DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock
Keep reading... Show less
Two Houston entrepreneurs have launched an app that makes transfering funds to Africa seamless and safe. Screenshot via AiDEMONEY's Facebook page

Impact-driven Houston fintech startup emerges to streamline international remittance

money transfer tech

Africans living abroad send over $40 billion back to their home country annually — yet the process continues to be expensive, fraud-ridden, and complicated. A new Houston-area startup has a solution.

AiDEMONEY, based in Katy, has launched a money transfer app for mobile devices. The app enables digital transfers from the United States to five African countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria

"International remittance has always been about people living in diaspora wanting to share their success with people back home," says Uzoma Eze, AiDEMONEY co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "By replacing profit as the point of the spear, we're helping Africans fund Africa and, ultimately, rewriting our motherland's story."

Eze co-founded the company with Felix Akompi, a fellow member of Houston's African diaspora community and the company's COO

The app, which is already available on the App Store and Google Play, focuses on blockchain-powered security and instant transfers. The company also designed the platform with a "give back" model that builds a stronger Africa.

With every transaction fee, users are funding progress in Africa. A portion of customer transaction fees to nonprofits in education and literacy, women's empowerment, and healthcare. Currently, AiDEMONEY partners with the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, Shalom Sickle Cell Foundation, Sharing Smiles Initiative, and Jenny Uzo Foundation.

"We're creating a superhighway for tens of billions in USD to flow from one part of the world to another," Eze says. "When you have the right people with the right vision, that capital tills the ground—tilling out profit, social advancement and a stronger Africa."

Doing Money Remittance Better | AiDEMONEY, The African Diaspora's Money Transfer App www.youtube.com

Houston-based HighRadius has launched a new platform. Photo via Getty Images

Houston unicorn fintech company launches new B2B education platform

biz support

Houston-based HighRadius — which recently hit $1 billion valuation, reaching unicorn status — has launched a new learning platform.

Highako Academy by HighRadius, launched the platform to help credit and collections teams build certain skills faster. Highako features over 650 expert-led videos, community forums, and resources. The new on-the-job training platform, which announced its launch this week, is used by more than 2,800 companies, according to a press release.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says HighRadius COO Urvish Vashi in the release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

In honor of the launch of Highako Academy, the organization has announced plans for Credit SkillCon '21, a lunch-and-learn event from June 16 to July 20. The 53 live workshops, panel discussions, and on-demand sessions will focus on topics including negotiations, credit risk assessment, bankruptcy litigation, collections strategy and more. .

"We continually hear from members about wanting more and different educational options," says Jon Flora, president and CEO of NACM Business Credit Service. "The last year has changed much about how we answer this call, and now we have a solution. We are the first NACM affiliate to partner with Highako Academy."

HighRadius and its AI-powered SaaS technology, which streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes, are growing fast. The company, which processes over $2.23 trillion in receivables transactions annually, per the release, raised $300 million in March. At the time of that raise, HighRadius, founded in 2006, employed more than 1,000 people around the world — and was hiring.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, said in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

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

Houston fintech startup selected for award-winning program

big start

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."

Houston-based DonateStock is $50,000 richer after claiming a recent pitch competition win. Photo via donatestock.com

Houston fintech startup snags Capital Factory's $50,000 pitch investment prize

winner, winner

Capital Factory, one of the most active startup investors with a presence across Texas, recently hosted a virtual pitch competition — and one Houston startup took home the big prize.

As a part of the Houston Tech Rodeo, Capital Factory hosted its $50K Houston Investment Challenge with five finalists — DonateStock, Elastique, Elemental Coatings, M&S Biotics, and ScalaMed. The panel of judges included Andy Cloyd, vice president of Revolution; Aleece Hobson, venture partner at HX Venture Fund; and Juliana Garaizar launch director of Greentown Labs.

DonateStock, a tech-enabled tool that automates the stock donation process, took home the big win. Steve Latham, founder and chairman of DonateStock, presented the company's pitch and explained how the tool has the potential to unlock $100 billion for nonprofits.

"A lot of people aren't aware about the benefits of donating stock," Latham explains. "If you're sitting on stock that you've owned or several years that's appreciated quite a bit. If you sell it, you pay capital gains tax — anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. If you donate it, you avoid the tax and you get a big write off, you can deduct the full market value of the donated stock."

He goes on to explain how only 2 percent of people donate stock — and its due to the archaic process that it takes. DonateStock's platform optimizes the education of donors, the connection of nonprofits to new donors, and the simplification of the process. What used to take hours now takes just 10 minutes, Latham says.

Nonprofits get a free page, free customer support, and there is no fee to be on the platform, and DonateStock makes a 2 percent transaction fee. The company already has 40 nonprofits on the platform, and over 70 in the queue to sign up. The goal, Latham says, is to have 900 organizations online by the end of the year. He's already seen a lot of interest in light of the pandemic.

"This is the time to solve this problem," Latham says. "If you have friends at nonprofits or charities, you know what the pandemic did to giving programs. They've all been devastated and they have gotta find new ways to diversify and grow their revenue."

