Hi there, I’m Kelly — the new Executive Director of FinTech Sandbox!
I believe we are in a new stage of the company’s growth as we continue to enable early-stage FinTechs to build products by giving free access to critical data and services through a data residency program. In September, I took over for the incredible Jean Donnelly to lead the team and guide the organization through its next iteration. When FinTech Sandbox founders Sarah Biller and David Jegen reached out about becoming the new Executive Director, I jumped at the extraordinary opportunity to work with and learn from such a smart, generous group of people.
Leading FinTech Sandbox leverages all of my past experiences, which is a big reason why I was so excited to take on the role. From my years as Program Director at Techstars’ FinTech accelerator program — the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars — I understand how early-stage FinTechs operate and their needs and challenges, especially when it comes to working with enterprises. Several of my Techstars portfolio companies are also FinTech Sandbox companies, so it’s great to have that overlap. I also know the ecosystem really well because I curated and managed a community of industry experts, VCs, and financial institutions. From my time with Bloomberg LP, I’ve seen the data provider perspective as well — — all of which is incredibly helpful as Executive Director at FinTech Sandbox.
Since joining the team, there are a few questions I’ve been asked again and again, so I thought answering them here would be a good way to share my vision of FinTech Sandbox.
Are you moving to Boston?
Easily, the top question I’ve been asked so far. And the answer is that I’m staying New York City-based.
Given that my team is primarily based in Boston and Massachusetts is FinTech Sandbox’s HQ, I will be making frequent trips north to support my team and the Boston startup ecosystem. Once travel and in-person events are more active again, I’ll also be making regular trips to other major FinTech hubs to support those ecosystems, too.
FinTech Sandbox and the Boston community are synonymous to many. It is our home, our roots. The Boston community is more robust than most people realize — hundreds of FinTech startups are based in the Greater Boston Area. But it’s also open, welcoming, and collegial too, which allows for its great university talent and strong ecosystem to thrive. One of the signature events we host — Boston FinTech Week — began as a way to celebrate this vibrant FinTech community.
But, there are many in the FinTech bubble around the world who have never heard of FinTech Sandbox or think that we only focus on Massachusetts, which is definitely not the case. We support companies across all of the US, Canada, UK, and more. 78% of our startups actually come from outside of the Boston/New England area, and New York City is our biggest hub of FinTech Sandbox startups.
It’s important to our mission that we have the same active presence in great ecosystems all around the world — — Atlanta, Toronto, San Francisco, London, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, the list goes on and on — — in order to support FinTech entrepreneurs even better. Especially as we talk about building an Inclusive Finance landscape, having a broad perspective and wider reach becomes imperative to creating more accessible financial solutions.
Why did you decide to work for a nonprofit?
I honestly didn’t realize FinTech Sandbox was a nonprofit — — maybe you didn’t either. I’ve known Jean Donnelly, my predecessor, and the great Sarah Biller, a FinTech Sandbox founder, for several years now, and yet I still had no idea. To me, that speaks to the power of this team and to the power of this mission. I was, and continue to be, impressed that such a secretly small team, backed by a group of forward-thinking sponsors, built a network of over 40 data providers and helped advance more than 200 early-stage fintechs.
FinTech Sandbox does not take equity from the startups. For many, operating without a profit motivation in the financial services industry seems almost counterintuitive. We see ourselves instead as enablers and connectors within the ecosystem, bringing the startups, the data providers, and the large enterprises to the table to build impactful products together. It’s not just about the data though; it’s also — and has always been — about building community.
What do you have planned for FinTech Sandbox?
FinTech Sandbox has been around since 2014, when FinTech wasn’t known in the way it is today, and the data needs were completely different. The data we’ve traditionally focused on has generally been capital markets and lending related, but that was more based on market trends, rather than an intentional direction. Today’s data needs are much more about unstructured data, consumer behavior data, alternative data sources — all of which can be very challenging to access and challenging to take in in a usable way.
As many companies — and people — have done in 2020, we asked ourselves — who do we want to be going forward? Our response is to double down on our original mission of promoting entrepreneurship and financial technology innovation globally, but also to focus more deeply on one particular theme within finance, which will allow FinTech Sandbox to offer even more of the right data and even easier access to that data. In turn, this will allow us to better support FinTech entrepreneurs and continue to grow our impact on the ecosystem.
As a whole, the financial services industry needs to be more inclusive, more accessible, and frankly, more current. The pandemic has really shined a light on the cracks in our systems, and FinTech is chomping at the bit to mend them. At FinTech Sandbox, we believe it’s going to be early-stage companies — — created in the last few years or maybe even months — that are well-positioned to lead these changes. We’re going to see a lot of interesting technologies and ideas come to the forefront as a direct result of the issues we’re experiencing today. But first — they’ll need access to data and resources to build those solutions, and that’s where FinTech Sandbox comes in.
Do you have thoughts or questions? Are you a startup in need of data? A potential sponsor or data partner? Want to join us on this journey? Then please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.