By Kate King
Business accelerator IndieBio plans to open a location in New York City next year after securing $25 million in funding from the state.
The accelerator will work with 20 startup companies a year, providing each with an investment of up to $2 million as well as mentorship and business training. The program is part of a broader push by economic development officials to boost the state’s biotechnology, biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.
“You’re talking about a state that is a research powerhouse,” said Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic-development agency. “We have the raw materials here and the assets to translate into commercial enterprise, and that’s the overarching objective.”
Founded in San Francisco three years ago, IndieBio has worked with 90 companies that have gone on to raise more than $165 million in venture capital funding, according to founder Arvind Gupta. The accelerator is looking for a 12,000 to 20,000-square-foot location, preferably in Manhattan near a major transportation hub, that will offer laboratory facilities as well as office space “so science and business can work hand-in hand,” he said.
“There is a huge amount of talent that is untapped potential in New York,” Mr. Gupta said. “Really the challenge will be galvanizing that ecosystem and having it believe there is a new way of starting bio-tech companies that can be lower cost, faster to market.”
Accelerators and incubators are a key component to helping New York capitalize on the scientific discoveries made in the state, said Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit business organization. In the past, scientists often have sold their technology to venture capitalists located in Massachusetts or California, she said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that by welcoming IndieBio to New York, “we are taking a major step forward to ensure that this state remains a global leader for the rapidly growing life science industry.”
Partnership for New York City is investing $10 million from its own fund into New York-based companies that participate in IndieBio’s accelerator and is raising another $40 million from private investors.
“The idea is to create a broad-based venture capital interest that is local,” Ms. Wylde said. “This is a real culture shift for New York’s institutions as they encourage their scientists to turn their discoveries into commercial enterprise and become entrepreneurs.”
The state’s $25 million investment will be delivered over five years and is part of a $620 million initiative that provides tax credits and other investments with the goal of developing a “life sciences” research cluster. New York City also has pledged $500 million to bolster the industry through tax incentives, investments in incubators and a new research and entrepreneurial-training campus.
The AI-enabled digital wellness clinic announces seed round of funding to continue providing personalized care for workers across the country
New York, NY – July 12, 2018 – Spring Health, the digital wellness platform making mental well-being easy to navigate for businesses and employees, today announced the close of its $6M seed round, bringing the total amount raised up to $8M. In an all-female led fundraise, the round was led by Rethink Impact with additional investments by Work-Bench, BBG Ventures, and the Partnership Fund for New York City. Existing investors RRE Ventures and William K. Warren Foundation also participated. As a result of the funding, Spring Health will continue expand its product and scale to offer wellness benefits nationwide.
One in five Americans struggle with mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health), yet most employees do not receive the mental healthcare they need through company benefits. Spring Health’s mission to make the journey to emotional well-being more personalized and convenient has resonated with clients across the country, ranging from global Fortune 500 companies to high-growth startups like DigitalOcean, Zola, and Niantic. Typically one in every three employees will sign up for Spring Health, which boasts engagement rates that are 20x higher than the average Employee Assistance Program.
“We started Spring Health because we were exasperated by how cumbersome, painful and expensive the typical mental health care journey is. We completely reinvented the mental health care experience, and our early customers loved it. We’re excited to scale the offering nation-wide with this fundraise,” says April Koh, CEO and co-founder of Spring Health. “During a time when mental health is such a relevant topic, we are using our platform to lead the conversation and break stigmas around mental health, specifically in the workplace.”
Spring Health serves as an online mental health clinic, using proprietary clinically-validated artificial intelligence to offer personalized wellness recommendations, including specific treatment options, suggested exercise regimens, and self-help resources. Users register for the platform and are prompted to complete a dynamic questionnaire that adapts according to their responses. From there, proprietary AI recommends a personalized wellness plan that is most likely to work for the individual, based on data from aggregated clinical trials and thousands of electronic health records. Patients are then matched with a personal care navigators (trained clinicians) as well as a licensed mental health professional from Spring Health’s best-in-class provider network through Spring’s proprietary matching algorithms.
“It is rare to have the opportunity to partner with an organization like Spring Health and build on their success of breaking stigmas around mental health,” says Heidi Patel, Partner at Rethink Impact. “There is huge demand for better mental health care access nationally, we are proud to join Spring Health in expanding and impacting people across the nation.”
“What excites us about Spring Health is their application of machine learning paired with deep domain and clinical expertise in mental health,” says Jessica Lin, co-founder and General Partner at Work-Bench. “This makes their platform an incredibly valuable and evidence-based asset for the enterprise, where employees can benefit personally, and corporations save costs on health spend and boost employee retention.”
Having published research describing its precision medicine technology in leading medical journals like JAMA and Lancet Psychiatry, Spring Health improves behavioral health outcomes and minimizes the steep cost associated with mental health for employees and employers alike. In addition to saving costs for employers, Spring Health’s clinically validated program boosts employee retention and productivity.
For Spring Health media assets, please visit Dropbox.
For additional details or to sign up for the platform, please visit springhealth.com.