DonateStock anticipates a seed round later this year. It's the third startup Latham has worked on with his co-founder.

"We see a path to building a billion-dollar company over the next five years while impacting millions of lives around the world," he says.

Each of the other finalists' consolation prize is a connection and a foot in the door at Capital Factory, says CEO Joshua Baer.

"Every time we do one of these, we meet a bunch of companies that we end up working with — and many of whom we end up investing in," he says at the virtual event. "We're going to be following up with all of the companies from today. Anyone who was a finalist and up on the stage is someone we are excited about and interested in working more closely with."

Last year, HighRadius became Houston's first unicorn — a privately held startup valued at over $1 billion. Now, the fintech company has raised more funds. Image via HighRadius.com

Houston fintech unicorn raises $300M in series C

money moves

Houston's first "unicorn," fintech company HighRadius, is growing up fast.

On March 30, HighRadius, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business, reported it raised a $300 million Series C round of funding that values the company at $3.1 billion. D1 Capital Partners and Tiger Global Management led the round, with participation from existing investors ICONIQ Growth and Susquehanna Growth Equity. Also contributing to the round were four high-profile entrepreneurs:

  • Frank Slootman, chairman and CEO of Snowflake, a cloud-computing company based in San Mateo, California. Both D1 Capital and Tiger Global invested in Snowflake, which went public in September.
  • Michael Scarpelli, chief financial officer of Snowflake.
  • Tooey Courtemanche, CEO of Carpinteria, California-based Procore Technologies, which produces software for management of construction projects. D1 Capital and Tiger Global are investors in Procore.
  • Howie Liu, co-founder and CEO of Airtable, a cloud-based collaboration platform based in San Francisco. D1 Capital is among Airtable's investors.

In a news release, HighRadius says it will spend the money to fuel product development and expand its global reach.

The $300 million funding round comes nearly 15 months after HighRadius announced it raised $125 million in a Series B round that catapulted it to unicorn status. In the fundraising world, a unicorn refers to a startup valued at $1 billion or more.

HighRadius, based in West Houston, was founded in 2006. It employs more than 1,000 people around the world. The HighRadius website listed 16 job openings as of March 30, with 10 of them in Houston.

HighRadius' AI-powered SaaS offering streamlines accounts-receivable and cash-management processes. For instance, HighRadius' Cash Application software relies on AI to comb through documents like emails and invoices to automatically match incoming payments with customer accounts. The company has over 600 customers, including more than 200 of the Forbes Global 2000.

"Our goal has always been to build a long-lasting business that outlasts all of us," Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO of HighRadius, says in the news release. "I look forward to working with [our] high-quality, long-term investors, who share a common vision of transforming the office of the CFO using a combination of artificial intelligence built on top of connected-finance workspaces and embedded analytics."

In the news release, Daniel Sundheim, founder of New York City-based D1 Capital, says CFOs and their teams have historically relied on antiquated methods to handle accounts receivable and cash management.

"HighRadius is in the opening innings of defining the next big software market for the office of the CFO," John Curtius, a partner at New York City-based Tiger Global, says in the news release. "HighRadius bears all of the signs of being a category-defining business for order-to-cash automation."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Comcast donates tech, funds to support diversity-focused nonprofit

gift of tech

A Houston organization focused on helping low-income communities by providing access to education, training, and employment has received a new donation.

Comcast’s Internet Essentials program announced the a donation of a $30,000 financial grant and 1,000 laptops to SERJobs. The gift is part of a new partnership with SERJobs that's aimed at educating and equipping adults with technical skills, including training on Microsoft Office and professional development.

“SERJobs is excited to celebrate 10 years of Comcast's Internet Essentials program,” says Sheroo Mukhtiar, CEO, SERJobs, in a news release. “The Workforce Development Rally highlights the importance of digital literacy in our increasingly virtual world—especially as technology and the needs of our economy evolve. We are grateful to Comcast for their ongoing partnership and support of SERJobs’ and our members.”

For 10 years Comcast's Internet Essentials program has connected more than 10 million people to the Internet at home — most for the first time. This particular donation is a part of Project UP, Comcast’s comprehensive initiative to advance digital equity.

“Ten years is a remarkable milestone, signifying an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration with our incredible community partners across Houston,” says Toni Beck, vice president of external affairs at Comcast Houston, in the release.

“Together, we have connected hundreds of thousands of people to the power of the Internet at home, and to the endless opportunity, education, growth, and discovery it provides," she continues. "Our work is not done, and we are excited to partner with SERJobs to ensure the next generation of leaders in Houston are equipped with the technical training they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world.”

It's not the first time the tech company has supported Houston's low-income families. This summer, Comcast's Internet Essentials program and Region 4 Education Service Center partnered with the Texas Education Agency's Connect Texas Program to make sure Texas students have access to internet services.

Additionally, Comcast set up an internet voucher program with the City of Houston last December, and earlier this year, the company announced 50 Houston-area community centers will have free Wi-Fi connections for three years. Earlier this year, the company also dedicated $1 million to small businesses struggling due to the pandemic that are owned by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.