FinTech Frontier is a partnership between Cincinnati-based financial services companies and FinTech-focused entrepreneurs, powered by Cintrifuse. They just completed their most recent pitch competition. We spoke to Pete Blackshaw, Cintrifuse CEO, and Mark Wood, corporate innovation manager at Cintrifuse, about FinTech in Cincy and the game plan for growing it.
Tell us about FinTech Frontier.
Blackshaw: There’s a lot of work around bio health and connected health in Cincinnati, but Cintrifuse is putting a lot of its energy into sustainable supply chains and FinTech. FinTech has made enormous progress in the last couple of years through FinTech Frontier, which Mark is leading. It’s a collaboration between the major banks, insurance companies and the startup community.
We’re trying to identify a number of areas where the concentration of talent, technology and capital can really drive an outsize advantage for Greater Cincinnati. I think a unique identity within FinTech is emerging through this initiative. Cincinnati is also incredibly passionate about diversity and equity. FinTech, diversity and equity are colliding in a very positive way. We saw that manifest itself in the FinTech Frontier Pitch Competition late last month.
Tell us about the competition.
Wood: This is our second year of doing a pitch competition. We’re looking for startups that are helping increase access to financial services. We’ve really opened it up to a very broad-based platform of startups across the country. Our goal is to attract them to Cincinnati. We got a great response, with 65 applications total.
Those came from Miami, New York, Dallas, Austin, Atlanta—all of these tech hotspots. We got a chance to put those up against the local FinTechs and see how we stacked up. It’s a good way to understand where Cincinnati is right now in the landscape of FinTechs.
Talk about the three winners of the Pitch competition.
Wood: We were really thrilled with the finalists that ended up competing. They all had really cool ideas for increasing access to financial services. In third place was KiddieKredit, which is focused on teaching healthy credit habits to young children and create healthier or financially healthier families. The second-place winner was Rente, which addresses how do we provide more stable housing to those who might have low credit or might have more job risk? Can we help landlords better identify good tenants and not use the traditional mechanisms of credit reports or job status?
The first place winner was Sigo Systems, a really cool company that found a niche and is serving the Hispanic auto insurance market. The company provides a fully Spanish experience from beginning through the end of the purchase. There is a large Hispanic population in [the U.S.] and so many auto insurance providers. It’s amazing that no one has said, ‘Let’s put this in a language that is comfortable and friendly to a large percentage of the American population.’
What are you looking to do with FinTech Frontier and this pitch competition?
Wood: There are two sides to this. One is planting that flag and letting people know that Cincinnati and the greater Midwest are great places for FinTech. We’re shouting that from every rooftop. We like to see some national attention to help entrepreneurs see what’s available here. The second side of it, which is a little less out in the open, includes the services and support we’re providing to FinTechs here in Cincinnati. We’re consistently bringing the group together for idea sharing.
An entrepreneur might come up against something when building a FinTech. We’re the ones who are going to connect you with a startup that’s already gone through that process and made it through those barriers. We’re also working on programming that will help put more money into the pockets of FinTech here locally. Getting access to early stage seed capital can be difficult anywhere in the country. We’re trying to make that as easy as possible for companies here in Cincinnati. Then we line them up with the outside professional services they need. Someone who can help with marketing or help forecast the budget.
It sounds like Cincy is pretty supportive of startups.
Blackshaw: We have this great civic community that really wants to get involved. They see the benefits of innovation and entrepreneurial talent. Eight years ago when the idea of Cintrifuse was formed, we knew we needed to have a really strong innovation economy. We knew that one way to do that was to have big companies partner with startups. That’s what makes Cincinnati a strong place to build.