About Spring Health
Spring Health, a digital mental health clinic, helps businesses and employees navigate mental health by providing a fully immersive and personalized platform that enables users to be connected with the right health professionals for them. With its clinically-validated AI, Spring Health eliminates the trial and error that typically comes with identifying the right treatment course, with users receiving plans seven weeks faster than average. Headquartered in New York, Spring is providing smarter mental healthcare for professionals across the US.
U.S. medical startups raised a record $3.9 billion in venture capital in the first quarter of 2015 amid rising investor interest in biotechnology, digital health and health-care services.
The total surpassed the previous record high of $3.42 billion invested in the second quarter of 2014, according to data provider Dow Jones VentureSource. A strong market for initial public offerings, growing confidence in the success of drugs in clinical trials and acquisitions by large drug manufacturers that need to replenish their pipelines drove the investment.
“What we are seeing is a very quick steepening of the valuation curve,” said Philippe Chambon, managing director of New Leaf Venture Partners, which invests in health-care startups.
Spring Health raises $6M to help employees get access to personalized mental health treatment
In recent months, we’ve seen more and more funding flowing into tools for mental wellness — whether that’s AI-driven tools to help patients find help to meditation apps — and it seems like that trend is starting to pick up even more steam as smaller companies are grabbing the attention of investors.
There’s another one picking up funding today in Spring Health, a platform for smaller companies to help their employees get more access to mental health treatment. The startup looks to give employers a simple, effective way to start offering that treatment for their employees in the form of personalized mental wellness plans. The employees get access to confidential plans in addition to access to a network and ways to get in touch with a therapist or psychiatrist as quickly as possible. The company said it has raised an additional $6 million in funding led by Rethink Impact, with Work-Bench, BBG Ventures, and The Partnership Fund for New York City joining the round. RRE Ventures and the William K. Warren Foundation also participated.
“…I realized that mental health care is largely a guessing game: you use trial-and-error to find a compatible therapist, and you use trial-and-error to find the right treatment regimen, whether that’s a specific cocktail of medications or a specific type of psychotherapy,” CEO and co-founder April Koh said. “Everything around us is personalized these days – like shopping on Amazon, search results on Google, and restaurant recommendations on Yelp – but you can’t get personalized recommendations for your mental health care. I wanted to build a platform that connects you with the right care for you from the very beginning. So I partnered with leading expert on personalized psychiatry, Dr. Adam Chekroud our Chief Scientist, and my friend Abhishek Chandra, our CTO, to start Spring Health.”
Lab created by Accenture and Partnership Fund for NYC continues to accelerate adoption of innovative technologies in New York City, including artificial intelligence, internet of things and virtual reality
NEW YORK: June 21, 2018 – Eleven emerging technology companies will debut their innovations at the FinTech Innovation Lab New York’s Demo Day today at the Bank of America Tower at Bryant Park.
Founded in 2010 by Accenture (NYSE: ACN) and the Partnership Fund for New York City, the FinTech Innovation Lab New York provides early- and growth-stage fintech companies with access to the world’s leading financial institutions. The Lab was established to help make New York a leader in fintech and grow technology jobs by leveraging the concentration of large financial services institutions and deep domain expertise that exists in the city. Since the New York Lab’s inception, its alumni companies have raised more than US$665 million and completed 170 pilot programs, and four of the companies have been acquired.
The 11 companies in this year’s Lab leverage a variety of technologies — including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things, predictive analytics and virtual reality — to address challenges related to cybersecurity, IT infrastructure flexibility, payment collection and risk mitigation, among other areas. The Lab was expanded this year to include a dedicated InsurTech track.
“Interest in innovation and emerging technologies by the financial services community continues to expand, and our new InsurTech track was launched to address the growing demand by the insurance sector in new solutions,” said Maria Gotsch, president and CEO of the Partnership Fund for New York City and co-head of the FinTech Innovation Lab. “The tremendous support by leaders of New York’s business community is what powers the FinTech Innovation Lab and makes it so unique. Having the innovators working in collaboration with the financial institutions and venture community is a key part of what is driving New York City’s leadership in fintech.”
Selected by senior technology executives from among the Lab’s 43 participating financial institutions, the companies have spent the last 12 weeks receiving intensive product and business-development advice, as well as mentoring, from senior executives in the financial, technology and venture-capital sectors.
“We saw yet another year of increased energy and engagement from our partner financial institutions in the Lab,” said David Treat, a managing director in Accenture’s Financial Services practice and co-head of the Fintech Innovation Lab New York. “Rapidly maturing technologies including AI, cloud, machine learning, predictive analytics and internet of things are enabling banks and insurance companies to accelerate their digital journeys. This year’s participating companies offer financial services firms a wide array of innovative solutions to enable deeper insights into their data, greater efficiency and better customer experiences.”
The following 2018 FinTech Innovation Lab New York participants will present their innovations today to an audience of more than 250 financial services executives and venture capitalists:
- Alpha Vertex – develops world-class analytical solutions to improve how investors predict and plan for the future. Its advanced AI automates the forecasting of asset returns.
- Cutover – helps financial services organizations successfully deliver more technology improvements for their customers and regulators while reducing the risk of outages.
- Diffeo – whoseAI-powered research assistant connects everyday tools — including the web, email, shared drives and enterprise data portals — to uncover relationships across vast amounts of disparate data and present valuable insights.
