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> Posted by Nancy Widjaja and Maelis Carraro, Accion Venture Lab and BFA

When we met Miguel Duhalt, CEO of Comunidad4Uno in Mexico City, he was working day and night to launch a company that sought to change the financial lives of domestic workers. His goal was building a platform that could offer financial services such as insurance, direct payments, and bank account access to low-income domestic workers in Mexico. With Comunidad4Uno, people who employ domestic workers in their homes would be able to sign up for the service and, with a small annual fee, insure their domestic workers and give them access to medical check-ups. They would be able to pay their employees electronically via a smartphone app into a newly-opened bank account. Leveraging technology and the personal relationships between workers and employers, Miguel wanted to formalize access to insurance and other financial services for domestic workers in Mexico.

But to achieve his ambitions, Miguel needed two things: to raise enough capital to take his enterprise off the ground and to validate his idea in the market with more users. Like many other startup founders, he faced a Catch-22. Investors wanted to see traction and a proven business model before endorsing his company, but his small team had a hard time focusing on reaching proof points because they needed to raise capital to keep the lights on. Raising seed funding is particularly challenging in Mexico and many other emerging markets. Moreover, challenging regulatory environments, inefficient infrastructure and connectivity, costly supply chains, and consumer distrust add to the operational difficulties.

So Miguel, like other talented entrepreneurs, needed to find an aligned investor who could look beyond quick financial returns and help meet important milestones to attract institutional funding at a later stage.

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> Posted by Vitas Argimon, Credit Suisse Global Citizen Volunteer

With financial technology disrupting the industry, banks are turning to startups to help them innovate, and startups are turning to banks to help them scale. Banks are increasingly connecting with financial technology startups to reach the unbanked and underbanked. In the report, The Business of Financial Inclusion: Insights from Banks in Emerging Markets, CFI and the Institute of International Finance (IIF) found that many banks are building a vast ecosystem of partnerships to expand their reach and service offerings and to improve internal processes. This growing interaction between legacy providers and new providers is taking a variety of forms. Many larger banks are engaging with startups in multiple ways, from partnering with the firms to providing support to incubate new firms. In my deep-dive into the ecosystem of this engagement, I discovered three primary types of interaction.

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> Posted by Center Staff

vkast_album_coverDo you want to know about the coolest financial inclusion startups in the world and how they work? Or the entrepreneurs behind these startups and how they got off the ground? VentureKast, or VKast, is a new podcast series from Accion’s Venture Lab that takes you directly to the entrepreneurs, offering a window into the converging worlds of impact investing, startups, fintech, and financial inclusion.

As you’re probably familiar, Venture Lab, or VLab, is an Accion investment initiative that provides patient seed capital and support to pioneering financial inclusion startups. What you may not know are all the innovations in business and technology that Venture Lab investees harness to provide customers with better, cheaper, and more appropriate financial services. VKast spotlights how these startups break new ground in the financial inclusion landscape, from the unique perspectives of the entrepreneurs that lead them.

The VLab team writes, “We want to celebrate our entrepreneurs’ journeys and let their voices be heard to inspire other aspiring entrepreneurs, to draw in investors and potential clients to their businesses, and to let the world know how cool financial inclusion entrepreneurship really is.”

The inaugural episode of VentureKast features Ranjit Punja, CEO and Co-Founder of CreditMantri, a Venture Lab portfolio company based in Chennai, India that offers financial advisory services to consumers that are underbanked, credit negative, or new to formal financial services. CreditMantri uses an automated web platform and call center to help consumers access their credit reports, understand their credit scores, improve their creditworthiness, restructure outstanding debt, and get access to relevant financial services. Check out the first VKast episode to hear Ranjit discuss, among other things, how he came up with the idea for CreditMantri, how he assembled his team of co-founders, and his vision for the company.

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> Posted by Paul Breloff and Jeff Bond, Accion Venture Lab

Remittances are big business. This year, customers will send $454 billion to developing countries through formal channels alone. Developing countries’ income from remittances is three times bigger than the global aid budget. If you exclude China, remittance flows even outweigh foreign direct investment.

However, remittance services have never been known for great customer experience. Here’s why:

First, they’re expensive. At the end of 2014, the global average cost of sending remittances was just under 8 percent of the value sent. For less popular remittance corridors, rates climb well into the double digits and can reach over 20 percent.

