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Mastercard’s Amy Neale: ‘We make it easy for the best startups to say yes to what we have to offer’

  • Many innovation programs make direct investments in fintech startups.
  • Mastercard found that resources, not money, is a better investment.
Mastercard’s Amy Neale: ‘We make it easy for the best startups to say yes to what we have to offer’

There’s been a bull market in innovation programs launched by large financial institutions over the past couple of years.  Most of these programs involve an FI making a strategic investment in a fintech. Then everyone gets to work helping the fintech navigate the organization to glean its resources.

Mastercard’s Start Path program is a different animal. No money changes hands, as the payments company found that its internal resources and focus on shepherding were way more important than money for fintech companies in its innovation program. There’s a lot of hands-on work to help startups launch desirable and commercially-viable products.

The head of Mastercard’s Start Path program, Amy Neale, joins us on the podcast this week.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

The Start Path program

We are a team across Mastercard based out of Dublin in Europe, New York in North America, Singapore covering Asia Pacific, and Dubai in the Middle East and Africa. Our team keeps its eye on startups and offers promising later-stage companies a virtual six month program. The purpose of this program is to engage and introduce the startups to Mastercard and the subject matter expertise we have within our organization. More importantly, we look for opportunities to work with the startups that we bring through the program.

We’ve been running for five years and recently opened up Start Path to Mastercard customers. We provide these companies access to what we’re seeing in the startup space and offer startups some channels to market through Mastercard’s broad ecosystem.

Cashless acceleration program

No money changes hands. When we started out, we looked at other corporate accelerator programs which modeled Techstars and Y Combinator. Corporates were buying small pieces of equity in really early stage companies, but this type of program wasn’t quite right for us.

We realized quickly that while early stage startups are super cool, later stage firms — ones that raised significant seed rounds or their series A — were more relevant for what Mastercard is trying to do. Those types of companies have a product in market, think about international scale, and have capital in the bank where they’re not worried about running out of money. That’s our sweet spot.

For this stage of company, you’re definitely not looking to take money from a big strategic investor right out of the blocks. Instead, you’re much more interested on the type of commercial opportunities that you can work on together. We wanted to make it easy to the best startups to say yes to our offer.

So, there’s no money changing hands except for a small travel stipend for our startups to help them attend our meetups that we convene.

How Start Path works

We take startups through a pretty rigorous evaluation program prior to joining Start Path. We see about 2000 startups every year and choose 40 to work with. To start, we bring all our startups to a physical location for a week. We call that our kickoff deep dive.

Over the course of that week, we spend time understanding what their challenges are and what they’re looking to deliver over the next six to twelve months. Out of that, we develop a bespoke plan with each of the startups we engage with.

Then, the startup is assigned a Mastercard sponsor — someone who becomes their buddy, advisor, mentor, and door opener over the course of the program. We work together hard on four to five different areas: things like regulation, potential proofs of concept and pilots with Mastercard, or devise a joint go-to-market plan with them.

We can also introduce them to customers, so it’s very important for us to understand their targets and growth potential. Then we can connect them into that broad ecosystem, as well.

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