Providing financing to the smallest of businesses—those with no or under 10 employees—is a problem that some believe is unsolvable. Virtually all women-owned businesses have no or fewer than 10 employees.*
The Covid-19 pandemic and the distribution of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans exposed challenges that the smallest of businesses faced in getting these loans. The ignition of the Black Lives Matters movement after the killing of George Floyd continued to focus the media on social injustice.
Fintech startups emerged after the 2007-2009 financial crisis, proving that there is a way to advance financial inclusivity and provide easy access to financial services that are useful and affordable for small businesses. Fundid is taking advantage of these trends.
Being a solo female founder from Montana, Stefanie Sample, CEO and founder of Fundid, has multiple strikes against her. VCs prefer to fund startups with cofounders who are men and from traditional innovation hubs. Yet, she felt she was uniquely qualified to solve this problem and that the timing was right. Others think so, too!
Sample is a successful small business owner with multiple exits. During the 15 years she ran those businesses, she never thought of her gender as a roadblock. However, “once I was considered a larger business owner and joined a business network of essentially all men—it created a barrier for what I thought was an unlimited path to success,” said Sample. “I went down a rabbit hole to better understand the issues women entrepreneurs face.”
Sample started a nonprofit to help women business owners. Very quickly, it became clear that what women entrepreneurs needed the most was money. She decided that this was a market hole that she wanted to fill. She didn’t know what that solution would be, but it became clear that fintech would be the foundation for the solution.
It wasn’t Sample’s intention to start a fintech company. At first, she was just curious. She had never raised angel or venture capital. Then, suddenly, she had done a pitch deck, attended investor meetings, and closed a $3.2 million seed round from Builders and Backers, Nevaut, and The Artemis Fund.
The truth is it was uncomfortable going back to friends and colleagues and asking for introductions over and over again. Unlike men, her network was finite. Fortunately, “I had ambassadors,” said Sample. “There were a handful of men and women who opened a lot of doors for me, and their credibility gave me credibility without me earning it.”
Businesses need money to launch, grow, consolidate debt, and cover everyday expenses. To test the waters, the first service that Sample launched was a searchable database of grants.
Grants are money given to entrepreneurial ventures by the federal, state, and local governments, philanthropists, and corporations with no expectation of repayment or a stake in the business. Currently, there is no one-stop-shop for finding out about these grants, especially those corporations offer. Everyday Fundid scrapes the internet looking for these corporate opportunities.
Eligibility requirements dramatically vary from one grant to another. There are grants available for all types of companies, with many specifically aimed toward businesses owned by women, people of color, or that target an industry, geography, or company size.
If you win a grant, it is a good source of non-dilutive funding that doesn’t have to be paid back. While you don’t give away a piece of your company, pay interest, or need to pay any money back, there may be a fair amount of work involved in applying for some grants. And in the case of government grants, there may be a lot of ongoing requirements for accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being well spent. The higher the grant amount, the more work you can expect to do.
Sample’s second product will be a business-building card. This business charge card charges no interest if paid within 30 days. If the money owed is not paid in 30 days, the money converts to an installment loan with a fixed interest rate. The interest rate hasn’t been determined yet.
“We are committed to finding a way to keep the interest rate as low as possible,” said Sample. “If we find a capital partner, like a foundation, it could be super low. If we have to use a high-risk capital partner who will charge us 12%, it will be super tricky to provide a low-interest rate.”
Still, “we have to prove to the market that we can lend to this segment profitably,” said Sample. “There’s a belief that maybe these people aren’t funded for a reason. We have to overcome that belief, and that takes time.
Traction is growing. When the company launched in May of 2021, things started slowly. Now as many as 100 people per day use the grant matching service. The startup is attracting partners, too. Experian is helping to develop Fundid’s underwriting criteria. Visa Fintech Fast Track has accepted the startup into its program, which makes it easier for startups to get to market. It has a bank partner that doesn’t just want to market differently, it is committed to innovating and doing things differently. This relationship has not yet been announced.
How will you challenge the mindset that limits your growth?