Kelly Fryer was brought on as the executive director of Boston-based FinTech Sandbox, and told FinLedger that joining the company was a merging of her two backgrounds in fintech and data.
FinTech Sandbox is a nonprofit that helps fintech startups build products by providing critical data access and development resources. Founded in 2014, the nonprofit doesn’t take equity in the startups. The company has a network of over 40 data providers.
Before joining FinTech Sandbox, Fryer previously worked as Program Director at Techstars’ FinTech accelerator program. She also worked at Bloomberg LP in the global data department. She officially started in her role at Fintech Sandbox in September 2020.
Fryer spoke with FinLedger about taking on her new role, how the nonprofit is focusing on sustainable and inclusive finance and what opportunities lie ahead.
FL: What is your strategy for the rest of the year in this role?
Fryer: When the company was first started fintech wasn’t a common term the way that it is today. The data needs and trends were quite different at the time. Today, it’s much more unstructured data, consumer behavior data, alternative data sources, which can all be challenging to access, challenging to consume and take in a usable way as a startup. For me coming in, it’s been this exciting time for the organization to shift gears and move with the market to better support fintech entrepreneurs, and grow our impact on the ecosystem. One of the ways that we’re doing that is through our focus on sustainable and inclusive finance — that being one of those exciting market shifts that’s been slowly happening over the last year or two years.
FL: Expand on what you mean by sustainable and inclusive finance?
Fryer: Our goal is to support and build products that empower people and help people gain agency in their own financial lives. If we think about that broken down, it’s three key areas that we focus on with one being financial access, the second being climate change and third being ESG transparency. Overall, data is everything when it comes to the sustainable and inclusive finance movement — consistent, transparent, unbiased quality data, which is a huge ask. But it’s also a huge overarching need when it comes to this space and being successful in creating an impact in sustainable and inclusive finance. That’s why it’s really important to FinTech Sandbox and why we’re focusing on this direction going forward.
FL: What type of B2B companies are in FinTech Sandbox’ portfolio?
Fryer: If I look at my first six months, we’ve onboarded a company that’s looking at data integration. So, let’s say you’re a big enterprise and you acquire another company, how do you integrate those two enormous volumes of data into one another? We’ve seen companies focused on that. We’ve seen companies focused on back office trading software and communication, a lot of asset management, portfolio allocation and risk management tools. [Also,] lending marketplaces we’ve seen a good amount of.
FL: Why does FinTech Sandbox specifically work with mostly early-stage startups?
Fryer: When you’re a fintech or startup in general just starting out, and all you want to do is test a feature or train a model before it goes live, you can easily run out of cash before you even get a chance to go live. You’re just in the testing phase, and you’ve already run out of cash. The vast majority of our startups are in that early stage life cycle. We usually see bootstrap and seed are our two concentrations of fundraising buckets.
When you think about it from that perspective, on the bootstrap side, you have these companies that have raised no money and they need access to data to build out their products. On the seed stage [side], you have those who have raised a bit of money, and now they need access to data to actually get to launch or to do early testing of a new feature. Maybe it’s their second iteration after they’ve gone live. That’s why we focus on that end of the spectrum. We don’t want companies to waste their cash or their early fundraising just trying to get their product to market. They have much better uses for that cash, like hiring a team.
FL: What opportunities are you seeing in the fintech space?
Fryer: One area that I think will be really big is consumer fintech. I do think we’re going to see a bigger leaning towards the B2C side or at least B2B2C, whether it be on banking, payments or lending. Enterprise fintech has been a big driver over the past few years. But now consumer and personal finance are going to start to become bigger focuses once again, as we start thinking about just how payments and banking tools better fit into modern lifestyles.
Then the second piece is small business solutions. It’s no secret that small businesses took a big hit this past year. The ones that survived so far are ones that were able to easily create a digital presence, or were able to quickly spin one up. We’ll see a lot more back end infrastructure and technology to allow small businesses to go digital and also hopefully some better lending and capital options when it comes to small businesses.
This Q&A has been edited to read clearly and concisely.