- Galactic Fog – provides an easy-to-use platform for enterprise development and ops teams to rapidly build, deploy and manage cross-cloud serverless and container technologies, while driving improved security through seamless audit and governance capabilities.
- Habit – uses real time consumer data—sourced from smartphone and IoT devices—to create behavioral profiles that enable insurance companies to improve risk models and offer better products and services.
- Liveoak Technologies – whose secure, digital collaboration platform enables financial institutions to engage with customers remotely, reducing the time to on-board new customers and increasing the number of digital transactions performed each year.
- Open Data Nation – uses predictive analytics and machine learning to assess and mitigate risk events, helping insurers tap into public records across hundreds of U.S. cities to extract insights that evaluate risk.
- StrongArm Tech – uses wearable IoT sensors and AI-driven cloud computing to collect, analyze, predict, and deliver actionable insights on how to mitigate the risk of injury for the industrial workforce.
- Uplevel Security – uses graph analysis and machine learning to help security teams resolve threats faster and more effectively.
- Virtualitics – provides advanced data analytics software that merges AI with virtual reality, where the AI finds the insights in data and the visualization of those insights provided by VR expands the ability to make smart decisions based on data. Built on 10 years of research at Caltech.
- YayPay – whose software automates the accounts receivable process—including communication and collections—and provides predictive analytics around credit and collection risk. YayPay makes collecting money, fast, easy and highly predictable.
The selection committee for the New York FinTech Innovation Lab added eight new insurance partners this year to support the InsurTech track, and comprises executives from the following participating financial institutions: Ally Financial; American Express; American International Group, Inc.; AON; Bank of America; Barclays; BlackRock; Capital One; Chubb; Citi; Credit Suisse; Goldman Sachs; The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America; The Hartford; JPMorgan Chase & Co; Marsh & McLennan Companies; MetLife; Morgan Stanley; New York Life; RBC Capital Markets; The Travelers Companies, Inc.; USAA; Wells Fargo; XL Catlin; and Zurich.
Supporting venture-capital firms include Anthemis, Bain Capital Ventures, Canaan, Contour Venture Partners, Nyca Partners, Rho Ventures, RRE Ventures and Warburg Pincus.
Following the success of the FinTech Innovation Lab New York, Accenture established three other FinTech Innovation Labs: the FinTech Innovation Lab London, founded in 2012, and the FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific in Hong Kong and the FinTech Innovation Lab Dublin, both founded in 2014. The FinTech Innovation Labs are now a leading venue for introducing financial services firms to breakthrough technologies that improve efficiency, security and customer experience. The Labs’ alumni have raised a total of nearly US$1.2 billion in venture capital financing since participating in the Lab.
Participating financial institutions and venture-capital firms commented on their involvement in the FinTech Innovation Lab New York:
“Ally has been proudly supporting the New York FinTech Innovation Lab for six years, helping to support and shape early stage companies and technologies for the future,” said Michael Baresich, chief information officer at Ally. “As a digital financial company, technology plays a key role in both the development of our products and the delivery of unique customer experiences, and events like Demo Day allow us to closely explore the latest innovations.”
“The FinTech Innovation Lab plays a critical role in strengthening New York’s fintech ecosystem and fostering a mutually supportive community of investors, entrepreneurs, financial institutions and service providers,” said Matt Harris, managing director at Bain Capital Ventures. “No other program rivals the Lab in its breadth and depth of industry support. We continue to be impressed by the Lab’s ability to help financial services institutions gain access to innovation at a time when the industry is so eager for new ideas.”
“Bank of America is proud to be a founding sponsor of the FinTech Innovation Lab,” said David Reilly, Bank of America Global Banking & Markets CIO. “The innovation ecosystem built through the collaboration between financial services companies like ours and fintech startups ultimately benefits how we service and interact with our customers and clients,” said David Reilly, Bank of America Global Banking and Markets CIO.
“Disruption of the insurance sector is inevitable. At Chubb, we want to continue to be part of that disruption as we strive to serve our customer’s needs,” said Monique Shivanandan, Chubb’s Global CIO. “Working with the start-ups and our peers in the FinTech Innovation Lab is a way for us to be part of shaping that future. It’s key that we have diversity of thought and talent in IT and the business.”
“Citi is proud to be a founding sponsor of the New York FinTech Innovation Lab. We value the opportunity to engage with leading start-ups and institutions on technologies that will advance our future capabilities and Demo Day is a great event to see these innovations first-hand,” said Motti Finkelstein, CTO, Global Strategy Planning and Americas, Managing Director, Citi.
“Credit Suisse values our partnership with the FinTech Innovation Lab program and the many interesting opportunities it has afforded us to work with innovative startups,” added Adrianne Dicker, Global Innovation Lead for the Credit Suisse Group Chief Information Officer.
