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In the midst of DC’s funding craze, this Virginia founder says not to skip out on fintech infrastructure

Rize founder Justin Howell breaks down the potential for fintech in 2022.

Rize at a Money 20/20 event in 2021. (Photo via @rizefs_ on Twitter)
The DC area found no shortage of funding in 2021, with billions of dollars floating around every quarter. But venture capital isn’t the only money moving in the DMV: Financial technology has made a splash over the past few years, for both large entities and consumer models.

With this growth, though, one founder thinks that there’s still one area that needs to grow: the back-end infrastructure to help fintech founders build their financial platforms.

“This is a complicated business that involves underlying institutions, payment reels, compliance schemes,” Rize CEO and cofounder Justin Howell told “Our job is to take all that hairball wax, put it in the background and make sure that our clients are really having a very easy experience of understanding what their role is in this stuff and how they build against the platform.”

But Arlington, Virginia’s Rize didn’t start off on this path. When he and cofounder Kirk Voltz started the company in 2016, its beginnings were as a fintech platform designed to help people save money. But along the way, the pair figured out that in order to develop a great fintech product, you need a strong infrastructure to back it up. And after they built a successful one for themselves, in 2019 they decided to pivot the business to focus on building a fintech-specific infrastructure platform for use by other companies, officially completing the pivot in 2021.

Howell compares it to the fintech version of Shopify or Amazon Web Services, which power a large number of ecommerce and content giants.

“We’re effectively doing in fintech infrastructure what, say, AWS did to internet cloud or Shopify has done in ecommerce, which is to really make the infrastructure ubiquitous,” Howell said. “So, if you’re a builder, you don’t have to think about it. You can actually just focus on building the right product, the right end-user experience.”

Rize’s background as a fintech app (which covered in 2017), Howell said, perfectly positions it to be the company developing financial technology for other companies. Given its past, he thinks Rize’s team knows the exact problem areas and needs of the industry.

“You can’t really build fintech infrastructure correctly unless you’ve been down in the trenches earning a lot of scar tissue and really seeing, where are things broken?” Howell said.

Justin Howell. (Courtesy photo)

In 2021, Howell said Rize had a strong year of growth in its move to be an infrastructure company. The company grew to 40 people, double its size in 2020, with plenty of demand from fellow fintech founders. In October, the company also raised $11.4 million in a Series A round co-led by Alpha Edison and Morpheus Ventures, which Howell said was key for growth.

In the coming year, Howell said Rize will be working on perfecting its infrastructure platform and expanding its available capabilities. He’s hoping to move the company into not only core banking abilities, but also provide assets for brokerages.

“Fintech is having a moment right now. I think 2021 was the year, and really across the pandemic or the last 18-plus months, is when there’s been this massive acceleration,” Howell said. “I think it’s 100% clear now that fintech is not a passing fad.”

With the strong amount of money put toward the fintech industry in the past 18 months, Howell thinks that investors are “starting to recognize the potential size of the pie” in the financial services industry. As a result, he noted that they’re putting even more money towards the marketplace, and with the growing need, infrastructure will only be more vital.

“If you’re going to build a long-term, sustainable fintech business, you’ve got to surround customers with a much wider, seamlessly integrated set of products and experiences to keep around for long time, and infrastructure makes that easier,” Howell said.

Companies: Rize

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