Diving into Early Stage Accelerator Programs and their Growth in the Marketplace

Elle Bruno, the Managing Director of the Techstars & Western Union Accelerator dives into early stage startup accelerator programs in this quick chat with us:

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Elle, we’d love to hear more about you and the Techstars + Western Union Accelerator program?

The Techstars and Western Union accelerator program focuses on bringing in the ten best early-stage startups in Fintech to work with Techstars and Western Union. The Western Union network and in-depth experience in moving money combined with the Techstars team’s experience in building agile, hypergrowth startups, makes for an incredible opportunity for any founder to build their company with the right tools. There is  a strong mentor component to our  program as well, with mentors  coming from Western Union, Stripe, Capital One, and JP Morgan, to name a few, which will ultimately be a free advisory board for founders, an unparalleled tool.

As a 20-year startup operator and builder, I’m excited to bring deep experience across fundraising (seed to Series B), GTM strategy, growth, and org structure. I’ve been a founder or early employee at four startups, three of which were venture-backed. Having flexed that muscle many times, I believe our team brings not just experience, but empathy to the program.

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A few of your biggest observations surrounding the changing global fintech startup landscape?

Fintech is a vast, global space with each geography having unique opportunities and challenges. The digitization of banking and money movement has opened a lot of opportunities for the global landscape. LATAM is a market that seems ripe right now when it comes to talent and opportunity. Lending in particular is a challenge in emerging markets with unmanageable interest rates. With the emergence of more start-ups, hence founders, and eventual wealth, there’s great cross-border lending opportunities. In general, I’m seeing a lot of tools in emerging markets around closing the wealth gap, creating more access to capital in B2C and B2B.

What are some of the biggest fintech platforms that you’ve observed grow in value and valuation in a short time frame, can you talk about a few top (global!) ones?

VC is a trend driven business, so we will always see value ebb and flow in relation to big news, big consumer trends, or a large fundraiser that was well publicized. With the recent Robinhood/GameStop situation, there was an immediate interest in alternative AUM platforms, so start-ups like Techstars alumni Vested.co were able to benefit from a swift bump in value.

With the pandemic, we’ve also seen an influx of interest in neo banking, digital wallets, and consumer payments to name a few. Chime went from a $1.4B in 2019 to a $14.5B valuation in 2020. Klarna doubled it’s valuation to $10.6B in the last year. These are rapid growth numbers. 

How do you feel the future of the fintech / startup place is set to look like? 

I’m so excited about the current and future state of Fintech because consumer and commercial behaviors are evolving quickly. Fintech is one of the hottest spaces for VC’s right now, meaning founders are facing a more competitive landscape, creating a likelier emergence of real innovation. 

On a functional note, there’s a greater demand for moving money faster and with less risk. Those two actions don’t necessarily go hand and hand so there’s a lot to be done on the infrastructure side. I’m excited to see what continues to evolve with payments and KYC/AML. Cash and ACH are becoming extinct, so there’s a lot of excitement in digital wallets and payments of course. That said, there’s a lot of bad actors out there building the same thing but putting a different branding spin on it. 

Seeing how the year 2020 changed the game for fintechs due to the pandemic, how do you feel fintech startups need to up their game in various ways to suit changing demands?

There’s less room for error in this space than ever before due to the spotlight on Fintech I mentioned earlier.  Clearly, there are more online transactions taking place, and I think that has opened more transparency and interest in digital asset management and lending etc. People feel much more confident in moving money digitally now that we’ve been forced to do it.

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Before we wrap up, a few biggest learnings and tips you’d like to share with tech innovators and leaders?

  • Always have your eye on the behaviors of the next generation. If you analyze and utilize their behaviors and psychology, you will build something great.
  • What you build as a tech leader has one of the greatest impacts on the global economy as any other category. Don’t take that lightly. Build something that solves a problem, not a bandaid with no staying power. There’s too much of the latter out there, and it’s pretty easy to flush out.
  • Lean on mentors, advisors, and colleagues who fill in your blind spots. We are not capable of being great at everything. The founders who rise to the top, are the founders who bring in the right people to manage the blind spots.

About Elle and Techstars:

Elle Bruno is the Managing Director of the Techstars & Western Union Accelerator. Elle has been a founder and startup operator for 19 years. In 2004 she started her first company, an eBay ancillary marketplace, and since then she has been involved in building three venture-backed startups, most notably Trunk Club. Her expertise is in consumer tech, specifically revenue and growth. Elle has been an angel investor and advisor since 2015, with a focus on investing in female founded companies, and was an EIR in the 2020 Techstars & Western Union program.

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