“JPMorgan Chase is proud to partner with the New York Fin Tech Innovation Lab in order to continue to foster the start-up ecosystem in New York City. We are constantly looking at innovation across all areas of emerging technology that can help create transformational business value for our clients, our people and our Firm and we’re pleased to mentor the breakthrough companies in this year’s lab,” said Larry Feinsmith, Managing Director and Head of Global Technology Strategy, Innovation & Partnerships, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“At Morgan Stanley, we believe in a holistic approach to innovation that is inspired by external entrepreneurs in collaboration with our internal experts and innovators,” said Shawn Melamed, Managing Director and Head of the Technology Business Development and Innovation Office, Morgan Stanley. “We are honored and excited to support these promising entrepreneurs as they build their companies here in New York, where financial acumen adds additional fuel to fintech innovation.”
“Since its initial launch in 2011, the FinTech Innovation Lab has had a tremendous impact on the fintech ecosystem in New York City, and has attracted support from most financial services companies in the area. We are delighted to see the growing interest in the sector, as well as the increasing high quality of the participating companies,” said Habib Kairouz, Managing Director, Rho Ventures.
“The Fintech Innovation Lab does an exceptional job at working with startups and corporations to ensure that technology is being used to solve a real use case and not a theoretical problem, while providing key mentorship to early stage teams. We are glad to be a part of the program and we’re especially delighted to see them open up an Insurance track this time around,” added Stuart Ellman, General Partner at RRE Ventures.
“We’re focused on innovation across every aspect of our business, particularly by leveraging data, analytics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things,” said Bruce Gifford, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Chief Data and Analytics Officer at Travelers. “We’re pleased to participate in FinTech Innovation Lab New York. It’s a great opportunity to connect with technology start-ups that can help us continue to improve the services and experiences we provide to our customers and partners.”
About the Partnership Fund for New York City
The Partnership Fund for New York City is the $160 million investment arm of the Partnership for New York City, New York’s leading business organization. The Fund’s mission is to engage the City’s business leaders to identify and support promising entrepreneurs—in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors—to create jobs, spur new business and expand opportunities for New Yorkers to participate in the City’s economy. As an “evergreen” fund, realized gains are continuously reinvested. The Partnership Fund Board is led by Co-Chairmen, Charles R. Kaye and Tarek Sherif. Maria Gotsch, President and CEO, leads the team. More information about the Fund can be found at www.pfnyc.org.
Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialized skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions – underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network – Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With approximately 442,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. Visit us at www.accenture.com.
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“For the past six months, J.P. Morgan Chase has quietly been shuttling clients to the bank’s technology lab on the West Side of Manhattan for a glimpse at the future of work.
The executives — treasurers and finance chiefs of some of the world’s biggest companies — were introduced to an artificial intelligence-powered servant that J.P. Morgan hopes will soon be able to answer queries and anticipate their needs, a first in the world of corporate payments. But before that could happen, the machine needed contact with people to figure out what makes humans tick. The bank is widening the trials with select clients next week and plans to release it to more companies next year.
“I am continuously learning and improving,” the program says shortly after introducing itself in a chatbox. “Watch out for new features.”
J.P. Morgan’s latest attempt at furthering automation in finance is happening in its treasury services division, a key business that helps corporate clients from Honeywell International to Facebook move money around the world. Unseen by retail consumers, the unit handles an average of $5 trillion daily, from the mundane (payroll and supplier remittances) to the unusual (multibillion-dollar checks for huge mergers).
The area, once considered boring, has gotten more attention lately. Activist investor ValueAct Capital Partners built a $1.2 billion stake in Citigroup this year partly on the strength of the bank’s treasury services unit and other steady, hard-to-dislodge services where technology is lowering costs. The industry’s revenue is expected to grow 7 percent a year through 2025, according to J.P. Morgan.
AI goes corporate
Big lenders, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have already rolled out virtual assistants to millions of retail customers, but the technology is just making its way to corporate clients, who present bigger challenges for artificial intelligence programmers. For instance, while a checking customer typically has a handful of accounts, a company could have 10,000 accounts in dozens of currencies around the world, and each individual corporate user typically has permission to see only certain accounts.
It’s the latest example of technology that was pioneered for retail use spreading to institutional clients. Earlier this year, J.P. Morgan rolled out Amazon’s voice-activated assistant Alexa for investment banking clients to help them access research. Not long after the bank created mobile apps for its trading business, clients were using them to execute large trades, including a $400 million currency wager last year.
The bank, which is hoping to unseat Citigroup as the leader in wholesale payments, started its virtual assistant project late last year after clients asked for an easier way to navigate the firm’s online portal, according to Jason Tiede, innovation head for treasury services. The bank hired a New York-based startup called Kasisto to run the program’s AI engine.”
The Partnership for New York City today joins the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, national organizations that represent business interests across the country, in calling for the U.S. Congress and the Trump Administration to move immediately to enact sensible immigration reform. This includes a permanent solution for DACA recipients and an end to the unprecedented practice of separating children from parents at our nation’s border. We urge that no further arbitrary restrictions be placed on the number of immigrants admitted to the country, visas and green cards issued, or on refugee status.
New York City, the business capital of the country, is built on the contributions of generations of immigrants. More than 37% of city residents and 41% of our business owners are foreign born. The vast majority of immigrants come to America seeking freedom and opportunities that make this the greatest country in the world. Our immigration policies should reflect the essential role that immigrants play in our economy and our society as a whole.
