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GOING FOR INVESTMENT IN CENTRAL EUROPE: START-UP LIFE OUTSIDE A TRADITIONAL TECH HUB

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A Q&A with Bence Jendruszak, Co-founder and COO at SEON

 

  1. At what stage did you realise you were going to need an investor onboard?

During the early stages of the development (when completing our minimum viable product), we managed secure a Central European payment gateway in order to start using our system (free of charge). From this point on our product development was user feedback driven. It was at this stage, that we realised that our product has gained enough proof of concept, that we were ready to pitch the idea to investors.

 

  1. How important was the investment to getting your business to the current point?

Our pre-seed investment (50k EUR in January of 2017) was the initial kick-start to arriving to the current point. That micro-investment allowed myself and Tamas (Co-founder and CEO or SEON) to start working on the project full time and also to scale up the development team (from freelancers to full time programmers).

 

  1. How did you start the process of looking for an investor? 

We started by setting up our very first pitch deck. Of course, a lot of market analysis and USP shaping went into this. Once we had our first deck, we started contacting investors and started pitching the project to them. That specific pitch deck was very different to what the current version looks like.

 

  1. Were you aware of the challenges you could potentially face as a tech start-up in CE?

We were very well aware of the challenges. The European investment mentality is different than that of the US investment mentality, for example. Investors tend to be more conservative in the EU. Now imagine what the investment mentality may be like in the CE region. Nevertheless, we were also aware of the advantages of setting up a tech start-up in the CE region. The talent pool of

engineers and the cost of labour is by far the best in our home-turf – so the challenge was worthwhile.

 

  1. What was your journey to finding an investor like? Challenges / milestones?

Initially, we were faced with multiple unacceptable deals. The terms and conditions weren’t right for us in the long term. We were always aware that in order to build an international start-up (that would later develop into a scale-up), we had to on-board investors that we were fully comfortable to cooperate with – and vice versa. We needed to be on the same page and have a shared vision for SEON’s future.

 

  1. How did you find your lead investor, Portfolion? What else do they offer in addition to financial investment? (international network etc.)

We met them by introduction from an acquaintance. Portfolion is a well renowned VC in the CE region. They seemed like a partner that we could on-board into our boat and we could steer the ship together with them. They are the subsidiary of OTP Bank, one of the largest banks in the CE region. A potential gateway to partnering with a major bank seemed like a mutually beneficial setup. Aside from receiving a financial investment from the fintech fund of Portfolion, we can happily say that we are providing our fraud prevention services to OTP Bank as of today.

 

  1. What have you learned about the investor landscape in CE?

We found out that European investors are even more sceptical when it comes to CEE countries. They tend to avoid start-ups that aren’t located in hubs like Berlin or London. For them, Hungary is still seen as a former Eastern bloc country playing catch up with the rest of Europe in terms of living standards and infrastructure.

That said, there are a lot of investors in the region, but you really have to focus on getting in touch with the right organization. Onboarding an investor is a long-term partnership, there has to be a fundamental alignment in terms of the vision and mission of the two teams. We believe that we’ve managed to partner with investors who share the same vision and mission as us (up to date).

 

  1. What role will investment play in the next growth stage of the SEON?

 The next growth stage is focused on international expansion. We will be seeking an investor that can provide not only funds, but also somebody that has a solid portfolio of fintech companies and a partner network of financial institutions.

 

  1. Do you have any advice for other businesses in your position that are looking for funding in the CE region?

Do not rush into any deal that is in front of you, time is on your side. If you are in an early stage, make sure to approach as many investors as possible, in order to be able benchmark each opportunity.

 

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BATON SYSTEMS 2022 OUTLOOK

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Responses provided by Jerome Kemp, President, Baton Systems

 

Q. Organisations are forecast to spend nearly $6.6 billion on blockchain solutions this year, an increase of more than 50% compared to 2020, according to a new update to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Blockchain Spending Guide. What does 2022 have in store for adoption of DLT? 

