The NadiFin FinTech Acceleration Program

I’m a booster of accelerator participation for FinTech startups, particularly participation in vertically focused accelerators. B2B FinTech startups generally mature a little later than other types of tech startups and I believe they also benefit from a focus on industry-specific challenges and opportunities.

NadiFin is a relatively new FinTech acceleration program sponsored by MiddleGame Ventures, with support from the LHoFT and Enterprise Ireland, as well as various financial services incumebents. MiddleGame is an early-stage VC firm making post-seed, series A and series B investments in FinTech startups in Europe and North America. It’s led by Pascal Bouvier, Michael Meyer, and Patrick Pinschmidt. 

NadiFin is open to startups from anywhere in the world. Applicants must have at least a minimum viable product and meaningful customer traction or business validation (revenue, pilots, users, etc.).

NadiFin is looking for innovators solving hard problems or re-architecting the financial services industry. This could mean deploying AI/ML or DLT technologies in banking, asset management, insurance, payments, or capital markets, or it could mean providing solutions in digitial identities or RegTech. The focus is on helping participants scale their businesses and succeed in raising additional capital from investors.

The program features a curriculum designed to help entrepreneurs critically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, and take action to address them. Startups compete via peer-voting (powered by Village Capital) for a €100,000 investment from MiddleGame Ventures.

The 2020 program encompasses two one-week in-person workshops this spring. The first is in Dublin from March 30rd – April 3rd and the second in Luxembourg from May 11th – 15th. A one-day webinar takes place in between. The application period opened on January 6th and closes on February 21st. Members of the cohort will be announced on March 6thApply here.

Ten companies participated in the 2019 edition. Three were from England, two from Ireland, two from Luxembourg, and one each from the Czech Republic, Israel, and Sweden. They were:

  • Apla – using distributed ledger technology to improve the boardroom e-signing, e-voting, and investor identification
  • Blocks – connecting investors to real estate opportunities around the world
  • Corlytics – regulatory risk intelligence
  • Gardenia Technologies – increasing the transparency of transactional finance
  • Gecko Governance – providing regulatory solutions for the fund management industry
  • Governance.com – corporate governance for depositaries, management companies and other regulated institutions
  • Mattereum – using blockchain to make the world’s property universally accessible and useful
  • Minna Technologies – subscription management for online banking customers
  • Nivaura – building a digital future for capital markets.
  • Scanovate – enterprise identity and compliance management platform

Gardenia Technologies was voted by its cohort peers as the 2019 winner and received the €100,000 investment. Rupert Schneider, co-founder and CEO of Gardenia Technologies, reports the program provided “very valuable perspectives on my business; the opportunity to meet some fantastic entrepreneurs and great mentors; potential future clients and partners; and an investment from very credible investors”.

While MiddleGame Ventures is a new firm, co-founder Pascal Bouvier will be familiar to many. He’s seen as many FinTech accelerators as anyone, so I asked him why NadiFin. He said, 

“I came to the conclusion that few FinTech accelerators if any specialized in B2B and B2B2C business models or specialized in complex business propositions in capital markets, asset management, data, or identity applied to financial services. I also believe that most accelerators teach startups how to pitch to investors in the narrow sense of the term. This is why we, collectively, created NadiFin, a specialized FinTech accelerator that helps FinTech startups tackle complex finserv issues to scale up. Finally, the fact that startups learn from one another and participate in a P2P voting system to elect the best amongst them makes it a unique format.”

Gene Murphy is Managing Director for the NadiFin program. He sat down with me for a more extensive interview.

Q.     Gene, what makes NadiFin unique?

A.     We know accelerators play a big role at the pre-seed level in taking great raw talent and preparing it for its onward journey. But post-seed, the journey is different. NadiFin works with companies after that seed round and helps them scale their business and position their companies for greater funding opportunities, if needed. NadiFin is efficient and sharp, and it lends itself to interactions between members of each cohort, and the broader ecosystem of potential partners and customers.

The fact that it’s run by three VCs with an awful lot of experience in this area, coupled with some phenomenal mentors who’ve worked across the length and breadth of financial services, makes it a unique proposition.

Q.     The limited time commitment could be beneficial for highly focused teams who know what they want, and have a bit of traction already, but a drawback to startups that need more structure and more hands-on guidance to find their way. Who is NadiFin really best suited to? How should startups self-select?

A.     We are looking for FinTechs providing solutions to the global banking industry that are preparing for their Series A or B round. This program is designed to help those who’ve raised their seed round accelerate even faster. We’ll help them with the challenges and questions that come thereafter. What is the financial narrative going to be as they scale up their businesses? How should they deal with VCs and other investors? Is the product where it really needs to be? Is your team the team you need to take on your next challenges?

We’re looking for companies with ambition that are moving at a very fast pace. If they can duck in for one week in Dublin, one week in Luxembourg, to learn from the MiddleGame Ventures team, to interact with the mentors, to soak up some of the culture in those cities, and — importantly — make connections with the FinTech communities in those cities, I think they’ll learn a lot, have a lot of fun, and position their companies for future growth.  We have had overwhelmingly excellent feedback from prior cohorts.  Don’t take my word for it, reach out to them directly.

Q.     Are there any fees to participate? Any equity taken?

A.     No. There’s no equity taken and no fees to participate.

Q.     How are participants selected?

A.     The evaluation process is straightforward. The team from MiddleGame Ventures — Pascal Bouvier, Michael Meyer, and Patrick Pinschmidt — along with domain experts from our program partners review the applications and then come to a final decision. It’s never easy. We can select just twelve teams to work with which means, unfortunately, that we have to turn people down.