About the Partnership for New York City:
The Partnership for New York City represents the city’s business leaders and largest employers. We work with government, labor and the nonprofit sector to promote economic growth and maintain the city’s prominence as a global center of commerce and innovation. Through the Partnership Fund for New York City, the Partnership contributes directly to projects that create jobs, improve economically distressed communities and stimulate new business creation.
In 2010, Maria Gotsch (MBA 1989) called a meeting with the chief information and technology officers at five of the largest banks headquartered in Manhattan. The session would last for three hours, but as Gotsch recalls, the executives in the room barely glanced at their phones. They were too intent on what Gotsch and her colleague, a senior capital markets consultant at Accenture, had to say—or more precisely, what they had come to ask: Where, exactly, do you look for new and innovative financial technology?
The response was quick, blunt, and unanimous. “Every single person in that room said California, Boston, sometimes London,” recalls Gotsch. “Nobody was looking locally.”
Gotsch is president and CEO of the Partnership Fund for New York City, which invests in local ventures to create jobs and grow the Big Apple’s economy. (The Fund is the investment arm of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit composed of some of the city’s largest private firms.) As a result, she is always on the lookout for sectors that the city ought to dominate but doesn’t.
Eight years ago, the sector in Gotsch’s sights was fintech—a once obscure but now ubiquitous phenomenon that is revolutionizing everything from online payments and wealth management to cybersecurity and insurance through digital technologies as diverse as blockchain and artificial intelligence. Despite being the world’s financial capital and home to an otherwise robust technology sector, New York had yet to become a major player on the fintech scene.
Today, the situation could not be more different. Thanks in part to Gotsch’s efforts, which led to the establishment of the FinTech Innovation Lab (FIL)—an über-accelerator jointly run by the Fund and Accenture that turns out market-ready fintech startups the way a bakery cranks out cookies—New York now holds a demonstrable lead over Silicon Valley in terms of fintech investment in the United States. According to CB Insights, a New York startup that uses algorithms to collect and analyze data on private firms, VC-backed fintechs in Silicon Valley raised $1.3 billion in equity financing in 2017, while their Silicon Alley cousins raised $1.5 billion, or 15 percent more. (CB Insights was in the first FIL graduating class.) The total number of equity financings was higher, as well, with 122 in New York versus 70 in the Valley.
And the story of how New York came to realize its potential as a fintech hub is a blueprint—offering concrete lessons about how cities can build their own entrepreneurial ecosystem from scratch.
On paper, New York City should have dominated fintech from day one. It has a high concentration of financial services, e-commerce, and information technology companies, as well as in complementary areas such as marketing, branding, and design—all of which can help nascent businesses gain a foothold in the marketplace.
Plus, the way fintech straddles the broader technology and financial services industries gives New York a significant competitive advantage. The sector’s unique hybrid status means that new entrants require not only the standard mix of tech and business savvy vital to the success of any startup, but also a high degree of what Gotsch calls “domain expertise” in financial services—a highly technical and tightly regulated industry containing a number of distinct verticals, from capital markets to asset management and lending.
Few cities on earth can boast a talent pool with quite as much relevant domain expertise as New York, which is exactly why Gotsch identified it as a prime candidate for fintech dominance—that, coupled with an established venture capital community and a vast pool of potential customers in the form of major financial firms hungry for fresh tech. “Large financial institutions are technology companies that happen to move money,” Gotsch says. “Technology is core to what they do, and it has been core to what they do forever.”
New York even had parts of the proper ecosystem already in place. As HBS professor Josh Lerner, an authority on entrepreneurship and venture capital around the globe, points out, many different actors must come together to form an entrepreneurial ecosystem, from risk-taking founders to the angel investors willing to gamble on them to the service providers—e.g., real estate agents, lawyers—willing to work with them as they struggle to build their businesses. “It’s a complicated array of people, which is why it can be difficult,” he says. New York already had some of those elements, thanks to the dot-com boom of the 1990s, which yielded a number of prominent media and ad tech startups along with various companies focused on financial data and internet-based trading.
And yet, even with many of the necessary pieces in place, the NYC fintech scene of the early 2000s just wasn’t catching fire. What was missing? Turns out, all it needed was a match.
Nearly a decade ago, when Niko Karvounis (MBA 2011) and Lowell Putnam first began batting around the idea of founding Quovo, which would allow banks, investment advisors, and other service providers to connect and analyze customer financial accounts, there was virtually no fintech support system in place in New York: no close-knit community of potential investors, employees, and customers they could tap for money, talent, or pilot projects. The big banks and insurers that have since signed up as customers weren’t interested in them, and the lack of an ecosystem made the process of securing seed funding extremely challenging. (They eventually raised more than $6 million in seed and first-round funding, and received an additional $10 million in venture capital last year.)
In part, that was because Wall Street had long maintained well-funded IT departments that soaked up much of the financially savvy talent who would otherwise have entered the entrepreneurial ecosystem—a byproduct not only of the big firms’ appetite for technology, but also of their aversion at the time to acquiring it through potentially risky partnerships with innovative upstarts. And in part it was because B2B fintech, which is where much of the action in New York tends to be, is an inherently tough sector to break into: Startups must satisfy the same regulatory and security requirements as their corporate customers, and building the kind of credibility that a top-five bank or insurance company wants in a vendor takes time. As a result, says Karvounis, “There aren’t that many overnight successes.”
