Fintech accelerators come in all shapes and sizes. Reetika Grewal, head of payments strategy and solutions at Silicon Valley Bank, charts the path taken by Commerce.Innovated, the SVB/MasterCard joint programme.
About three years ago, the startup ecosystem around payments and fintech started to really gain a lot of momentum. We realized that while these amazing companies were well supported in their early formation stages, with many great accelerators out there, there was a gap when it came to accessing the necessary banking and payments infrastructure to support these models. This was the impetus for Commerce.Innovated, a joint-accelerator program run by Silicon Valley Bank and MasterCard for commerce-, payments- and fintech-focused startups. The program is designed for seed-funded, pre-series A companies looking for operational mentorship to take their businesses to the next level.
Accelerators play an important role in supporting the startup ecosystem and different programs take different approaches. Some corporate accelerators are designed for larger institutions to tap into new talent or ideas that they can apply to their own businesses. Other programs are designed to connect corporate partners and investors with startups. The most common type of accelerator is to help founders to build a business from ideation. For Commerce.Innovated., we provide operational mentorship in areas such as compliance, fraud prevention and AML monitoring to companies that have a live or planned solution in place with a dedicated team. Given the complexity of navigating payments and financial services, we felt that it was important for us to offer a program that could help companies to expedite their learnings in this space.
When we first came up with the idea of Commerce.Innovated, we did a lot of research on what startups wanted from an accelerator. The majority of companies felt that there were already a lot of great accelerators out there that focused on helping founders to build a business from ideation, like YCombinator, 500 Startups, StartX and others. What they needed from us was guidance; particularly in the areas of compliance, marketing and fundraising. We wanted Commerce.Innovated. to help earlier-stage startups in a unique way. So we decided to focus on trying to help these startups grow faster or achieve a specific milestone in order to raise a strong A-round funding. We help participants to build a sound, scalable operating infrastructure that they would go to an investor and say that they have worked with Silicon Valley Bank and MasterCard and they’ve looked over their fraud and compliance.
There has been a variety of companies who have graduated through the Commerce.Innovated. program, including those innovating in card acceptance, wallet technology, concierge buying and selling, and those in the gift card space. Some examples of past participants include Alloy, an API to collect and manage customer data, Cardflight, a mobile PoS provider, Gone, an on-demand selling app, Nowsta, a logistics and labor management platform, and Slide, a gift card wallet app (recently acquired by Raise). We’ve gone through four classes so far and seven of our 17 graduates have raised funding after the program and two have been acquired.
After the program is completed, we continue to maintain relationships with Commerce.Innovated. alumni. A great example of this is Splitwise, which was in our first class. Splitwise is a social ledger that helps to track shared expenses. Roommates, couples and friends can enter shared expenses into Splitwise and the app will help to divide up expenses (with tracking and tagging) and initiate settlement. I have used it personally to deal with shared expenses and it does a great job removing friction for everyone involved. We worked with Splitwise when they were in the program to evaluate some new concepts that they were considering. We connected them with relevant industry experts as well as spent time with them solutioning out some options as well. That was two years ago and today we still work closely with them as they are looking to roll out new products and services to their customer base.