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‘Tinder for fintech’: Holt Accelerator gets new crop of startup hopefuls

Dating season is here again — in the financial technology sphere, at least.

Montreal’s Holt Accelerator is getting ready to welcome its second crop of startup executives for a 12-week training program aimed at bolstering their management skills and putting their companies on a path to growth. A kickoff event takes place downtown Monday, featuring eight entrepreneurs from five countries pitching their stories to industry experts and investors.

Holt’s program matches entrepreneurs active in the so-called fintech industry with business advisers who aim to help make the fledgling businesses sustainable. The entrepreneurs initially receive $30,000 in capital — with the potential for an additional $100,000 if certain performance objectives are met. In exchange, the accelerator takes a minority stake in the companies.

“We’re like Tinder for fintech,” Jan Christopher Arp, managing partner and co-founder of Holt Accelerator, said Friday in an interview. “We’re matchmakers. The teams that we look for are ready to partner with financial institutions. If we can unlock that, then those companies can reach success much more quickly.”

Holt is one of a number of technology accelerators already active in Quebec, ranging from McGill University’s X-1 to FounderFuel, which has backed 89 companies since 2011. It is, however, the only business accelerator in Canada that’s focused exclusively on fintech, and areas such as cybersecurity, data privacy and credit scoring.

Early returns are promising. Vancouver-based software maker Owl.co, a 2018 graduate, raised $2.6 million from investors months after its co-founder trained at Holt. This year, the startup signed up Montreal’s Fairstone Financial Inc. as a customer, with the lender agreeing to use Owl’s software to automate customer verification and authentication.

Holt has more than 200 advisers available to coach participants. They include Basil Bouraropoulos, chief executive officer of artificial-intelligence company Stradigi AI, as well as analysts and executives from the National Bank of Canada, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and a range of other industry players.

Emanuel Balarie, CEO of the Florida-based data-analytics company FundSeeder, is another Holt alumnus. He calls the program “transformational in more ways than one. It provided us with a couple of tangible enterprise clients. That’s a dream for any company that’s looking for scale.”

Through an accelerator like Holt, participants gain access to potential strategic partners, clients, “people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet,” Balarie said. “It’s a stamp of credibility.”

Quebec’s economy also stands to benefit from the growth of companies such as FundSeeder, however modestly. Having recently opened a one-person office in Montreal, FundSeeder is now looking to hire staff locally as business expands, Balarie said.

Holt received about 600 applications from around the world for this year’s program, whittling them down to eight. The 2019 crop features Canadian, Israeli, Mexican, U.K. and U.S. startups and includes HodlBot, a cryptocurrency trading bot, and ConfirmU, a company that helps people with little or no credit history access financial products.

Travel is a key part of the program. This fall, Holt will take the entrepreneurs on a cross-Canada roadshow — from Vancouver to Toronto to Waterloo, Ont. — to pitch their stories at various conferences and meetings. The journey will culminate here in October at the Canada FinTech Forum, in front of more than 1,000 attendees at the Palais des congrès.

“We’re about supporting the Quebec-based ecosystem in getting to the next level,” Arp said. “How do we get companies to reach their objectives faster? Ultimately, innovation results in better benefits for Canada as a whole.”

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