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
This San Franciscan has guided Credit Karma's U.K. launch through the craziness of Brexit.
Last November, 12-year-old personal finance giant Credit Karma announced that it was expanding to the United Kingdom by acquiring Noddle, a British credit monitoring service. The move thrilled Nichole Mustard, Credit Karma’s co-founder and chief revenue officer. As the woman helming the expansion, which kicked off in April, she could finally return to her entrepreneurial roots and build something from scratch. The benefits of founding experience, scale, and financial stability--none of which she had when Credit Karma launched just before the financial crisis--have helped her quickly assert Credit Karma’s place in the U.K. despite the economic uncertainty of Brexit. She’s done so by making all of Credit Karma U.K.’s services free, as they are in the United States, and by ramping up marketing, almost doubling the company’s month-over-month investment in June and July. The company is hiring, too, with plans to expand staff by a third to more than 100 by the end of 2019. As fulfilling as the experience has been, Mustard is already looking for a successor so she can return to San Francisco, where her wife and four children remain. “Sometimes, there’s a challenge with pursuing what makes you happy in your career,” she says. “There’s no perfect road map for that kind of stuff.” --Cameron Albert-Deitch
Her A.I. software promises to take some of the cost out of real-estate development.
Olivia Ramos earned master's degrees in architecture from Columbia University and in real estate development at the University of Miami. But it wasn’t until she was working as a construction project manager in Miami that she saw a need for software that would merge demographic, zoning, financial, and legal data all in one place. “There was a glitch in the system,” says Ramos. She founded Deepblocks at Singularity University in Mountain View, California, in 2016 and launched her program this past May. Deepblocks’ A.I. software accesses and integrates construction costs, income, and other market data that is publicly available but often difficult to track down, saving developers, investment brokers, and architects huge amounts of time. Even a developer who knows a market well might need six hours to come up with a feasibility analysis for a given parcel of land. “But with our software, they can do the same amount of work in 20 minutes,” says Ramos. Real estate pros in 1,100 U.S. cities are already using the software, which the company is also testing in the United Kingdom, Panama, and Nigeria. Ideally, the cost savings will flow through to property renters and buyers too. If it does, says Ramos, “perhaps we can lower the cost of living.” --Hannah Wallace
Her smartphone app has brought microlending to millions in emerging economies.
When Shivani Siroya discovered how hard it was for billions of people in emerging markets to access even basic financial services, she was determined to do something about it. “People used to do group lending,” says Siroya. “But as we’ve moved them into the formal economy, we’ve broken things,” among them the informal networks through which communities make loans to their members. Her vision was for a tech platform that could generate a credit score, offer a loan, and administer it—all via a smartphone. Siroya taught herself to code and accompanied people to banks in India to learn why they weren’t getting loans. She appeared in dozens of business plan competitions, winning multiple fellowships and raising her first $200,000. By the time of her seed round in 2013, she had launched her app in Kenya and had about 50,000 customers. Now Tala, which has raised a total of $225 million in equity, has about 540 employees in four countries—Kenya, India, Mexico, and the Philippines—and has more than three million customers.—Kimberly Weisul
With her platform, consumer privacy and data sharing can coexist.
While working on a project for Uber, Dawn Song, a professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, grappled with the conflicting imperatives that many companies face these days: to protect the privacy of their customers and to use customer data to make better business decisions. Last year, she launched Oasis Labs, which is developing a cloud-computing network employing blockchain and encryption technologies to give consumers and patients control over their information while letting analysts run computations with higher-quality data. “The analysts can still do their jobs,” says Song. “But we can prevent them from doing things they are not supposed to do--like, in the case of Uber, giving out individual riders’ information.” At a time when organizations ranging from tech giants to local police departments face criticism for misuse of personal data and threats of new regulation, interest from industry is high. Within four months of launch, the company raised $45 million in venture capital. Its technology also has the potential to speed up and improve medical research: Oasis is starting trials at Stanford University Medical Center that will let researchers work on patients’ data without endangering their privacy and possibly pay them in cryptocurrency to make their data available for clinical studies. --Leigh Buchanan