By W.B. King
Some of the brightest minds in fintech didn’t let the pandemic impede them this October and instead readjusted respective approaches and virtually zoomed into NACUSO’s 2020 Next Big Idea competition.
“This year everything changed since the live event – like so many – was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. We had nine companies compete to be in the Final Four,” explained NACUSO’s Membership and Advocacy Development Director, Denise Wymore. “The Final Four were each given seven minutes to present to the judges.”
Likened to “Shark Tank,” the Next Big Idea Competition is in its eighth year. Usually the event takes place with hopefuls presenting to judges and the audience in person, but the pandemic changed the approach. And while the judges could ask questions during the respective pitches, the competitors were voted on by virtual attendees.
Prior to this year, Wymore explained that NACUSO awarded the winner a trophy and an invitation to speak at the annual NASCUS Summit Conference, an event bringing together credit union regulators and practitioners for mutual exchange and dialog.
This year, however, CO-OP Financial Services served a special role. The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based payments and financial technology company provided a cash prize totaling $10,000 for the first and second place winners.
“It was interesting to see the voting and the general feedback from the judges’ panel. While the judges were able to ask questions, the final selections were made by the popular vote of the audience,” said CO-OP Financial Services’ Chief Product Officer Bruce Dragt, who served as one of the four judges. “I believe that in selections that are generated by popular vote, there is both the inherent idea being presented and the manner by which the idea is presented that stand out.”
Invention and Altruism
Among those vying for the top prize was NetGiver and its “exclusive-to-credit union charitable giving” mobile app that was designed to eliminate credit card, platform and administrative fees associated with charitable transactions.
“We like to shake things up, and spur conversation, so we started our presentation with help from a short film starring ‘Captain Credit Union,’” noted NetGiver’s Co-Founder Eric Berg of his team’s remote performance. “The Captain battles the ‘Big Bad Banking Bandit’ who steals fees from all of the charitable donations. With the help of members, Captain defeats the bandit and credit unions and their members do more good in the community.”
Rounding out the Final Four was Illuma Labs’ real-time voice authentication and fraud prevention service for credit union call centers; Pure IT Credit Union Services’ solution that offers customized strategic roadmaps to help credit union attain goals, regardless of what solution or gadget they implement; and Posh Technologies’ artificial intelligence (AI) platform designed to integrate seamlessly with credit union backend tools, from banking cores to customer relationship management systems.
When the votes were tallied, NetGiver took first prize, which along with bragging rights, included a $7,500 check. Posh Technologies secured second place and a $2,500 award.
“As a team we decided that we need to put our money where our mouth is. On December 1st, as part of #GivingTuesday, we selected at random 25 nonprofits enrolled on the NetGiver platform and made donations through NetGiver using the prize money generously sponsored by CO-OP Financial Services,” said Berg. “We look at it this way: Sure, a startup is hard, but it’s not as hard as not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night, or where your next meal is coming from. We can do more good by providing help to others in their time of need and at the same time demonstrate the impact we can all make by using NetGiver.”
A ‘We Must’ Innovation Approach
When asked about the outcome of the competition, Dragt said that NetGiver had a “very compelling video with interesting characters and a compelling problem/solution.” He believed that people related to a practical problem and a direct solution. With regard to Posh Technologies, he said the solution stood out based on the background of the founders, the application of current must-have technology (artificial intelligence) and the integration of that technology into improving current pain points that credit unions face today.
“If I had to characterize the two in the same construct, Posh won the ‘head’ of the viewer and NetGiver won the ‘heart,” said Dragt. “All four finalists performed extremely well and I felt it was very difficult to select stand-out winners as everyone performed at the top-notch level that you would expect for this type of competition.”
While Dragt added that CO-OP Financial Services doesn’t currently have investments or significant relationships with any of the finalists, he said: “We will reach out and explore some options with some of them.”
Competitions aside, Dragt feels that in certain ways the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “significant accelerant” for innovation because it has underscored real-time problems and the urgency to solve them.
“Prior to the pandemic, there were lots of ideas/concepts and they would make their way to having people spend focused innovative time on them, but without urgency. Since the pandemic, the list has sharpened and the urgency has dramatically increased, generally reaching the point of ‘we must’ versus ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if we would,’” he said.
“It is hard to call this a silver lining as the driver has affected so many people’s lives but it has definitely been the motivator to get us innovating on solving real-world challenges faced by members that will be dramatically impacted by the innovations being delivered,” he added.