Introducing FinTech Sandbox

FinTech Sandbox is a new non-profit focused on giving early-stage financial services and FinTech entrepreneurs access to financial data for product development and testing. While it is based in Boston, its mission is to promote entrepreneurship and financial technology innovation globally. Startups will be able to work with the Sandbox from anywhere in the world.

Boston entrepreneurs have catalyzed this effort. FinTech Sandbox is now also supported by data providers, VC firms, financial services companies, law firms, and others in the FinTech community.

FinTech Sandbox will offer startups free or discounted access to:

  • robust data sets and feeds,
  • cloud hosting,
  • office space, and
  • community.

FinTech Sandbox should be a great complement to incubators and accelerators and other efforts designed to support FinTech entrepreneurs. While the Sandbox has a global purview, it should also give the Boston FinTech community a major boost.

Jean Donnelly is the Executive Director of FinTech Sandbox.

Q.   Jean, how did FinTech Sandbox come about?

A.    FinTech Sandbox was conceived in 2014 and is launching officially in March of 2015.

It was started by a group of FinTech entrepreneurs and investors in Boston who recognized that the high cost and/or inaccessibility of data posed a consistent challenge to FinTech startups and was holding back innovation.

Q.   Who are the people behind the Sandbox?

A.   These are the people who have really helped get FinTech Sandbox off the ground:

  • David Jegen (Devonshire Investors)
  • Dinesh Chheda (Fidelity)
  • Sean Belka (Fidelity Center for Applied Technology)
  • Sarah Biller (Capital Market Exchange)
  • John Fawcett, (Quantopian)
  • Ty Danco (BuysideFX, Boston FinTech Meetup)
  • Liam Donahue (.406 Ventures)

These folks put in lots of work to get data providers to buy into the idea, sponsors to contribute cash to finance the non-profit and to get Goodwin Procter to form the entity and do all the legal agreements on a pro bono basis. Mona Vernon at Thomson Reuters has also been involved in the pre-launch phase.

David Jegen has been the primary driver behind the community effort. He’s a great guy who wants to help entrepreneurs and is really motivated by the philanthropic aspect of FinTech Sandbox.

Q.   Who is financing FinTech Sandbox?

A.   We’re fortunate to be sponsored by some of the nation’s leading financial institutions, data providers, technology companies and investors who share this goal and are excited to help however they can.

Our sponsors include Fidelity Investments, Devonshire Investors, Thomson Reuters, Silicon Valley Bank, Amazon Web Services, Intel, SIX Financial Information, Goodwin Procter and .406 Ventures.

Q.   Why have you organized as a non-profit?

A.   Organizing as a nonprofit was the right way to bring all these organizations together in a cooperative fashion. Some of them are fierce competitors! The Sandbox is a community-led effort and was never thought of as a profit making enterprise.

Q.   What problem are you solving for entrepreneurs?

A.   One of the greatest impediments to starting a FinTech business is the high cost or inaccessibility of financial data, including market data, retail banking data, insurance data and payments data. Without access to deep, quality data, it’s difficult to identify problems to solve and/or test services to the robust standards of financial institutions. By providing streamlined access to a broad range of financial data, we can help entrepreneurs develop and test their applications more quickly and to a higher quality standard.

Q.   Which companies are providing data and what are they providing?

A.   Data partners have agreed to supply FinTech data to our startups at no cost. They are Thomson Reuters, SIX Financial Information, FactSet, Xignite, Tradier, Plaid and Benzinga.

They are making available real time data from exchanges around the world, financial analytics, proprietary news, reference data, third-party content, historical earnings estimates, stock ownership data, transcripts for companies’ conference calls, global mergers and acquisitions data, and a host of other relevant information.

We expect to add other data partners and different types of data as we move forward.

Q.   What’s in it for the sponsors?

A.   For sponsors, the Sandbox offers front row seat at the innovation games. Firms that have sponsored the Sandbox aren’t just watching innovation happen around them — they’re fostering it and learning from it.

Q.   Why do firm want to let startups play with their data? What’s in it for them?

A.   For data providers, the Sandbox is an opportunity to work directly with key startups, to see how their data is being used, and to get direct feedback on that usage. They are nurturing a pipeline of future customers.

