Be Bold and Prosper: Fintech Sandbox Demo Day 4.0

Apr 26, 2017 Angela Smith

For a firsthand look a what’s new and noteworthy in the Boston finance community, my colleague Greg Peverill-Conti and I took a trip to Fidelity’s HQ to attend Fintech Sandbox’s Demo Day 4.0.

When you think of financial technology, Boston may not be the city to come to mind, but the truth is, the city harbors all the elements required for a thriving fintech scene. In Boston we’ve got large companies overflowing with innovation, a vibrant group of colleges and universities, not to mention investors willing to open their wallets for the next big thing.

Born out of a pressing need for data for resource-strapped startups, Fintech Sandbox is a nonprofit that gives companies the ability to test ideas and build great products on the types of data they’ll be working with in the future. Instead of asking for equity or fees, Fintech Sandbox simply asks that entrepreneurs pay it forward through content that will help others in the community -- which now has more than 2,200 members from more than 70 startups and more than 40 partners -- grow and thrive.

Throughout the event we heard from Sandbox alumni, as well as entrepreneurs from seven startups that gave us a glimpse into what’s to come with the next wave of fintech. Adam Broun, COO of Kensho and Fintech Sandbox alum kicked off the presentations with some insights for the room full of budding entrepreneurs: If you’re going to fail, fail spectacularly.

In Broun’s experience he’s found that most institutions won’t take chances, and that pretty much guarantees a mediocre outcome. His best advice? Boldly take risks, have a vision and commit to solving the big problems facing the industry.

Interested in what the next wave of entrepreneurs are up to? Check out the companies that shared their demos at last week’s event:

  • Alpaca - Alpaca is a California-based fintech startup that builds AI and database technology for financial trading. AlpacaScan provides a truly mobile-first trade idea discovery experience to the millennial generation. Greg thought there were perhaps a few too many buzzwords in the presentation -- big data, AI, algos, secret sauce, machine learning -- all came up multiple times during the brief presentation. The idea of trading, “as an accessory” seemed a little odd.
  • Elsen - Elsen’s platform enables anyone to harness vast quantities of data to make better decisions and quickly solve the most complex problems. One of Fintech Sandbox's first program participants and active alumni, Elsen returned to the stage to demonstrate the growth of their product. Their ability to handle massive complexity was very cool and the company’s demo was very polished and impressive. The ability to create “quantbots,” thus removing the need for “traditional quant tools” made us wonder if actual human quants were going to be made redundant by the technology. Time will tell.
  • FutureFuel - FutureFuel.io makes debt repayment easy by offering student debt pay down, as a service. Their platform allows employers to “turn on” student debt repayment as an employee benefit — enterprise-wide and/or for special employee populations. One of the odder comments of the event came from FutureFuel: “What do employers want? Engagement!”
  • Stessa - Stessa helps property owners make informed decisions about their investments. By bringing together all relevant data in one place, Stessa makes it easy for both novice and sophisticated investors to drive operational efficiencies, maximize revenue and improve overall portfolio performance. It was an impressive demo of a technology that seems really well-suited to solving a very specific problem.
  • TellusLabs - TellusLabs combines decades of satellite imagery with a machine learning platform to answer critical, time-sensitive economic and environmental questions. The demo was pretty insane. The company couples some crazy data and tools to manipulate and model that information in ways that were frankly pretty mind-blowing.
  • Vetr - Vetr is an investment platform that mobilizes the investor community to more accurately predict future stock prices in order to help people make better investment decisions. Simple, right? They liken themselves to all of the other community-based ratings platforms -- think Yelp. During the demo they pointed out that most stock ratings are too optimistic, are limited in terms of the securities they cover and that there is rarely much consensus. The Vetr platform deals with these problems.
  • Virtual Cove - Virtual Cove’s solution better engages your brain by transforming data into virtual reality, resulting in 35-500x faster time-to-insight when compared with visualization approaches limited by flat screen displays. The resulting situational awareness is impactful for financial markets applications including quant research, risk and portfolio management. A couple of things struck us as we watched the demo. First, it seemed like these guys had an awesome solution for which they’ve been looking for a problem -- and may have finally found one in finance. Second, it seemed really unlikely that many investors are going to want to wear a VR rig.

The night was top-notch from start to finish. There was a great crowd (easily approaching 300), interesting companies on stage and a mighty nice reception afterwards. If you want to see what’s next in fintech -- in Boston and beyond -- the Sandbox is the place to be.

Greg Peverill-Conti also contributed to this post.

Topics: Entrepreneurship, fintech, startups
Angela Smith

Angela is skilled at creating content for clients, and always has her finger on the pulse of the latest media trends. Before InkHouse, Angela worked at PR Newswire’s ProfNet in Jersey City, where she learned to live by the mighty AP Stylebook. Angela graduated from James Madison University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in communication studies. She is most interested in observing the way in which technology is affecting how we communicate.

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