Finance technology, also known as fintech, is big in Delaware. Very big.
The majority of the state’s fintech companies were not considered tech companies by any measure even five years ago — most were just called banks. As big financial companies like Capital One and JPMorgan Chase come to rely more and more on technology, we started reconsidering what counts as fintech. And with the banks as part of the fintech equation, it’s fair to say that fintech has been thriving in the First State.
In fact, with 9% of all jobs in the state falling under the fintech umbrella, Delaware has the highest share fintech employees of any U.S. state, according to a report conducted by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, First State Fintech Lab and University of Delaware in June.
At the same time, the number of fintech startups in Delaware is small: There are a few mid-stage companies like Marlette Funding, Fair Square Financial and Acorns, but early-stage fintech companies are not exactly booming.
Garry Johnson III, graduate of the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship and founder of the First Founders accelerator for underrepresented entrepreneurs, is looking to change that.
After developing his own fintech startup, KnowCapp, and with his experience both as a participant and leader of startup accelerators (including the reality TV-style Noir Tank and a fintech-on-wheels project with StartupBus and Advancing Black Pathways), is looking to accelerate fintech entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups in Delaware.
Developing KnowCapp was the catalyst.
“I started this concept when I participated in [Horn summer program] Summer Founders at UD, and throughout that process, I went out into the community and talked to small business owners of color, trying to understand their challenges,” Johnson told Technical.ly. “Access to capital kept coming up in conversation, whether it was when they were just starting out or at the stage where they need growth capital and just simply can’t get access it. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know where to go, or they don’t know the right type of funding for their business, other times they’ve applied and been denied funding.”
Then things got real.
“I had applied to a virtual accelerator called Founder Gym,” said Johnson. “They prepare underrepresented founders. I got accepted and was one of 30 people from across the country to be trained by some of the top investors and entrepreneurs in the U.S. like, Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital, [among others]. It was amazing.”
But when he got that acceptance letter, he said, he panicked: “I didn’t even have a scalable startup yet.”
“With no capital, I ran this test, a super basic website where it would ask a business owner how long have you been in business, annual revenue [etc.] and I’d get an email with the answers,” Johnson said. “I’d send back a recommendation on the best source of funding that would be good for their business. I was able to help several businesses get approved for funding over the course of three months.”
That experiment gave him more credibility in the startup space, he said. The First Founders Accelerator launched last February, and Johnson landed yet another opportunity.
“I got accepted into the Blueprint Project, which was through the Dorm Room Fund,” he said. “In the first cohort, specifically for underrepresented entrepreneurs, I was one of 10 people. For nine weeks I would commute to Manhattan to participate every Thursday, learning from investors from Uber, founders of advanced accelerators like TechStars.”
Recently, Johnson was accepted into another incubator to help develop KnowCapp, this time at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
If the right partnerships align, he hopes to launch a new fintech-focused accelerator soon.
“It’s almost going to be like a startup studio, because there aren’t a lot of entrepreneurs in Delaware actually building fintech companies,” he said. “I saw the opportunity to say, ‘Hey, there is the talent here, so we could teach the entrepreneurial skills, give them the challenges that we currently have identified in the marketplace, and challenge them to come up with solutions.'”
Check out Johnson’s StartupBus/Advancing Black Pathways video journal here: