02.26.2021
By Shanny Basar

FinTech Sandbox to Focus on Inclusion, Sustainability

Kelly Fryer, new head of FinTech Sandbox, said the non-profit which provides data and infrastructure to early-stage startups, will be focussing on financial inclusion, sustainability and expanding geographically.

She took over from Jean Donnelly as executive director of FinTech Sandbox in September last year after previously working at the Techstars’ FinTech accelerator program, the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars.

Fryer told Markets Media that FinTech Sandbox does not take an equity stakes in firms and so is not driven purely by financial returns.

Kelly Fryer, Fintech Sandbox

“Our six-month program provides a residency and free access to data which can be expensive for very early stage firms,” she explained. “We provide support for firms that are usually in the seed stage so they can bootstrap into early testing.”

FinTech Sandbox launched in 2015 and is a non-profit aiming to foster innovation in the financial sector by making data and infrastructure available to suitable fintech startups. The data partners have accelerated the licensing process for participants of the program. In addition the program offers up to $15,000 in credits per startup to Amazon Web Services plus business-level AWS Support up to $5,000 per startup.

Firms from anywhere in the world can apply for the program and have to go through an interview process to determine if they are in the right phase to make the most commercial use of the data.

“We determine success by the firms forming long-term relationships with data producers, connections to financial institutions and the development of our community,” said Fryer.

Fryer continued that there are approximately 230 start-ups in FinTech Sandbox’s portfolio from the US, Canada, UK and continental Europe and she would like to expand this ecosystem geographically.

Alumni include Kensho (acquired by S&P Global), Petal, TellusLabs (acquired by Indigo), and Quantopian. Companies accepted to the program have gone on to raise more than $600m in aggregate and create more than 600 jobs.

“Our next iteration will focus on financial inclusion and access and sustainability,” Fryer added. “Increasing the transparency of environmental, social and governance data and providing unbiased information is a huge challenge.”

There are also challenges in helping firms analyse the increasing amount of unstructured and alternative data, which will also be an area of focus.

Another priority is to increase representation of women and minorities in Fintech Sandbox’s portfolio.

“I am often the only woman or person of color in a room,” said Fryer. “Increasing representation is very important to us.”

She noted that many fintech founders come out of financial services, which have traditionally not been very diverse. Fryer suggested that diversity would increase if there was a change in recruitment practices.

“The top of the funnel needs to be wider and firms should recruit from a wider range of colleges,” she added.

In addition there should be more emphasis on engineering and business at a younger age, such as in high schools, for all students.

Career

Fryer described herself as getting into fintech by accident after studying Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

“I realised I didn’t want to become an accountant and when I joined Bloomberg I became interested in data and technology,”she said.

She joined Techstars in 2017 after completing an MBA in Corporate Innovation and Strategic Venture Developments.

Fryer sees leading FinTech Sandbox as the culmination of her experiences.

As program director at the Barclays Accelerator she was in the New York team that sourced and evaluated more than 1,000 fintech startups each year in order to find 10 investments. This provided an  insight into how early-stage fintechs operate and their challenges in working with large financial institutions, while her time at Bloomberg gave her the perspective of a data provider.

“There is an overlap between some of the relationships I built at TechStars and FinTech Sandbox,” she added.

Fryer’s advice to other women is to find a champion within their company. “I have had several sponsors in senior positions who have made a huge impact ,” she said .

Virtual FinTech Talks

FinTech Sandbox has announced a second virtual event series featuring six public sessions and two private sessions from March 16-19, 2021.

Headlining the event is a fireside chat with Ken Montgomery, who is leading the Federal Reserve System’s FedNowSM Service, discussing real-time payments, central bank digital currencies and cybersecurity.

Sarah Biller, co-founder of FinTech Sandbox said in a statement: “The link between greater use of digital financial services and faster economic growth is undeniable — higher levels of digital financial inclusion accelerate this trend.”

FinTech Sandbox also organizes Boston FinTech Week which is slated for 27 September 27 to 1 October 2021.

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