March 11, 2022 in success stories, United States

How These 12 Fintech Startups Are Improving the Financial Health of American Communities


Village Capital, in partnership with Freddie Mac, PayPal, and TIAA, ran a fintech accelerator program that supported entrepreneurs striving to advance the financial well-being of everyday people and small businesses in the US through a myriad of innovations disrupting the status-quo. Below, we are featuring these twelve change makers and the stories behind the genesis of their companies.

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Challenger (Denver, CO)

During his childhood, Nate Gruendemann first became aware of the level of strain that financial stress could place on a household when he saw how it ultimately caused the marriage of his best friend’s parents to fall apart.

Years later, Nate and his best friend teamed up to start a company that would help alleviate financial burden in some way. Around the same time, they encountered a CFO of a manufacturing company who informed them of the company’s issue with employee retention and that financial stress was the main culprit for the high-turnover rates among his low-to-moderate income workforce.

After working with the CFO and conducting independent research, Nate and his team discovered that the top financial concern of employees was their emergency savings and concluded that their startup, Challenger, needed to focus on offering a tailored solution for this major pain-point.

Challenger offers a way for employees to automatically contribute a portion of their wages into an employer-sponsored savings account.

Nate says, “Challenger's mission is to make the emergency savings account as ubiquitous a benefit as the 401k over the next ten years.”

Cher (Santa Monica, CA)

Eric Chebil’s passion for real estate and housing was significantly influenced by his father, who was the owner of a construction company in the Middle East. Along with studying construction engineering, finance and architecture in college, his passion led him on a career path that involved managing billion-dollar projects for the largest contractor on the west coast, becoming a licensed originator as well as a real estate broker, and starting his own real estate company – all by the age of 27.

Around the same time, Eric aspired to become a homeowner, but was unable to find a home that fit within his price range, so he opted to rent with roommates. He started looking into the option of co-owning a home with friends because it offered an affordable solution, but noticed how co-buying was inherently complicated with all the extra work involved around the legal and financing components of the transaction.

His own experiences and ambition to make homeownership more accessible for the average person led him to build Cher, a marketplace that streamlines the process of co-buying a house with others.

Eric says, “As a millennial who had wasted thousands of dollars over the years paying rent, I sought to put my money towards something that actually built my wealth. Being that I couldn’t afford a home by myself, I founded Cher to allow people like me to still become homeowners.”

College Cash (Fort Worth, TX)

Demetrius Curry grew up on the Southside of Chicago. He spent some of his teenage years in and out of group homes, and experienced homelessness for a time. He sought a fresh start in the Marines, and after serving his country, finished his education and started a career in the corporate world.

Grateful for the way his life’s trajectory took a turn for the better, Demetrius felt compelled to give back, so he began mentoring at-risk youth in his local community. While doing so, he reflected on the social norm of pushing children to go to college, even if it meant taking on crippling debt, and was struck by the “unfair burden this could have on those least able to bear it,” like the at-risk youth he was mentoring.

This realization led Demetrius to start College Cash, a company that offers users an opportunity to earn extra income and lower their student loan debt by participating in ad campaigns for the brands they love. On their first of its kind platform, users as early as their first year in high school can create marketing content for brands running the campaigns to earn money that automatically goes toward paying off their student loan debt. For current high school and college students, the funds stack and accumulate to offset future student loan debt. The unique nature of their platform means that they can help reduce this type of debt both before and after a person gets it.

Crowd Capital (Miami, FL)

Several years into a comfortable career in corporate strategy and finance, Christian Rotter couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that he wanted to contribute more meaningfully to society.

One day, he was driven to action when a family friend recounted his appalling experience going through foreclosure over the previous seven years. The family friend’s mortgage had changed hands numerous times before someone was finally willing to work with him to keep his family in their home.

It was at this time Christian became aware that families facing extended financial hardship often have little recourse for keeping their homes once they’ve missed as few as three payments. This is because most traditional lenders are too big to care about individual families and they would rather initiate foreclosure proceedings or sell the mortgage notes at a discount than provide families with alternative solutions towards resolving their delinquency. Minorities tend to be disproportionately impacted, and being a minority himself, this resonated with Christian on a personal level.

