Today, I’m starting a new role as Managing Director for the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars, where we are seeking out the world’s best entrepreneurs working in payment tech and cross border money movement. I’m thrilled to be applying my experience as a founder to help startups think big and different around the cutting-edge of these spaces, and to partner with a forward-thinking company like Western Union in doing so. The startup world is a place I’ve spent a lot of time, and I like it here. Let me explain.
Cast your mind back to 2008. I know, it was just 11 years ago, but those years have been huge. Social media was still brand new (Twitter was founded in 2006, the same year that Facebook opened up to everyone with an email address). The world economy was in financial crisis. Payment tech wasn’t something that the average person knew or thought about: IndieGoGo got its start in 2007, and Kickstarter in 2009.
As for me, in 2008 I launched a startup called GiveForward, centered around peer-to-peer fundraising. My co-founder Desiree Vargas-Wrigley and I had this notion that people should be able to use the internet to raise money for the people and causes they care about. To us, this seemed like a pretty sensible idea. But when we went to raise capital from VCs, we were laughed out of the room. Literally. Time after time, we were told this idea would never work and that we should instead be a non-profit. We knew these investors were wrong but we didn’t have many options, so we decided to bootstrap the company and hoped that one day people would come around on the idea.
Two years later we found our first true believer. We received an offer to participate in the inaugural class of Techstars Chicago (then called Excelerate Labs). After deliberating for a solid half second, we accepted the offer. I can pinpoint that moment as one that would change my life forever.
Coming out of Techstars, we raised several rounds of venture capital, partnered with Nationwide Insurance, and went on to help people all over the world raise hundreds of millions of dollars on our platform for things like cancer treatments, organ transplants, and life-saving surgeries. Just a few years after we launched, the idea that you could raise money on the Internet officially caught on. More than a thousand platforms like ours sprang up around the world, and this new industry has changed the way we think about financing everything. Today, we know this space as crowdfunding.
I tell you this not to claim I can see into the future (I can’t, unfortunately), but to demonstrate that I’m comfortable with new ideas that may sound crazy—but may also be the beginning of next big thing. And to explain why I’m such a strong believer in Techstars and the amazing boost that it can give to startups—by believing in them, investing in them, mentoring them, and connecting them to the worldwide network.
I also want to point out that I’m not alone in my love of big ideas. Western Union has been an innovator for its entire 167 years. They built the first telegraph line across the U.S. (1861) and launched the first commercial satellite into orbit (1974). Today, more than 70% of their digital transactions originate on mobile devices, and in the past year they moved $300 billion across 200 countries and territories and 130 currencies. They can handle your big idea: they want to hear it. Just imagine how crazy that telegraph line sounded the first time someone pitched it!
Western Union and I want to hear your crazy, amazing, world-changing ideas for payment tech and cross border money movement. We’re looking to solve the industry’s biggest opportunities through technologies such as digital identity/KYC, digital/omni-channel solutions, digital wallets, reg-tech, crypto and blockchain, ML/AI and new analytic approaches, all while leveraging the creative and agile thinking of some of the fintech industry’s brightest minds.
In the year ahead, I’m looking forward to seeing the entrepreneurs I’ve met and worked with in our new Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars take the stage, make their pitch, and crush it. We’ve only just opened the call for applications, but I can’t resist fast forwarding to that moment, and the satisfaction I’ll feel at knowing Western Union mentoring and guidance played a part.
Skeptical observers of Western Union—and maybe even some entrepreneurs out there—might see our relationship with Techstars and the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars as “Western Union outsourcing its innovation engine.” I get it. We’ve been around for 167 years. I’m the person who leads Western Union’s strategy and innovation groups, among other things, and I know that our venerable age results in some outdated perceptions of the company.
However, I’m also here to tell you that this is dead wrong. We’ve been innovators over the long haul. Western Union innovations have profoundly affected U.S. business and culture.
Western Union built the first telegraph line across the U.S. in 1861, issued one of the first consumer charge cards in 1914, launched the first domestic commercial satellite into orbit in 1974, and sold the first prepaid phone card in 1993. We commercialized the concept of digitizing money! (We also gave Thomas Edison one of his first jobs, as a messenger, but I digress.)
Our innovation heritage and staying power should be instructive to many emerging companies. We’re living proof of our own ability to innovate and disrupt ourselves. But our longevity and global reach—with a retail footprint that’s larger than all of Starbucks and McDonalds combined—can also throw people off. It’s hard to appreciate Western Union’s innovative culture from the outside, and many people still think of us as mainly a cash retail network for moving money.
The reality is that we’re profoundly digital. More than 70% of our digital transactions now originate on mobile devices. Last year we moved $300 billion across 200 countries and territories and 130 currencies. We just announced a collaboration with Amazon, so international customers in a number of countries can shop global and pay local. We can send money to billions of accounts and mobile wallets. Our platform sets the standard for international money movement, but that doesn’t mean we have all the answers or that we’re satisfied. We’re never satisfied—that’s how we’ve stayed innovative so long.