Second, they’re inconvenient. Coordination between senders/receivers, locating branches to send and receive cash, paperwork and red tape, and long lines – these and other factors often make the experience of sending remittances pretty miserable.

But the world is changing. A convergence of forces offers the opportunity to rethink the traditional remittance model, promising more money, time, and peace of mind for customers. What’s new?

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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla, Senior Investment Analyst, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on SocialStory.

The Indian financial services landscape is undergoing a tectonic shift. The last few years have seen a renewed public focus on expanding financial inclusion. Building off prior programs, the government has invested in regulatory reform, improvements to the banking system, payments, and ID infrastructure. They have also announced a series of programs targeting the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Simultaneously, we are beginning to see real shifts in the adoption of digital technologies and banking services (such as basic savings accounts and smartphones), driven by compelling use-cases, such as government subsidies, delivered directly into bank accounts, and rickshaw-hailing apps that use mobile wallets. Together these trends are unleashing tremendous innovation with the potential to speed financial inclusion for millions.

As investors in early and growth stage “social” enterprises that are speeding financial inclusion around the world, we believe startups are uniquely positioned to navigate this shifting technological, regulatory, and competitive environment. Indeed, financial sector reform in India has had many false starts, and there are still many regulatory and structural hurdles to be overcome. However, we believe India is nearing an inflection point with changes playing out in three areas that are giving birth to exciting startup financial services models: MSME finance, digital payments, and consumer services.

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> Posted by Rishabh Khosla and Vikas Raj, Senior Investment Analyst and Senior Investment Officer, Accion Venture Lab

In May, India’s new government, led by Narendra Modi, was elected in a landslide. Popular frustration with the Congress Party’s increasingly ineffectual 10-year reign, made most visible by persistently low GDP growth, allowed for one of the most lopsided victories in Indian history, and the first time a non-Congress candidate had an outright majority in parliament. Wisely, Modi focused his election campaign rhetoric on economic issues and more efficient governance to revive GDP growth. The markets have reacted positively: the bell-weather BSE stock-index is up 20 percent since the start of the year. Two weeks ago, the government finally proposed a budget for the next year – the first real concrete recommendations for the economy since coming to power two months ago.

India is a key market for financial inclusion investors like Accion Venture Lab because of the size, depth, and strength of its entrepreneurial pool, as well as the persistent lack of financial services for the poor. Despite the huge success of microfinance in India, two-thirds of the working-age population lacks a bank account, mobile payments have yet to take off, and access to credit for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) remains abysmal.

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> Posted by Paul Breloff, Managing Director, Accion Venture Lab

The following post was originally published on the CGAP Blog.

In my last post, we talked about the potential for start-ups to shake things up in the financial inclusion space. But where’s the real opportunity today? At Venture Lab, we’ve got our eye on a number of trends for 2013.

First, mobile. There’s no denying the increasing ubiquity of mobile phones – over 4 billion in the developing world and counting – and we’re excited to explore the ways that mobile phones provide a channel to reach people with financial services. Our financial inclusion community has long focused on the growth of Kenya’s M-PESA, and no doubt, with over 16 million customers and 80 percent of the nation’s population having used it last year, it’s an iconic story in a sector thirsty for scaled success stories. Hopefully, markets like Pakistan, Tanzania, and Mexico won’t be far behind.

But there are other ways mobile can enable more widespread access to financial services. Take Coda Payments, for example, one of our first investments working in Southeast Asia. Coda operates a payments processing platform that connects with mobile network operators’ (MNO) billing systems and enables customers to purchase digital goods with a straightforward deduction against prepaid airtime. Think apps, e-content, information services, insurance premiums, and more.

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> Posted by Center Staff

During this holiday season we here at the Center have enjoyed finding festive greetings in our inboxes and, to a lesser extent, our mailboxes. Though amongst the lot, there was one message that stood out so much we felt compelled to share it.

Demyst.Data – a startup that aggregates and analyses “big data” to help financial institutions extend credit to underserved customers – emailed the below ode to one of our team members. Accion is an investor in Demyst through its new initiative, Venture Lab. In speaking about Demyst, Venture Lab Managing Director Paul Breloff recently said, “Demyst is a breakthrough technology that can help financial institutions around the world, including microfinance institutions, more efficiently and responsibly reach neglected customer segments with credit and other financial services.”

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.