Everyone needs a financial cushion, said Ronnie Washington — even a fintech startup offering low- to moderate-income workers a path to avoid predatory lending practices, the Onward founder said.
A member of KC-based Fountain City Fintech’s inaugural cohort, Onward is one of 10 companies from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico being awarded $1 million grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Communities Thrive Challenge, the competition announced Tuesday.
Onward’s win was emotional, Washington said.
“Startups are a very tough lifestyle. Being an entrepreneur is a very tough journey. There are plenty of moments when I thought we were going to run out of funding, where I didn’t think our efforts would take off how we hoped,” he said. “I suppose a year ago, we actually thought we would have to close our doors due to lack of funding. Fast forward to now; to get a call and the message that we’d received a $1 million grant means everything.
“It means we can actually continue our work and pursuing our mission of providing the most vulnerable — the people who would otherwise have very few options — with an alternative to predatory loans, an alternative to financial insecurity.”
Onward partners with employers to offer its emergency savings platform to their workforces — helping employees save directly from their paychecks into dedicated accounts, and providing financial literacy tools directly to workers’ mobile phones, he said.
Washington’s venture launched in 2016 after he graduated from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business with Onward’s pilot program debuting in February 2017 at Prier Products in Grandview, Missouri.
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The Communities Thrive Challenge whittled more than 1,800 applicants down to fewer than a dozen startups working to expand economic opportunity for low-income and financially insecure people and communities across the country.
“This grant is the most sizable one that we’ve received. It’s probably more than three times our original budget last year,” said Washington. “It allows us to hire a full-time team to invest further in the product itself, which is a mobile app as well as a website, and also expand [in 2019] to more employers — not just throughout the Greater Kansas City area, but throughout the country, so we’re extremely grateful and excited about the opportunity.”
Local support has been gracious and welcoming, he said, noting collaborative interactions with other non-profits and entities in the business community. Onward’s activation through the Fountain City Fintech accelerator at nbkc bank has been key, Washington added.
“They’ve given us space, advisers, access to connections — honestly, the community that surrounded us was really encouraging to the [Communities Thrive Challenge] selection committee,” he said.
Want a sneak peak at the accelerator’s first class?
Ronnie Washington and fellow Fountain City Fintech participant Parker Graham, CEO and co-founder at Destiny Wealth, are set to join Startland’s Austin Barnes and Megan Darnell, Fountain City Fintech program manager, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 at nbkc for Investivus for the Rest of Us — Startland’s December Innovation Exchange event.
The Fountain City Fintech cohort will present its Demo Day 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at nbkc, with keynote speaker Victor Hwang, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.