Her company's loans for professional and vocational training don’t leave students drowning in debt.
Americans are drowning in student debt--$1.5 trillion of it, or an average of around $34,000 per borrower. But student lender Climb Credit, which specializes in financing vocational and professional education programs, tries to keep its borrowers’ costs down and their payoff high. The typical Climb loan is just $10,000, and is paid back over an average of three years after graduation—and the startup claims that its borrowers, who might use the money for a computer coding or trucker training program, see a 67 percent increase in their salaries. “I’d never before worked at a company that was impact-oriented, where the problem we were solving was one that was really causing people to suffer ... and [where the product can] quickly take somebody from one earning bracket to another,” says CEO Angela Ceresnie, who earned her credit chops at American Express and Citigroup before co-founding fintech startup Orchard Platform. She joined Climb in 2016, two years after its launch, and became CEO in 2018. This year, she has raised $9.8 million in Series A venture capital, signed up more school partners, and started work on some new products. The most intriguing? An income-share agreement that would forgive the debt of any student who doesn’t get a job after graduation. Ceresnie says: “Every dollar that we lend out is a dollar going to someone who’s looking to better their life.” --Maria Aspan
She's made online insurance shopping easy, human, and as fun as possible.
Former McKinsey consultant Jennifer Fitzgerald spent the financial crisis advising big, flailing insurance companies. So naturally, she decided to start an insurance company of her own. Policygenius, which Fitzgerald co-founded with McKinsey colleague Francois de Lame, started off as an online broker of life insurance, selling old-school policies to phone-call-averse Millennials via quirky subway ads. In January, the New York City startup added home and auto insurance to its sales docket, a product expansion that Fitzgerald calls “an absolute rocket ship,” adding that the company’s overall (if undisclosed) revenue is up fivefold this year. All of this business growth has forced a lot of hiring--Policygenius has 235 employees now--especially in the customer-service department, as shopping for insurance can be complicated. “At some point the consumer will want to talk to somebody,” Fitzgerald says. “We just did not have enough humans on staff to deal with the volume, and I still think that we’re not at capacity.” But Fitzgerald is mainly excited that her company is growing to the point of having “champagne problems.” --Maria Aspan
Moving abroad shouldn't shred your credit history. Her startup helps keep it intact.
When Nicky Goulimis moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue an MBA at Stanford, she couldn’t bring her credit history with her. Getting a credit card took more than a year. In 2016, Goulimis and her co-founders—both of whom are also immigrants—launched Nova Credit to help immigrants transfer their credit histories to the U.S. The startup, which splits its headquarters between New York City and San Francisco, partners with financial institutions and lenders that use credit scores to grant loans or approve leasing applications. While the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies haven’t helped business, Goulimis and her team only feel emboldened. “This adds a lot more emotional weight to the work that we do,” she says. Investors have also stepped up. Last year, Nova Credit raised a $16 million Series A round, bringing its total funding to nearly $20 million. --Guadalupe Gonzalez
Uniquely accessible to newcomers, her investing platform is one women actually want to use.
Sallie Krawcheck launched Ellevest, an investing platform for women, the day before the 2016 presidential election, because, she says, “we were going to have a female president.” But on the desire of women to find a different way to invest, Krawcheck, the former CEO of Citigroup’s Smith Barney unit, has been a bit more prescient. Of the many attempts to serve this market, Ellevest has arguably gained the most traction, with about 400,000 registered users, more than 50,000 clients, and around $365 million in assets under management. A big factor in Ellevest’s success is that Krawcheck designed it to be uniquely accessible to newcomers. “You can invest a penny, but I can’t get you a diversified portfolio for that,” she says. “For a dollar, I can.” This year Ellevest also introduced high-net-worth investment services. The company’s zeitgeist-y message of financial empowerment has resonated in this #MeToo era, and Krawcheck has appeared on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show and BuzzFeed’s Ladylike. And even though Ellevest has been spending more on marketing and recently completed a $34.5 million financing, its cost of acquiring a customer has fallen from a few hundred dollars at launch to a figure, says Krawcheck, “in the tens.” --Kimberly Weisul
She took on the payday lending industry, bringing affordable credit to those who need it most.
Ennie Lim knows full well how important--and precarious--one’s credit score can be. After her divorce, the so-called age on her credit score suddenly sank to zero--and generally, older is better. Her only option for a personal loan: payday lenders. “Payday loans are a $90 billion industry and taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in America,” says Lim. In 2018, she launched HoneyBee to make small, low-interest loans to people through their employers. HoneyBee currently works with more than 150 companies, mostly midsize businesses of 150 to 200 employees, and it expects to have about 300 by year's end. HoneyBee’s typical loan goes those who make about $20 an hour and suddenly need $600 to $800 to fix their car, without which they can’t work. The loan is due in 90 days, and if an employee quits or is fired, HoneyBee can collect it against paid time off. So far, HoneyBee has made $1.8 million in loans, and plans to be operating in all 50 states by next year. --Kimberly Weisul