Panel: America’s Got Access: A New Startup Pitch Competition Focused on Doing Good
Judges: Dan Rosen, Commerce Ventures; Scarlett Sieber, Money20/20; Charles Hudson, Precursor Ventures; Sherri Haymond, Mastercard.
The news: Nine early stage startup founders took the stage on the opening day of Money20/20 to fight for a shot at a $100,000 investment and stage time in front of an audience of venture capital firms and angel investors.
Economic uncertainty strikes again: Underlying the theme of the competition—financial inclusion—and the stakes for founders trying to get their companies off the ground was the pervasive sense of an economy poised to take a turn for the worse.
Fintech funding volume has imploded. After peaking at $38.4 billion in Q4 2021, the global haul came in at just $12.9 billion in Q3 2022, a 38% year-over-year (YoY) drop and the lowest quarterly value since Q2 2020, per CB Insights.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and for some in the industry, tighter financial conditions are creating an inflection point years in the making.
Economic uncertainty has also pummeled consumer sentiment and threatens to push at-risk consumers into dire straits.
Money20/20’s startup competition was a unique manifestation of both trends: founders who have staked their careers on helping underserved consumers fighting for a slice of rapidly collapsing funding.
The contenders: Each startup brought to the table a laserlike focus on expanding access to services for communities that have long faced hurdles to participating fully in the financial system.
Some focused on providing services to ethnic and cultural communities:
Others designed products for low-income communities and people struggling with overdue debts:
Athlytic, MyFloc, Xaggo, and Xiggit also pitched. A tenth startup, Ticket Avengers, was expected to compete but couldn’t attend because of a delayed flight.
The winner: Cail said he founded Zirtue because predatory lenders were targeting all of the demographics he identified with—he’s a veteran, a person of color, and someone who grew up in a low-income home.
A new kind of competition: Money20/20 has hosted startup competitions in the past, but this is the first year the winner received funding—and the first year the competition centered on financial inclusivity. This focus proved to be timely and popular: America’s Got Access’s hundreds of applications were the most Money20/20 had ever received.
Lots of talk, less action: Inclusivity has been a buzzword in the world of finance since the early 2000s. But women- and minority-led fintechs still say they face barriers to getting the same access to capital as their peers—and it’s only gotten harder in the last few months.
“Oftentimes, women are asked the question, ‘What are your data points?’” Pensack told Insider Intelligence. “For early stage companies, it’s always been showing the vision. I think that can put women at a disadvantage.”
“I think people often say they support women and people of color,” Remynt’s Borden said. “In practice, I haven’t seen that so much. People are just extremely cautious right now. They’re either not investing, or they’re choosing things that are pretty proven.”
What’s next? Taking the macroeconomic picture into consideration, Borden and Pensack agreed: “All of our investors have said it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Pensack said. “If you think it’s tough now, it’s going to get worse.” But they’re optimistic about their businesses and the state of fintech as market uncertainty abates.
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