Since 2019, there has been a doubling of spending on DLT related developments. While the evolution in cloud computing transformed how we now store and access data, DLT has the potential to completely revolutionise collaborative interaction between market participants.

The high levels of funding pouring into this space is fueling unstoppable momentum, and I expect we will see this expressed in a number of ways as we cross the threshold into the new year.

We are acutely aware at Baton that interoperable DLT offers considerable possibilities relative to the existing post-trade landscape – possibilities that are now proving far too compelling to ignore. We’re in a situation today where trillions of dollars of financial assets change hands daily across very complex and aging infrastructures that consume massive amounts of financial and human resources. DLT has the potential to completely transform these aging technology stacks offering flexibility, transparency, security, resiliency and immutability, along with automation and collaboration.

2022 will be the year where we will start to see DLT being adopted by leading global financial institutions to address the long-standing risk, efficiency and transparency issues that have plagued post-trade processing for far too long, delivering a level of transformation that’s well overdue.

 

Q. What pinch points and obstacles will the post-trade sector still experience in 2022? 

The attraction of DLT as a means of transforming post-trade processing is undeniable. However, as is the case with any new approach to an age-old problem, DLT will likely continue to be scrutinised, analysed, and treated with a degree of skepticism by the market given its potential to displace existing platforms and network protocols that play a systemically important role in global market infrastructures.

The pace of technological innovation has outpaced the existing regulatory framework and while we see numerous levels of engagement from regulators around the world, the question of if, and then how, these new innovations should be regulated is now a source of regulatory debate.

 

Q. With the FX industry being rife with opportunities for modernisation – in what ways should it modernise in 2022 and in what ways will it modernise in 2022?

It’s not so much a question of how firms should modernise, as many are already undertaking multiple initiatives to do so. I think it’s more a case of firms really considering what they need to be doing today as the industry continues to rapidly evolve. The FX market has witnessed significant change in recent years, partially as a result of the significant increase in trading volumes and margin declines – and while the trading ecosystem has benefited from significant technology investment we are now seeing a notable shift to the post-trade processing space.

The focus now needs to switch to building fully-connected, seamless workflows from the point of execution through to settlement, so market participants have at their fingertips the flexibility to automate netting sets and to settle on demand with whomever they wish based on a number of criteria. It will be through the adoption and embrace of new technologies like DLT that market participants will be able to achieve the goal of performing riskless settlement on demand in virtually any currency and with any counterparty they choose.

 

Q. What are the big opportunities for the sector in 2022 with emerging technologies? 

Settlement risk has plagued the FX industry for far too long and I believe 2022 will see the adoption of emerging technologies that for the first time, will really allow firms to take control. There will be an opportunity to improve transparency through the end-to-end process from trade matching to settlement and as risk has such a huge impact on capital usage, eliminating sources of exposure would allow firms to optimise the deployment of funding and intraday liquidity management.

 

Q. Do you think the CBDCs will play a greater role next year? If so, how?

A growing proportion of the world’s central banks are now actively researching CBDCs and we’re seeing a number of individual experiments with real potential – all of which indicates a very real intention by central banks to systematically move forward with CBDC’s. In the US for example you have the digital dollar project, one of the major initiatives that is underway right now, it’s under the stewardship of J. Christopher Giancarlo, former CFTC chair and Senior Advisor to Baton.

Though I think that we have more ground to cover before we will start to see CBDCs emerge as an integral part of the business as usual (BAU) financial landscape this is an exciting and natural progression in the broader history of money, given the technologies that we are now able to leverage for the greater common good.

I also feel that the CBDC debate will be closely related to the position that regulators ultimately adopt in respect to Stablecoins and how these function alongside the goals and objectives of Central Bankers.

