Seattle is home to a handful of fintech companies, notably money transfer startup Remitly, but it isn’t known as a fintech hub. And the city has venture capitalists writing checks for millions of dollars each year, but few focus on fintech.
“Finding the right people to invest or mentor you is difficult in the best of circumstances,” said Nate Derby, CEO and chief data scientist for Stakana Analytics, a marketing analytics company for credit unions and community banks.
So what’s a Seattle fintech founder to do when operating in an environment that’s less than the best? Build targeted networks through multiple organizations, Derby said, in order to get the mentoring and access that you need.
Three years ago, Derby, who is gay, joined StartOut, a nonprofit that helps LGBTQ entrepreneurs make connections and get access to resources. Contacts he made through the national group led Derby to pitching his startup to funders in the Bay Area and Boston.
But while he’s a gay entrepreneur, he’s not running a business targeting the gay community, so he looked for additional support elsewhere. He participated in the Founder Cohort Program with the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) where he met other founders doing similar work in analytics and met useful mentors. The program “changed his life,” Derby said.
Now he’s hoping to access resources that are becoming available through a recently announced partnership between StartOut and Amazon Web Services. Through a mentorship program, AWS is matching experienced startup founders and experts with at least 50 StartOut members over the next year. AWS is also providing more than $1 million dollars in credits and support to StartOut accelerator cohorts and members through AWS Activate, a program for early stage startups. Derby is applying for help through Activate.
StartOut’s “ongoing research does an excellent job highlighting the opportunity gaps that exists for LGBTQ founders. We believe with our reach and the global team of startup experts we’ve assembled, that we can play a role in closing them,” said Bob Van Nortwick, global startups leader for AWS.
“That is a great partnership and I’m surprised they haven’t done it before, but I’m tremendously happy they’re doing it now,” Derby said.
Derby launched Stakana in 2015. He has raised some capital through friends-and-family support, and is currently hiring. Derby expects the startup to grow to 11 people over the summer, after years of being a team of three or four people.
Stakana has been working with a bank in Washington and a credit union in Illinois to develop products to help smaller financial organizations comb their customers’ data in order to shape their marketing efforts. The data can suggest who is at risk of changing banks and who’s prime for a credit card or mortgage. By partnering with financial institutions, Stakana has been building products tailored to customer needs, Derby said, before offering analytics services to the full market.