funding, respectively.
However, for many startup founders in the region who have successfully sold their ideas and gotten investors on board, there’s a patchwork of corporate structuring that’s needed to access the funds, according to Benjamin Gleason, who was the chief financial officer at Groupon LatAm prior to cofounding Brazil-based fintech Kamino.
It’s a process Gleason and his three fellow Kamino cofounders have been through before as entrepreneurs and startup execs themselves.
Most often, startups have to set up offshore financial accounts outside of Brazil, which “entails creating a Cayman [Islands] holding company, a Delaware LLC, and then connecting it to a local entity here and also opening US bank accounts for the Cayman entity, which is not trivial from a KYC perspective,” said Gleason, who founded open-banking fintech Guiabolso in Sao Paulo. His partner, Gonzalo Parejo, experienced the same toils when he founded insurtech Bidu.
“Pretty much any international investor will usually ask for that,” Gleason said, adding that investors typically cite liability issues.
“It’s just a massive amount of bureaucracy, complexity, a lot of time from the founders. All of this just to get the money from the investor that wants to give them the money,” he added.
The back-end tech for beauty
Danielle Cohen-Shohet might have started as a Goldman Sachs investment analyst, but at her core she was always a coder.
After about three years at Goldman Sachs, Cohen-Shohet left the world of traditional finance to code her way into starting her own company in 2016.
“There was a period of time where I did nothing, but eat, sleep, and code for a few weeks,” Cohen-Shohet told Insider.
Her technical edge and knowledge of the point-of-sale payment space led her to launch a software company focused on providing behind-the-scenes tech for beauty and wellness small businesses.
Cohen-Shohet launched GlossGenius in 2017 to provide payments tech for hair stylists, nail technicians, blow-out bars, and other small businesses in the space.
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