You can see what we’re looking for in the cohort we had last year. Some very exciting companies from all over the world, with phenomenal founders. We had an incredibly varied group.

What’s very exciting is that the overall winner is peer reviewed. Each participant in the cohort gives a very critical but constructive assessment of every other participant. The winner is voted on and selected by the other founders in the cohort. This happens after two weeks of intensive instruction and engagement.

Q.     Who are your partners for the second edition?

A.     Our ecosystem partners include Enterprise Ireland and the Banking & Payments Federation of Ireland; in Luxembourg, we’re very proud to be program partnered with the LHoFT (the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology). Absolutely amazing space and team there. 

We’ll be announcing additional partners over the coming weeks. I’d recommend people keep checking back at NadiFin.com. 

Q.     Why Luxembourg and Dublin, and not, say, London and Frankfurt?

A.     They’re two really exciting hubs in terms of community. It’s a very interesting time in Dublin. We’ve had the International Financial Services Center since the ‘80s and there are a lot of really interesting minds in a relatively small space. In Luxembourg, you’ve got access to tremendous talent and experience. 

Q.     What do the two workshop weeks look like?

A.     I’ve never travelled to space, but I expect the experience is a lot like having g-force hit you.

We use something called the viral framework. It helps you plot where you are with your product, your team, your pricing, your financing. We’ve seen founders take this framework back to run it with their broader management teams afterward to understand whether they are on or off target with their vision.

The curriculum has been refined for over ten years by a company called Village Capital. And the team at MiddleGame worked with them to produce something specifically for that slightly later stage startup.

Startups work with the MiddleGame Ventures team on how they’re pitching, on how they present. Following on from that, we have mock VC meetings where the other team members are judging your pitch. It really helps build up your muscle memory. We also run mock boardroom meetings as well with outside mentors. 

Of course, it’s all about the interactions when you put a group of founders together in a room. Once the bravado shakes off, it’s fascinating to come across them, deep in conversation, hands flying everywhere as they discuss things they’re excited about. There’s constant back and forth with the other teams.

It’s not exhaustive but it is exhausting. As you’d expect, teams are in early and finish late. But there is an energy and a buzz to the classroom discussions, when you bring a group of founders and executives together to work together in a constructive environment of give and take.

Q.     Are you able to facilitate proofs-of-concept?

A.     Partners have their road maps. Proofs of concept are born from that. Two weeks obviously won’t do it, but the introductions we make and the conversations we facilitate allow startups and partners to see the potential for PoCs. When you put good people in a room, great things will happen. This has happened in prior cohorts, and will happen again this year.

Q.     Have you been able to involve other venture investors, given that Middlegame sponsors the program?

A.     We are inclusive and we invite everyone in.  This is for the startups, and they benefit from as broad an interaction as possible with other investors.  We’ve had mentors from different local funds in Luxembourg and Dublin, as well as across Europe. In my experience with the VC community, I found that more often than not people are comfortable working together. There’s almost always multiple participants in a deal.

Q.     Who are the mentors and how involved are they?

A.     I always get in trouble because there’s someone I forget, so the safest answer is that they come from across the financial services ecosystem:  they come from VC investment funds, they come from law firms, they come from consulting firms, they come from custodial banks, from retail banks, from back offices and from risk and compliance. We also have a fair amount of participants from the regulatory community, which is absolutely critical. We have a phenomenal pool of mentors and we can fine-tune the participants based on the startups we select.

It’s interesting to see why mentors do what they do. It’s some of the same characteristics that you see with really great founders. They want to keep learning, they want to keep helping, and they’re really excited about the area.

Q.     What advice do you have for entrepreneurs when it comes to evaluating a potential accelerator?

A.     The first point is understanding your goals over the next twelve months and understanding the impact you want an accelerator to make on your business. From there, you can decide if a program is match. Then evaluate the level of resources and commitment it will take to achieve that.

Do your due diligence. If it’s NadiFin you’re considering, you can see the list of companies that participated last year. Reach out to those founders. Hop on one of our webinars or attend, if you can, the office hours we’ll be running, to find out more about the program. You can also reach out to us directly. 

If you’re post-seed and preparing for your series A or series B round, and you want the opportunity to work with MiddleGame Ventures and our partners over a ten-day period split between two phenomenal cities with two great FinTech communities, I would assume that answers itself. But if anyone needs a nudge, they can email me at gene@nadifin.com

Q.     What kind of homework should participants do prior to showing up in Dublin to maximize the benefits of program participation?

A.     It’s a great question. You’re required to have your elevator pitch ready. It’s good to have your general, longer pitch ready. Practice it. Have your product explanation ready. This being said, it will change dramatically (and for the better) during the program.  

Then take some time as a founding team. Things are moving so fast you may not have been able to ask yourselves what are the gaps, what are the things you want to get from this. Know where you want to go over the next twelve months. Make a list of questions you want to answer going in. Then come with an open mind. Many companies integrate their learnings from the program with their management team in a systematic way which is a great tribute to the program.

Q.     What are the terms of the €100,000 investment?

A.     It’s one of the most common questions that we get. It’s a normal early-stage investment and it’s still subject to confirmatory due diligence by MiddleGame. It’s quite flexible. It could be equity or a convertible note depending on what’s best for the company.

Q.     Is there anything else you’d like people to know that we haven’t covered already?

A.     Start your application as soon as possible. Our application deadline is February 21st. It’s not an arduous application — it shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes to complete — but the earlier you start the more time you’ll have to reflect on your answers. We’ll try to give participating teams as much advance notice as possible so they can book flights and arrange lodging, etc. And if you have questions, please reach out.

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