Editor’s note: New in KC is an ongoing profile series that highlights newly relocated members of the Kansas City startup community, their reasons for a change of scenery, and what’ they’ve found so far in KC. Click here to read more New in KC profiles.
Tim Yu hadn’t given Kansas City much thought — then Alex Smith was traded to the Chiefs from his beloved San Francisco 49ers, he joked.
Fast forward two years and Yu himself has been temporarily traded to the metro as the startup he co-founded alongside Susie Kim and Dante Monaldo — Pluto Money — completes the second cohort of the Fountain City Fintech accelerator program.
“The Midwest isn’t exactly a place you think about when it comes to technology and startups, right? You usually think about coastal cities. Whether that’s New York City or San Francisco or L.A.,” he said of the long-held perception of Kansas City.
For Pluto Money — which focuses on the future of mobile banking for Generation Z by analyzing a user’s finances to create a personalized, gamified financial plan consisting of simple, money-saving challenges — Kansas City is the right fit for this phase of the startup’s development, Yu said.
“The city is actually a lot more technologically advanced than you think [if you’re from elsewhere],” he said. “I’ve been pretty impressed with just how supportive the community is of each other and also how honest they are with themselves, knowing that Kansas City still has a lot of work to do to move up the world and [becoming] the best place for startups.”
A graduate of Barclay Accelerators — a Techstars program — Yu and the Pluto Money team were recruited last fall from New York City by nbkc bank, the home of the Fountain City Fintech program.
“We were looking for a bank partner to take our product to another level, and nbkc just really stood out,” Yu said of early interactions with the bank’s team. “The people who we met there and just their vision around innovation and tech and being consumer first … it was a really easy decision for us to want to work with them and Fountain City Fintech.”
Hesitant, Yu said he and his team weren’t immediately sold on signing on for another accelerator program, having completed several since Pluto Money was founded in 2015.
“They require a time commitment. They required — a lot of times — you to be in two locations for two to three months … some longer than that. They also usually require you to give up more of your company for a small amount of funding,” Yu explained.
Positive reviews from Fountain City Fintech graduate companies — such as Destiny Wealth, SavR and Onward Financial — sealed the deal for Pluto Money’s sign-on in its second showing.
Click here for more on the program including a preview of its Oct. 15 demo day where Yu will showcase Pluto Money.
More than a partner in nbkc and a young program with a solid track record, a stint in Kansas City offered Yu and his team the chance to better study the developing fintech market, he noted.
“A lot of firms like to do market research here and find early adopters here because the people are more representative of America as a whole. Whereas if we were to test the service or product in a place like Silicon Valley, you would have very, very biased results, because everyone there is pretty much a digital native or already in tech,” Yu elaborated, describing opportunities he and his team have identified in Kansas City.
Since Yu’s arrival in the metro, community resources — such as those offered by KC Collective, led by Yu’s colleague in the Fountain City Fintech program, Donald Hawkins — have further impressed him, he said.
“I went to one of their events and met a lot of great people there, so that was great for expanding my network,” Yu added, further noting the program structure at Fountain City Fintech and the accelerator’s focus on providing real-world, entrepreneurial learning experiences to its cohort have also served the company well.
As Yu’s time in the City of Fountains winds down, he’s focused on figuring out where the startup fits into a startup ecosystem and he remains eager to connect with Kansas Citians — especially those in Pluto Money’s target market.
“We certainly want to engage all the students around Kansas City — whether that’s as users or as interns, ambassadors or just to talk,” he said.
“We’re trying to transform this entire new generation — so Generation Z is empowered to pursue their dreams and make an impact in the world,” Yu said. “That’s ultimately what we want to accomplish and financial accessibility just so happens to be a very critical part of that journey.”
Click here to connect with Yu on LinkedIn.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.