We see the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars as an important new way to collaborate with innovative startups in the payment tech space in a range of areas, from digital customer experience and point-of-sale solutions to fraud prevention, anti-money laundering, digital wallets and stored value, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, to name a few.
We’re excited to engage with a diverse set of applicants from all over the world, and we have more than just money as our skin in the game. We’re ready to learn as well as mentor. One of our most important cultural pillars as a company is that we believe good ideas come from everywhere. I can tell you what we’re bringing to the table: the expertise, global perspective, data insights, and energy of a company that is undergoing a huge transformation. I can’t wait to see what the startups who join Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars will bring. I know we’re going to do amazing things together.
As the accelerator application process begins, we see this as another pivotal moment for Western Union, one in a long history of innovations. We’re mobilizing some of our best experts and innovators, from engineers to business-minded mentors, who are ready to engage, to explore tough questions, and to create something new. We’re excited about how this process will accelerate our own future, too.
Applications for the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars close March 3, 2019. Start your application today. If you’d like to learn more and get feedback prior to applying, you can request Office Hours here.
Want to Define New Cross-border, Cross-currency Money Movement Technologies or Deliver Winning Sportstech Solutions? Applications Now Open for Techstars Q2 2019 Mentorship-driven Accelerators!
Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, is excited to announce the opening of applications for two 2019 Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerators across the United States.
Techstars will be opening applications on December 3rd for two new mentorship-driven accelerator programs: Western Union Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, based in Denver, Colorado, and Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy, based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Each accelerator is accepting applications through March 3rd, with programs kicking off the week of June 10th.
As a global leader in financial services in cross-border, cross-currency money movement with a heritage of over 150 years of innovation, Western Union (NYSE: WU) is excited to help startups bring cutting-edge customer solutions to the ever-changing financial services industry, and have access to entrepreneurial talent and emerging technologies. Western Union Accelerator, Powered by Techstars is looking for entrepreneurs and startups addressing digital customer experience, point-of-sale solutions, fraud prevention, digital ID, cross-border transaction processing, digital wallets, and other related technologies.
Founding partners of Techstars Sports Accelerator including Pacers Sports & Entertainment, NCAA, Indiana Sports Corp, Next Level Fund and 50 South Capital, and supporting partners the Indianapolis Colts, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series are proud to come together to propel innovation geographically in the Indy region, as well as industry-wide in the world of sports technology. The business of sports is big and the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy will focus on disruptive technologies across the sports landscape from solutions for fans, player/driver safety, ticketing, merchandising, athlete performance management and athlete wellness across the technology spectrum. Everyone will be a winner!
At Techstars, we’ve created the network that supports your startup by surrounding you with the right people to mentor, inspire and challenge you and your team. Check out these founder stories from Techstars alumni companies like SendGrid, ClassPass, and DigitalOcean to learn how each Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator program facilitates an environment where entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses and move towards growth and success.
This past October, SendGrid (Techstars Class 4) was acquired by Twilio (a Techstars Ventures portfolio company) for nearly $2 billion. Both Twilio and SendGrid have been impacted by Techstars over the years. In many ways, this deal is just the latest, headline-grabbing step in a nearly decade-long story about the power of the Techstars network in action.
Over the past 11 years, more than 1600 companies from countries around the world have participated in Techstars accelerator programs, raising over $6 billion in funding. With Techstars worldwide network of 10,000+ mentors, partners, investors and founders, we’re excited to continue our mission and source the next wave of promising entrepreneurs to join our community. Apply today to take the next step in your startup journey and join the Techstars worldwide network.
Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and Western Union Company (NYSE: WU), a leader in cross border, cross currency money movement, have come together to spur the next generation of disruption in the fintech sector with a focus on payments and seamless global money transfer, and are pleased to announce the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars. This is the third mentorship-driven accelerator program for Techstars in the Denver-metro area, following Techstars Boulder Accelerator and Techstars Sustainability Accelerator in Partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
Entrepreneurs in the program will create innovative solutions to some of the industry’s latest challenges including ML/AI, crypto and blockchain technologies, analytics and omni-channel platforms while leveraging both the start-up industry’s leading minds complemented with the corporate experience of Western Union’s executives.
Western Union and Techstars encourage all fintech, payments and related field startups addressing digital customer experience, point-of-sale solutions, fraud prevention, global identification, cross border transaction processing, digital wallets, and related technologies to apply to the accelerator program.
By partnering with a global company like Western Union, Techstars can foster the right connections for a multitude of startups and help them gain access to the mentorship and resources they need to succeed. Colorado is already one of the leading technology centers in the world, led by companies like Western Union. This partnership will foster innovation and help change the fortunes of young innovators locally and globally by bringing their ideas to life for people around the world.
Applications will open in December 2018 with the program kicking off in June 2019. Companies interested in applying are encouraged to fill out the General Interest Form.