Supporting Innovation at its Earliest Stage

January 10, 2016

This past November, JPMorgan Chase and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the launch of the Catalyst Fund, a fiscal sponsorship project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors managed by Bankable Frontier Associates. Catalyst is a $2 million fund focused on supporting FinTech and financial inclusion startups that have not yet raised institutional venture capital.

Catalyst is tackling an important challenge.

In both the developed and developing markets, startups are rapidly innovating and finding new ways to partner within the financial services ecosystem. Technologies, including smartphones, cloud computing, mobile money, social media, big data, and machine learning, make it cheaper, faster, and more efficient to provide financial products and services to the financially underserved.

However, in many emerging markets, these startups, in their earliest phases of innovation – developing, testing and iterating their new products – face the constant challenge of securing capital. They are too early, have too few users, and have not yet achieved product market fit to secure funding from institutional investors. In Silicon Valley, and to some degree in many developed markets, this is where angel investors step in. By and large, there is nowhere near a similar depth of angel investors in emerging markets, particularly for solutions targeting the global underserved.

To address this need, Catalyst Fund will provide 20 startups with $100,000 in flexible grants, one-on-one mentoring support, and the opportunity to attend a global conference and skills bootcamp.

Catalyst Fund has two primary objectives with this project. The first is to help the startups develop new financial inclusion products and businesses and prepare them to engage with institutional funders like Omidyar Network.  The second objective is to share learnings with the broader ecosystem. Each grant will come with a structured learning agenda to answer an evolving set of questions from: how can we use location-based or other data to improve onboarding, to whether user experience improves the product adoption and money management skills of customers, to how two-way, real-time messaging improves user engagement and can reduce churn.

The fund is driven by an investment committee of leading FinTech and financial inclusion experts to identify and select startups. I am excited and honored to represent Omidyar Network alongside representatives from Accion Venture Lab, Quona, and Grey Ghost Ventures.

Concerted efforts like these give us yet another opportunity to meet and support entrepreneurs pushing the edge of innovation, while hopefully making a meaningful dent in the number of financially underserved consumers.

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