FinTech Startup Weekend Pushes for Innovations That Work with Money

Few places in the world can match the concentration of financial institutions found in New York, so it is little surprise Startup Weekend chose this city for its first-ever FinTech event. Held this past weekend at co-working space Alley NYC, 13 teams toiled to come up with new ways to use technology to solve real-world problems with finances and money.

Before anyone’s exuberance runs amok, let’s be honest. It is rare for teams born from the developers, engineers, and business professionals clamoring over 54 hours at any Startup Weekend to remain intact. However, the participants at the FinTech event sought to address relevant issues such as improving one’s investment acumen and making it easier for entrepreneurs to gather tiny doses of funding.

The team behind took first place with the platform they developed to eliminate some of the awkwardness of asking friends and family to help fund startups. Jesse Podell, Volkan Unsal, Petra Hanson, and Daniel Kahn led the team.

JohnDough, if fleshed out, would be a private fundraising site comparable to Gust, though strictly for acquaintances and relatives to anonymously invest in small businesses. Funds would be sent using online payment system Dwolla’s API. The JohnDough service would be free for entrepreneurs to use and would be monetized via marketing from loan, credit-card, and other companies that want to reach small businesses.

The JohnDough team believes the platform would appeal to small business owners looking to raise $25,000 to $250,000 from personal connections rather than general solicitations. “These people typically have less experience with raising money,” Podell said

Winning first place means the team can pitch the idea at a NY FinTech Startups Meetup as well as at a First Growth Venture Network pitch event. The prizes also include consultation services and tickets to AngelVineVC, a New York–based, invite-only event for serial entrepreneurs, investors, and executives from the technology industry.

After JohnDough won, Podell imparted to the crowd how he left a 13-year career on Wall Street to explore opportunities in the startup scene. “I’m trying to do something new with my life,” he said. “If you take a chance, really cool shit can happen.”

The participants in the FinTech weekend naturally had some guidance to help them hammer out their strategies. Brian Shields, co-founder of IncubateNYC, served as a coach and spoke to Xconomy about keeping the teams grounded. “People start off with a lot of excitement,” he says. “The concern I always have is a weekend isn’t long enough to truly come up with an idea in the fin-tech space that can be executed and tested well.”

IncubateNYC is a boot camp to help drive startups to mature their plans. Shields says the complexities of financial technology and competition, especially among consumer-facing products, make it difficult to gain a foothold. Shields’s prior experiences included investing in and helping to grow financial technology companies. He says he would like to see more participants with financial services backgrounds attend FinTech Startup Weekend to share their first-hand knowledge with the tech-savvy crowd.

“There were a lot of developers with creative ideas,” Shields says. “It took them time to find context for them.”

Shields praised the more professional tone of the financial technology–focused event, compared with some generic hackathons, which run the risk of devolving into free-for-alls. “Hackathons, in general, have this stigma of being a cool thing to do on the weekend,” he says. “Maybe you create something meaningful, maybe not, but it’s fun.”

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