And that deficit can be crippling. As Walt Frye (MBA 2000), an angel investor and fintech startup mentor in Charlotte, North Carolina—itself a burgeoning fintech hub—puts it: “Density breeds success.” Consequently, the fintech startup community in New York was for many years self-limiting, its small size and slow growth preventing it from achieving critical mass.
Ironically, it was the financial crisis of 2008 that gave the city’s fintech scene the jolt it needed to reach the next level. Suddenly, the big banks had much less money to throw at internal R&D, and as they scaled back their operations, their old technology vendors took a hit as well. That opened the field to nimbler startups with innovative ideas, says Brooks Gibbins (PMD 77, 2002), a software developer-turned-entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist who in 2013 cofounded New York–based FinTech Collective, which provides early-stage funding for fintech startups. (FinTech Collective led the Series A financing for Quovo.) This opening resulted in what Gibbins describes as a gradual externalization of R&D at the major firms.
Gotsch, who is not one to miss an opportunity—“never let a good crisis go to waste,” she says—seized on that changing picture to offer the city’s big banks a proposal: With their support, the Fund and Accenture would establish an accelerator for fintech startups that would allow financial services institutions to shop locally for innovative tech, rather than having to seek it in California, Massachusetts, or the UK.
Since 2010, the FIL has signed up 43 institutional partners and roughly the same number of entrepreneur mentors and venture capitalists. More importantly, it has helped birth 47 companies that have gone on to raise $531 million in VC financing. And its success has paved the way for the creation of other, similar programs, like the Barclays Accelerator and Startupbootcamp FinTech New York.
The model has an annual cycle, beginning with a selection panel (made up of leading financial institutions) that chooses a small cohort of startups from a large pool of applicants. Participants are placed in direct contact with executives from the lab’s partner institutions along with mentors and VCs. That cast of characters plays a variety of roles. The financial institutions represent potential customers that can give the startup founders direct feedback on their products, in some cases literally telling them how their technology might be of use to a large bank or insurer—or why it wouldn’t be attractive in its existing form, but could be with some tweaking.
The entrepreneur mentors and VCs, meanwhile, offer skills, insights, and perspectives that first-time founders often lack—from realistically analyzing the size of their addressable markets, to figuring out how they will scale their businesses to satisfy demand.
And members of all three groups can serve as resources well beyond the program itself, investing in the startups they have advised, serving on their boards, and connecting them to others in their personal networks.
Over the past eight years, the FIL has played a crucial role in building what HBS professor of management practice Mitch Weiss calls a city’s “innovation infrastructure.” In previous eras, that might have meant investing in roads or waterways, says Weiss, who helped jump-start Boston’s startup scene as chief of staff to former mayor Thomas Menino. But today, that means creating opportunities for all the key actors within an entrepreneurial ecosystem to come together, enabling startup founders to connect with the advisors, investors, and customers they need to survive.
That kind of infrastructure can look very different from place to place. In Boston, it took the shape of District Hall, a public venue in the city’s Seaport District that functions as a communal gathering place for entrepreneurs and other members of the local ecosystem. In Charlotte, it took the form of the Carolina Fintech Hub, a membership organization that connects startups to incumbents like Bank of America and Wells Fargo; and Innovate Charlotte, a public-private partnership directed by Walt Frye that aims to provide startups of all kinds with access to resources within the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We are leveraging these partnerships to provide fuel for the ecosystem,” says Frye, who describes both organizations as bridges that link startups to established companies, enabling access to everything from financial expertise to data and capital.
That virtuous cycle of spinouts, reinvestment, and serial entrepreneurship—what Frye refers to as the “wash, rinse, and repeat” of a healthy ecosystem—yields greater density and even more connections, ultimately giving rise to a fully sustainable business environment. “You have to start to see entrepreneurs graduating from opportunities, coming back into the ecosystem, and starting additional opportunities,” says Brooks Gibbins, who has done precisely that.
Gotsch considers the approach she took to nurturing fintech in New York—identifying a sector where the city possessed clear advantages and establishing a platform for building relationships among the relevant actors—to be a replicable model of ecosystem development that could be applied anywhere, and to any industry. (At the moment, she is attempting to strike gold twice in one place by boosting New York’s biotech sector, which has historically lagged behind that of California and Massachusetts despite the presence of numerous drug companies and medical research institutions.) And she is not alone: Endeavor Insight, a nonprofit research outfit that examines the growth of entrepreneurship around the world, suggests that building a new sector on top of existing infrastructure and industries is in fact the best way for a city to accelerate the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem—better by far than attempting to replicate the Silicon Valley model, which developed organically over the course of several decades and required inventing many of the core digital technologies of the past half-century.
But it is by no means the only way to support the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Universities, for example, play a crucial role in training the engineers upon which startups rely. Unlike Boston or Silicon Valley, however, New York has historically lacked a top engineering school, and has had to rely on talent imported from elsewhere.