 

Q. Is 2022 going to be the year that we finally see mass adoption of digital market infrastructure?

I believe it is somewhat naive to expect mass adoption of a fully digitised market infrastructure as some sort of big bang event.  As we are well aware, market evolution is predicated upon extensive, iterative analysis relative to, amongst others, the technological, operational, regulatory, financial and human resource implications of changes to the broader infrastructures upon which daily market interactions reside.  I expect to see a greater embrace of digitised infrastructures by large global market participants in 2022, but this will be a gradual process, and I expect to see this enhanced participation as the primary catalyst for progress on the regulatory front.

 

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HOW TO OVERCOME THE DIVERSITY PROBLEM IN STARTUP FUNDING

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1. What is Txeya?

Recognising that many businesses founded by black, female, minority ethnic and LGBTQ+ individuals often don’t get access to the funding and investment support that many other companies do, Txeya is a fintech platform that has been created to champion diversity-led businesses. Its mission is to give these start-ups and their founders a fair chance to access the credit, funding and investor networks they need to get their ventures moving.

Using the power of smart banking, Txeya gives diversity-led businesses access to financial tools to support them across the entire start-up journey and beyond, beginning with one of the biggest pain points for underrepresented entrepreneurs — access to funding.

 

2. What inspired you to create Txeya?

As an entrepreneur who has set up a number of businesses from the ground up, I’m fully aware of the challenges many of us face when trying to fund and grow our new business.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a successful career in investment banking and as an entrepreneur for the last 20 years. And while climbing the career ladder and founding several businesses didn’t come without any challenges, I’m completely aware that growing a new business is even more difficult for diversity founders, particularly when it comes to securing venture capital (VC) funding.

The disparity is shocking and shows no sign of improvement either. Recent research from Crunchbase highlighted that global VC funding to female-founded companies fell to 2.3% in 2020, from 2.8% in 2019.

It’s a situation that’s beyond frustrating, and while there’s a lot of talk about the problem, not enough is being done to initiate change. But with the launch of Txeya we’re set to drive greater equality in entrepreneurship and business investment.

 

3. Txeya is solving problems for diversity-led businesses, but how is it helping investors?

Txeya isn’t just for underrepresented entrepreneurs, it’s a platform that champions the cause for equality from both sides.

Nearly a half (45%) of investors attributed the insufficient number of diverse founders in their portfolio to a “pipeline problem” — a lack of available businesses which fit the diversity profile. But there is no shortage of excellence when it comes to entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, so perhaps investors just don’t know where to look.

While giving entrepreneurs access to funding, credit and investment options, Txeya also opens the door for investors to connect with these exceptional entrepreneurs and convert investment into high-value returns.

 

4. How can funding diversity-founded business benefit investors?

As it stands, great entrepreneurs and great business ideas are being overlooked and investors are missing out on huge opportunities.

If we look at women as an example, when female-founded start-ups do get funded, they’re more likely to be successful and ultimately deliver higher revenue than businesses not led by women — more than twice as much per dollar invested.

Other research also suggests that start-ups with ethnically diverse founders are able to raise more operating cash and provide better financial returns for investors, and in fact outperform others by 30% when they go public or are acquired.

But despite being aware of the issue and the proven benefits of investing in diversity founded businesses, over a half (60%) of VC firms say that their portfolios hold too few diversity-led business, with 83% believing they can prioritise investments in companies led by diverse entrepreneurs and maximise returns.

 

5. What is your broader vision for the company?

There’s no doubt there’s a lot of work to do in order to create a fairer and more diverse venture capital industry, but it’s our commitment at Txeya to make diversity more central in conversations about investment and to become a leading voice on diversity and inclusion in business.

Our initial focus is to create a hybrid digital banking, credit and investor platform solving the first and most known pain point — access to funding.

However, our long-term goal is to become the go-to community for diversity-led businesses. We want to provide entrepreneurs with access to ongoing business support through mentorship programmes and coaching from leaders in the VC space, who are keen to support diversity and inclusion, beyond the initial funding stage to ensure their business flourishes.

 

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