Christian felt confident that he could use his expertise to help people in similar situations as his friend. So, he started Crowd Capital, to create a better solution for struggling families while also providing everyday people the opportunity to invest in an asset class that is relatable and socially responsible. They are able to do this by first purchasing distressed mortgages using funds they have raised from everyday investors, then working with borrowers to improve their financial status, and finally selling the mortgages back to banks for a profit once they are performing well.

Frizzmo (Novi, MI)

As the child of a school teacher, Philip Holmes saw his mother routinely purchase supplies for her classroom using her own hard-earned money. She was not alone – teachers in the US spend over one billion dollars a year out-of-pocket on school supplies as a result of limited funding that have left schools unable to cover those necessary costs.

His mother’s passion rubbed off on Philip as, later in life, he noticed how children in the American school system were being underserved in another way – students aren’t being taught financial literacy in the classroom. As a father of four now, he even witnessed the consequences of this gap in the curriculum in his children as they didn’t understand the value of money, given how they would frequently lose their cash allowances.

Philip’s experiences inspired him to develop Frizzmo, a family banking app that helps children learn the basics of finance through educational content. The app also gives families an opportunity to give back to schools through the roundup feature on purchases and enables teachers to use the raised funds to purchase school supplies, as part of their mission to support hardworking educators like his mother.

“Our hope is that, through Frizzmo, families will learn the basic principles of financial literacy,” Philip says. “We want to help parents work with their children to lay the foundation for becoming financially-savvy adults.”

“Overall,” he says, “We hope to spread the spirit of giving and investing in one's education, with the ultimate goal of making an impact for generations to come.”

Let’s Get Set (San Francisco, CA)

Clare Herceg cultivated an interest around creating equitable access to economic mobility from an early age, thanks in part to growing up with parents who were deeply involved in volunteerism and social entrepreneurship. She spent a significant portion of her career developing and supporting impact-driven programs that served low-income communities, but increasingly became frustrated with the limited reach that these programs achieved. So Clare decided to enroll in an MBA program to learn how technology and for-profit business models can be used to scale the access of economic mobility.

It was during her time in business school that she learned of the staggering figure that more than $12B in tax-credits are left unclaimed annually, which sparked the idea to start Let’s Get Set, a company that is centered around helping the millions of Americans making less than $40K a year gain access to these credits.

Clare says, “After a decade working in service of economic mobility, I founded Let's Get Set to make paths to upward mobility possible for low-income families by building financial products to meet their unique needs.”

LoanSense (Ypsilanti, MI)

Catalina Kaiyoorawongs immigrated with her family to the US at the age of twelve. Her mother worked tirelessly to make ends meet and consistently ingrained in Catalina the importance of pursuing higher education, at any cost, in order to make a better life for herself.

So she did just that. She took on student loans to pay her way through college. However, when she decided she wanted to purchase her first home, she was painfully told that she was unqualified for a mortgage loan because of her high student debt.

After doing her own research, she found that it was possible for her to qualify for a loan by enrolling in a federal repayment plan, which then lowered her monthly student loan payment, and subsequently lowered her debt-to-income ratio. She was then able to successfully close on the home.

After receiving her MBA, Catalina built LoanSense, a company that is devoted to preventing student loan borrowers, like herself, from going through the heartache of being denied a chance at homeownership by walking them through the process of increasing their home purchasing power.

Catalina insists, “It isn't that our generation is not qualified to buy a home, it's that we ourselves and loan officers are not versed in the options that the government provides to reduce the burden of our student debt, get forgiveness and become more qualified for homeownership.”

Her big-picture goal: “Ultimately, I want 25% more of my generation to qualify and close on a home, rather than continuing to lag behind our parent's generation.”

NuMarket (Newton, MA)

Carly Valancy started her career as a Broadway performer and artist engaged in a variety of communities in vibrant neighborhoods in New York City. In March 2020, Broadway closed, independent businesses closed, and her entire community lost their jobs and communities.

She and Ross Chanowski witnessed how brutally the pandemic had crumbled the livelihoods of fellow creatives and small business owners. Amid the urge that people nationwide felt to help keep their local businesses afloat by tipping their delivery drivers extra and promoting them on social media, Ross saw that there wasn’t a way for communities to purposefully support the survival and growth of the businesses that make communities so vibrant.