In 2010—the same year that Gotsch cofounded the FIL—the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (MBA 1966) launched a competition that ultimately led to the creation of Cornell Tech, an engineering campus established by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan. Construction won’t be complete until 2037, but the doors are already open on the first phase; and once it is operating at full capacity, the school, which is dedicated to churning out homegrown entrepreneurial techies, ought to turbocharge the local startup scene.
According to Josh Lerner, government also plays an important role in fostering healthy entrepreneurial ecosystems by doing things like promulgating favorable tax policies for investors and encouraging labor market mobility. “Setting the table in terms of creating an environment that is attractive to entrepreneurship is one of the most important things that government can do,” he says—and differences in incentives and regulations can have a significant impact. For example, non-compete clauses are only narrowly enforced in the state of New York, making it relatively easy for an employee of a large financial services institution to leave and found a startup. This puts it ahead of Massachusetts, which takes a stricter stance on such restrictive covenants, but behind California, where they are banned entirely.
The precise mix of initiatives, policies, and pre-existing strengths will differ from place to place. But that isn’t necessarily a problem. It just means that no two ecosystems will look exactly alike. “Our fintech sector will never be like New York’s or San Francisco’s or Austin’s,” says Frye, in Charlotte. “But we do have assets we can build on to really accelerate our ability to be effective and to grow.”
Of course, the race to dominate financial technology is not confined to the United States, and more than a few other countries have become well-versed in the art of ecosystem development. Indeed, when it comes to setting the table for fintech, America’s foreign rivals might just have it beat.
In 2015, then British prime minister David Cameron announced that he wanted to make the UK the world leader in fintech, appointing a special envoy responsible for promoting the sector at home and abroad. The following year, the country’s Financial Conduct Authority built a “regulatory sandbox” where fintech startups can test new products and services on real consumers without fear of regulatory reprisal. Investors appear to have noticed: Venture capital investment in UK fintech doubled between 2016 and 2017, reaching an all-time high of $1.6 billion.
China, meanwhile, would appear to be a giant regulatory sandbox: a vast and largely unprotected marketplace of underbanked, smartphone-wielding digital natives who are ready and willing to conduct their financial transactions via app. “The fintech companies operating in China have the benefit of a fully converted digital society that is near limitless in size and has limited regulatory barriers,” says Brooks Gibbins. The country’s main financial regulator, the People’s Bank of China, has made noises recently about exerting greater control over the sector. But for the time being, China remains the wild west of fintech experimentation, leading Gibbins to deem it the perfect environment for testing the delivery of financial services and products.
The resulting fintech activity has been nothing short of spectacular. CB Insights reports that 3 out of the top 10 global fintech deals in 2017 involved Chinese companies, while the 5 largest investor-backed fintech IPOs that year were driven by Chinese firms. And it estimates that Ant Financial, the fintech arm of the Alibaba Group, has approximately 1.5 billion users across its various platforms—a number that exceeds the combined populations of North America and Western Europe. (With a valuation of $60 billion, Ant is also the world’s largest “unicorn.”)
The British and Chinese cases, coupled with the worldwide reach of venture capital and the international aspirations of many fintech businesses (CB Insights predicts that European fintechs will expand their global footprint in 2018, even as American companies look abroad for opportunities), suggest that the very notion of a single fintech capital—whether it be New York or London, Beijing or the Bay Area—may be misplaced.
Instead, the future of fintech may resemble what Gibbins describes as a global network of distributed ecosystems, each with its own individual strengths, and all collaborating with one another.
It’s a vision that Walt Frye shares.
“Oftentimes, we operate as if we are isolated ecosystems,” he says. “But we really should create and develop connections so that we’re sharing the best of talent, perspective, and capital across the country, if not the world.”
But Maria Gotsch, who did not establish the FIL to make New York only one of many coequal centers, remains undaunted in her quest to turn the city into the undisputed global front-runner in fintech.
“My job is to make New York the leader,” she says. “I’m greedy.”
She’s laughing. But you can tell she isn’t kidding.
The following op-ed appeared in Crain’s New York Business on May 24, 2018
By Kathryn Wylde
Personally, I don’t gamble. When I find lottery receipts under the mattress, my husband gets a lecture about money not growing on trees. But New York cannot afford to have neighboring states close their budget deficits with gambling proceeds from our region while we sit by and watch.
There is a huge underground economy in New York state that is partly fueled by illegal sports betting. Estimates of this activity in New York are as high as $9 billion a year. Legalizing, monitoring and taxing it is now possible under a U.S. Supreme Court decision this month. Lots of states are moving quickly to do just that.
In the coming years, our state budget is projected to face average annual revenue gaps in the billions of dollars. We have enormous infrastructure needs and, with diminishing federal funding, the state government will have to step up. The same is true when it comes to the costs of education, health care, economic development and other areas where public funding needs are substantial.
Raising taxes to close deficits and pay for needed services would be difficult. We are already seeing jobs and some high earners move out of the state because our taxes are among the highest in the country. And it will get even worse, as many resident taxpayers will see their personal income tax burden increase because new federal law prevents them from fully deducting state and local income taxes and property taxes from their federal tax obligation.
When it comes to the state budget, everyone has ideas for how to spend money. Finding practical ways to generate it is a lot harder. We cannot dismiss the advantages of legalizing sports betting in New York, as a source of new revenues and to control criminal activity.
