Amid the high-tech revolution in the way Americans do their banking, Wells Fargo has found an effective way to keep pace by using its Startup Accelerator program to tap into early stage startups in financial technology.
The Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator has searched the globe, taken nearly 2,000 applications from over 50 countries, and worked with nearly two dozen emerging companies in areas ranging from cybersecurity and fraud prevention to high-speed payments and business management systems. Through its relationship, Wells Fargo focuses on helping startups bring their ideas to market.
The company recently announced the latest entries into its accelerator, two emerging companies that once again cut across a range of technologies.
“Now in its fourth year, the Startup Accelerator continues to serve as a prime example of Wells Fargo’s commitment to fostering innovation and big ideas both inside and outside our walls,” said Bipin Sahni, head of innovation research and development in the company’s Innovation group. “Like us, these startups look past the horizon to reimagine the world of tomorrow in order to deliver value and a compelling team member and customer experience.”
Recent accelerator participants and mentors discussed the benefits, insights, and overall experience of participating in the program.
Addressing a critical need
Edquity, a recent accelerator mentee that develops financial planning software for college students and their families, was paired with Julie Cane, a student segment leader for Wells Fargo Enterprise Marketing.
Edquity co-founders David Helene and Max Wilson started the firm in 2016 in Brooklyn, New York.
In her work with Edquity, Cane said she immediately recognized Helene and his company addressed a critical need for college-bound students and their families. Using a unique combination of data sets, the software can generate a complete financial plan for a student’s entire college career — including factors like tuition, true cost of living, and available financial aid — and the colleges where it will be most affordable.
“I knew the first day we met in person that it would be a good fit for the financial industry,” she said. “We both saw eye to eye on the growing problem — the huge student debt now topping $1.4 trillion and the sharp declines in state funding, which means college is becoming more and more unaffordable for many families. But the tools David has created can help put them on the path to make it more affordable.
“They have a great story,” Cane added. “I can’t say enough about David’s leadership in understanding all the issues around helping college-bound students and their families. It really aligns with Wells Fargo’s goals to help all our customers succeed financially and building a better bank.”
Someone who really gets it
Helene said Edquity’s relationship with Wells Fargo began in Charlotte, North Carolina, two years ago when it was chosen for the Queen City Fintech Accelerator, a program that Wells Fargo supports locally. During Edquity’s time in Charlotte, Daniel Sanford, a Wells Fargo team member on the digital business development team, mentored Edquity, eventually connecting them to the student segment leadership team and opening the door to the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator team.
“Wells Fargo has one of the more hands-on approaches compared to any other program out there,” Helene said. “We’ve been very impressed with the company’s attention to detail and ability to get to some of the deeper layers of the onion in terms of the problem. It’s not just the top line metric of how big student debt is, but how far-reaching it is in threatening the financial health of so many students.”
Helene said Cane’s mentoring insights were exceptional.
“It’s not every day that someone really gets it,” he said. “I am passionate about the work we do, and I’ve also been known to get pretty far into the weeds about the details. Usually, eyes start glazing over when I do that, but not Julie. It was encouraging to see someone who shared that passion.”
The 1099 economy's impact
Another recent participant of the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator is Hurdlr, a company that develops tax tracking and business management software for individual contractors and freelancers. Co-founders Raj Bhaskar and Anu Bhaskar, who started Hurdlr in 2012 in Washington, D.C., worked with Jonathan Hartsell, head of digital business development in Wells Fargo Virtual Channels.
As part of a study last year, Hartsell said he and his team at Wells Fargo documented the rise of the “1099 economy” — the growing impact of a workforce made up of contractors, freelancers, and other individual workers who combine various income streams and work independently, rather than in structured payroll jobs. These individuals file a Form 1099 to report their taxable income to the Internal Revenue Service.
“As we studied the needs of our customers in this 1099 workforce, the one need that rose to the top was tax planning — an especially complicated and time-consuming challenge for individual workers,” he said. “Then we looked at who was providing such services, reached out to Raj and his team at Hurdlr, and really liked what we saw.”
Fast forward a year later: Hurdlr’s relationship with Wells Fargo continues, and the collaboration is expanding far beyond the initial mentoring relationship.
“Being in the accelerator has enhanced Hurdlr’s exposure throughout Wells Fargo,” Hartsell said. “We’ve been able to support Raj and his team and connect them with a number of other groups in Wells Fargo, giving Hurdlr potential business opportunities well into the future.”
Raj Bhaskar, CEO of Hurdlr, said the accelerator experience was a tremendous validation of his company’s business model and its “impact on the 1099 economy.” The ongoing relationship with Wells Fargo has helped take Hurdlr to the next level in terms of implementing its business model, he said.
“We are much more prepared now to be a key technology provider to the banking sector,” Bhaskar said. “It was invaluable for us to gain that greater understanding of the infrastructure and how to work within it. And we are very grateful to Wells Fargo for making that possible.”