Q.   Are you placing any restrictions on the use of this data?

A.   Startups may not use the data ‘in production’ or to generate revenue. That’s one of our few requirements. Our support is meant to help you build and test your service/product using real data. Once your product is ready for production you will need to work with the data providers directly to convert to paid access.

Q.   What other companies are involved?

A.   In addition to the data partners, we have infrastructure and accelerator partners.

Our infrastructure partner is AWS. They provide our startups with top quality cloud hosting and other platform services.

We have also partnered with several FinTech accelerators to complement their offerings with data. If you are part of an incubator or accelerator program, you can apply to FinTech Sandbox and take advantage of both sets of benefits.

Q.   Can you tell us who the mentors will be?

A.   We are just starting to build our community of mentors. Anyone who is interested in being a mentor to our FinTech startups should volunteer via the Sandbox web site. We plan to match startups that ask with people who have the appropriate experience.

Q.   Who is eligible to participate? Are there any restrictions on size of company or business model or existence of revenue?

A.   FinTech Sandbox will be available globally to any FinTech startups in development phase. You can stay in the program for a six-month period.

The requirements are relatively simple. In order to be eligible for the FinTech Sandbox a you should be:

  • Incorporated.
  • Able to explain how you will use the data.
  • Able to guarantee that data obtained through the Sandbox will be used only for testing/development purposes and not commercially sold.
  • Ready to move quickly. This implies you have a CTO or technical lead and your engineering team is prepared to ingest the data right away.
  • Willing to give back to the broader FinTech community

To this last point, we are asking folks to participate in the community through the user forums, events, and GitHub.

There is no formal restriction on company size but we will favor firms that are between seed and Series A funding.

Q.   You are currently in closed beta?

A.   We are. We’ll be launching officially on March 26th.

Q.   What will the application process look like?

A.   Startups may apply directly through our online application, which is at http://fintechsandbox.org/application-startup. We will evaluate companies based on their readiness for the program and our ability to supply the data that they need.

Q.   Is there an application deadline or are you doing rolling admissions?

A.   It’s rolling admissions.

Q.   How will you decide which applicants get free office space?

A.   We are still working that out. Providing office space isn’t our primary mission, but if that is something you need on a short-term basis, please ask. We have a limited number of co-working spaces we can share here in Boston, and we may also be able to refer you to other places where space is available.

Q.   Where is the FinTech Sandbox office?

A.   We are in Boston within the Impact Hub co-working space at the CIC’s financial district location.

Q.   You intend this to be a global resource. What are your plans for making that come about?

A.   We are working with Sandbox evangelists in several key markets. These are folks who will help make FinTech startups in their communities aware of what we have to offer. We are also seeking partnerships with accelerators and incubators across the globe.

Q.   If you’ve already taken part in a FinTech accelerator can you still apply to the FinTech Sandbox?

A.   Definitely yes. We are actively partnering with accelerators and incubators to support FinTech entrepreneurs wherever they reside. We complement startup accelerators that offer more robust training and mentoring by providing access to extensive financial data feeds.

Q.   Are you asking for any equity from participating startups?

A.   FinTech Sandbox will not take equity in the startups nor ask for compensation. In return, we ask entrepreneurs to give back in-kind to the FinTech community.

We ask Sandbox startups to share what they learn with each other, provide product feedback to Sandbox data providers and contribute non-proprietary code or data mapping schemas to the FinTech community.

FinTech Sandbox will host a community support forum on our intranet similar to Stack Overflow, a GitHub repository and in-person opportunities for knowledge sharing among entrepreneurs and data providers. Ultimately, we hope this will be an enduring contribution to the FinTech community like Stack Overflow and Mashape have done for the broader IT community.

Q.   What are your long-term plans for FinTech Sandbox? What do you want it to look like in two years?

A.   We hope to become the hub of the global FinTech ecosystem by fostering a vibrant and connected community, to deliver a functional leg up for entrepreneurs, and to have an enduring impact on API and data access.

Of course, we are only getting started, so right now our objectives are building awareness and beginning to connect data providers and entrepreneurs. We are still expanding the datasets we offer access to and expanding our support services.

Q.   How should people who are interested in FinTech Sandbox contact you?

A.   They can use the contact form on our website: http://fintechsandbox.org/contact.

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