Whether they bet online or in casinos, New York residents are soon going to have easy access to sports wagering opportunities in New Jersey and Connecticut. We might as well figure out how to manage this activity and derive public benefits for New York, because it will be happening whether we do so or not.
“This past March, a group of venture capital firms and banking organizations led by BNP Paribas invested $30 million into Digital Reasoning, a privately held company based in Nashville that is emerging as one of the leaders in using artificial intelligence to analyze human communications.
The funding round, which also included Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Nasdaq, is the latest example of the growing collaboration between AI and Wall Street. Banks, trading firms and exchanges are exploring ways to use this technology to enhance the ways they process data and make decisions. And they are partnering with specialist firms that can apply the techniques of AI to the particular characteristics of financial markets.
In the case of Digital Reasoning, the application is in the area of surveillance. The company works with natural language processing, or NLP, a form of artificial intelligence that interprets human language. DR’s approach goes beyond words and their direct meaning; its software interprets the context around language and detects the intentions embedded in human communications. When those intentions are problematic—for example when two traders make plans to manipulate a market—the software can alert supervisors and prevent a crime before it occurs.
The company’s original focus was military intelligence, working with the U.S. Army and intelligence agencies to sift through enemy communications and anticipate attacks. The company’s technology also has been used to improve healthcare and combat human trafficking. In 2012 the company expanded into the financial sector, working with some of the top names on Wall Street to help enhance their surveillance of trader conduct.
This is an urgent problem for the banking industry. Since the financial crisis in 2008, regulators have imposed billions of dollars in fines on investment banks for rigging Libor and other forms of trading misconduct. In many cases, the regulators used the emails and chat conversations among traders as evidence of the wrong-doing. The banks are now using AI to scan those same internal communications searching for signs of rogue traders and other types of problematic activity.
So how does this new technology work? How do machines understand the jargon of the trading desk and detect the intentions behind the words? Digital Reasoning provided a window into this new field at a recent meeting of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. On Feb. 14, Tim Estes, the company’s founder, gave a 30-minute presentation at a meeting of the CFTC’s technology advisory committee. The committee is an industry-driven panel that makes recommendations for CFTC policymakers and helps the agency make sense of technology trends. It is often through the TAC that the CFTC is first introduced to new financial technologies.
Estes explained that Digital Reasoning’s software specializes in unlocking the nuances of internal communications. Rather than search for specific words and terms, as current “lexicon-based” systems do, Digital Reasoning’s software looks for familiar patterns or tell-tale anomalies and makes inferences from the context. The technology can take chunks of communication and, by comparing it to past conversations, “figure out what’s similar even when none of the words match,” he said.
Estes, who started the company in 2000 when he was still a student at the University of Virginia, noted that common frauds such as price fixing and manipulation typically are not carried out by one person. Digital Reasoning’s technology “can find very subtle indicators of intent” inside communications and pre-empt nefarious activity. “It’s a very unusual thing for an action to happen before someone expresses intention,” he told the advisory committee.
One of the most important sources of data for Digital Reasoning’s system was the archive of enforcement actions at the CFTC, Estes said. By making a large volume of trader communications public, those enforcement actions have provided Digital Reasoning with many examples of bad behavior. Another important source actually predates the financial crisis; Estes said one of its best databases for bad behavior came from Enron, the energy company that collapsed amid accounting fraud in 2001.
During his presentation, Estes displayed several examples of trader communications from CFTC records to demonstrate his company’s capabilities. He showed how his technology can sift through the texts, make inferences, and detect signs of boasting, deception and collusion. Even seemingly innocent statements such as “Ok, but what sort of level do you want to push it to?” can trigger an alert, he said. He added that one of the remarkable patterns of behavior in these cases is that people will do something problematic and then brag about it in their conversations with other people.
Many banks already have large teams of surveillance analysts scanning their internal communications, but AI-based solutions are vastly more scalable. This is critically important given the amounts of email, chat and other communications happening every day in a major banking organization. Another advantage is that these systems have infinitely scalable memory, Estes said. Anything that the system learns is available forever because unlike humans these systems never forget. “When this works the way it should, almost nothing that happened in the past that is a problem should happen again,” he said. The software “should see with perfect recall what has happened in the past” and alert compliance officials that it is recurring.
Military intelligence and trader surveillance are not the only areas where the company is applying its software. Healthcare is another area with massive amounts of human communications. Digital Reasoning is working with several healthcare systems to combine data from many sources, including patient records and handwritten medical notes, and build a comprehensive picture of individual patients. That can help health care professionals assimilate more data and improve their decision making.
The company is also working with Thorn, a non-profit organization, to combat human trafficking. Its software is helping law enforcement agencies in the U.S. to sift through huge amounts of online ads, photos and other publicly available data to generate intelligence about victims of trafficking and the individuals and networks involved in trafficking. Instead of searching for certain keywords, Digital Reasoning’s software can extract information from the context, seeing past the efforts of human traffickers to avoid certain words or deliberately distort the spelling. The software makes it far easier for law enforcement officers to identify trafficking victims and help stop abuse.”