With that, NuMarket was born; a company that allows everyday people to contribute funds to their favorite local businesses and get more back in credits through their community-funding platform. Ross launched the first campaign for Mamaleh’s, an iconic deli in Boston. Carly joined the team, and they were off to the races.

Carly says, “Covid19 showed us just how important independent businesses are to us and also laid bare a systemic problem: lack of access to supportive funding options. We are proud to work with incredible people who are changing the narrative and leading by example for how businesses and communities can grow.”

NuMarket’s vision is simple and steeped in mutual value: Communities filled with vibrant, diverse businesses, funded by the people that live there and love them.

OneEleven (New York City, NY)

Dani Pascarella witnessed economic mobility in her own home growing up, as she saw her mother go from struggling with personal finance to someone who was able to become a homeowner and comfortably retire early – all because she was able to reframe her relationship with money.

This transformation Dani saw in her mother breeded her deep-seeded desire to help people manage their finances and so she went off to start her career in private banking on Wall Street. However, she later found it upsetting that the financial services she was offering to her ultra-wealthy clients weren’t accessible to people who needed it the most. “While working on Wall Street, I became painfully aware of the wealth gap in America and how hard it is to get good financial guidance if you're not already rich,” she says.

Dani left her job to start OneEleven, a company that partners with employers to offer financial wellness services as an employee benefit. Through a psychology-backed approach, OneEleven combines 1-on-1 human coaching, custom financial plans, progress tracking and educational videos that make financial wellness accessible, effective and mobile. She says “I launched the OneEleven app to democratize financial wellness and make it easier than ever to achieve your financial goals–right from your phone.”

PocketCFO (Los Altos, CA)

Eric Quick was leading an Oakland-based food company when he noticed that his team was spending countless hours tediously tracking finances on spreadsheets, which was detracting from the primary focus: building the business.

This seemed to be a recurring phenomenon he observed in the businesses he was part of and advised throughout his career. Eric recounts, “I’ve seen firsthand the challenges, frustration and wasted time of early stage businesses with disconnected financial systems. I also recognized that as a white male leader, I had advantages in accessing capital and other business services than women and business owners of color didn't. It’s the collision of these observations that caused me to build a different business to level the playing field of finance.”

These grievances eventually led him to launch PocketCFO, a company that aims to equip small businesses with the tools they need to optimize their financial performance so that they’re better positioned to succeed in achieving their mission.

Repaytient (Louisville, KY)

In 2017, Chris Blakely’s youngest daughter was diagnosed with a respiratory virus and spent days at the hospital in recovery.

Although he and his wife were pleased with the exemplary care their daughter received, they were incredibly perplexed by the medical bills they were bombarded with several months after the hospital visit and frustrated they were not offered any payment options that aligned with their budget.

Chris’ deep concerns with the outdated and complex medical billing process motivated him to join his partners in starting Repaytient, a company that equips hospitals with payment plans and billing tools that enable their patients to affordably manage the cost of receiving quality care.

Chris says, “Our mission at Repaytient, is to ensure that the hospitals our local communities rely on are financially strong and can continue to deliver the quality care their patients rely on, and that all patients have the flexibility to pay their rising medical expenses in a budget friendly manner ensuring they can continue to access the care they need when they need it. No patient should have to delay care due to cost or be driven to bankruptcy because they got sick.”

Small Change (Pittsburgh, PA)

Eve Picker has always had a deep fascination with cities and how the design of the built environment impacts the well-being of the communities that inhabit them. She started her career as an architect and urban designer, then became a real estate developer in Pittsburgh – the only female developer on the scene at the time – working on challenging urban projects in some of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods. She strove to give new life to vacant properties, repurposing them, or building anew, in an effort to improve the disinvested neighborhoods she found them in.

Eve recalls, “As a developer, I've tackled projects in forgotten neighborhoods, building the financial skills needed to piece together these difficult projects. I've learned first hand how difficult it is to access capital if you are a woman, and if you want to build anywhere but in a hot market. I can only imagine how difficult it must be if you are a person of color.”

Realizing that the ability to access capital determines whether a project will be built or whether a developer will succeed, she launched Small Change, a real-estate crowdfunding platform that enables everyday people to invest in transformative projects, supporting developers who have traditionally been underserved by banks.

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