big start

Houston fintech startup selected for award-winning program

This Houston-based couple used their own experience of paying down consumer debt to launch a new company. Image courtesy of SpenDebt

Kiley and Ty'Lisha Summers once found themselves nearly $100,000 in debt; now, they have a goal of owning a $100 million company. The Houston-based couple used their own experience of paying down consumer debt to launch SpenDebt, a SaaS payment solution chosen for the Mastercard Start Path program.

You could say debt is ubiquitous in the United States. A 2015 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 80 percent of American households have some form of debt. "As we started sharing our story, we realized that there were so many people who were just like us but didn't know what to do," explains Ty'Lisha, co-founder of SpenDebt.

SpenDebt's model relies on the simple truth: everyone spends money. The company, which is available as a phone app or web service, securely links to the user's bank account and allows you to designate a predetermined micropayment to be deducted at every transaction. The micropayments are then applied monthly to the debt of the user's choice, whether it be lofty student loans or a monthly car payment.

"God gave my husband the vision to start SpenDebt to help people help themselves," she says. Kiley even decided to share his concept Mastercard, but the idea was too early to gain anything other than the corporation's intrigue.

After two years of development and a subsequent year of beta testing, SpenDebt launched its commercialized product in 2019. The Summers applied to Mastercard Start Path, a highly competitive startup engagement program multiple times before being accepted into its 2021 cohort of six scaling startups.

"To finally get the 'yes,' it just made it full circle," says Ty'Lisha. "It's a game changer for SpenDebt."

Ty'Lisha Summers is the co-founder of SpenDebt. Photo courtesy

Fintech is a multibillion-dollar industry, and financial apps have become the darlings of venture capitalism. According to a SpenDebt release, companies that have participated in Start Path have gone on to raise more than $3 billion in post-program capital. Even while investor budgets were trimmed during the pandemic, Fintech companies garnered $44 billion in investments — a 14 percent increase since 2019, reports Finextra.

From the New Statesman to the Raconteur, media outlets and pundits have explored the saturation of the fintech sector. Ty'Lisha is confident that SpenDebt is different from its competitors.

"What's unique is that we give our customers 100 percent control on defining what that micropayment is, unlike our competition where it is strictly just round-up," she explains. The average SpenDebt user has set a $1.70 micropayment, but the co-founders have seen payments set at anything from 50 cents to $25 per transaction.

Initiatives like Bank of America's Keep the Change rounds up each transaction to the nearest dollar amount, then puts that money into a savings account for you to pay your debt off — or not. McKinsey & Company survey reports that more than 50 percent of US consumers expect to spend extra as COVID-19 restrictions relax, with higher-income millennials intending to spend the most. According to CNBC, Gen Z shoppers are also predicted to spend big on niceties like clothing and travel.

Though no app can automate personal discipline, SpenDebt can help you pay down debt and build financial literacy.

"With SpenDebt, once you tell us where you want that payment to go, that's where it's going," explains Ty'Lisha. When the micropayments are deducted from your account, SpenDebt holds onto your accrued payments and sends them monthly to the creditor of your choice. Ty'Lisha notes the service can be canceled or put on hold.

NBC News reported that 46 percent of Americans wiped out their emergency funds in 2020 as they shuffled to make ends meet. States around the country, including Texas, even enacted moratoriums on utility shut-offs in response to the pandemic. In some industries, "businesses went from collecting full payments from people to not collecting anything" or accepting partial payments, she explains.

The pandemic highlighted an opportunity for SpenDebt to partner with enterprises to offer creative solutions for payments that help customers pay off existing debt while helping businesses collect "something versus nothing."

As SpenDebt includes enterprises in its long-term growth strategy, the company founders have also pledged to work with nonprofits.

For the Summerses, SpenDebt's mission surpasses their desire to live a debt-free life. "As a part of our debt-free journey, we couldn't help but become more well-versed in finances. We were on a quest to make our money work for us versus the other way around," shares Ty'Lisha.

As Black business owners, Kiley and Ty'Lisha want to focus on building generational wealth for their family's future and help SpenDebt users do the same. "We like to say that we want all of the generational curses that may have been passed down to us to stop with us, and to start creating generational wealth for our future," she explains.

"[Debt] doesn't just address the middle class; there are so many people across the spectrum in debt," says Ty'Lisha. "A lot of times, the low-to-moderate income communities get overlooked," she continues.

SpenDebt is a preferred partner of United Way of Greater Houston and recently penned a partnership with Impact Hub Houston — an incubator with a mission to empower entrepreneurs and small businesses to take on issues like sustainability, gender equality, and economic growth.

SpenDebt hopes to capture its first enterprise customer during its six-month StartPath program and hopes to one day become a $100 billion company. "The resources, the network, the knowledge that we're getting from Mastercard and their network, the exposure that we're getting—it's going to be huge," says Ty'Lisha.

Of the many goals for SpenDebt's future, she wants the company to be "a solution for communities that may have been overlooked."

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Building Houston

 
 

Common Desk, which has locations across Houston, has been acquired — and other innovation news. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

“Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

“Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

“Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

Source: WalletHub

When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

  • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
  • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
  • No. 43 – Math Performance
  • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
  • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
  • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
  • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
  • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

“We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

“This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

"Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

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