Advisers Answer: FinTech Director Jean Donnelly Talks About Future of Startups

Jean Donnelly, Executive Director of the FinTech Sandbox and Founders Workbench advisory board member, talks about what’s happening in the startup markets and resources founders should know about in a Q&A with Founders Workbench.

With over twenty years of experience in technology, operations and process excellence in both financial services and clean tech, Jean now heads up an organization looking to create as many collisions within the FinTech ecosystem as possible. She is a recovering engineer who has also spent time at GE Capital, Fidelity Investments, and EnerNOC, as well as a digital forensics startup.

FinTech Sandbox is a Boston-based nonprofit that is the place for all things data. 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, FinTech Sandbox helps entrepreneurs build great products.

How does FinTech Sandbox differ from an incubator or an accelerator?

The FinTech Sandbox is focused on what a startup needs to advance product development, in particular – data needs. We have a network of over 30 partners who will give access to their premium data sets and APIs to the startups that we vet so that they can iterate, and beta test their products. It is a virtual offering – so we have no physical space; we also have a rolling admission process, so startups can join at any time and we partner with over 12 different accelerator programs to enhance their offerings as well. 

What is the most exciting startup development of 2017?

Wow – most exciting startup development is SO dependent on your sector and viewpoint; Accenture expects the FinTech market to rise up to $8 billion by 2018. With companies like Funding Circle and TransferWise changing how financial services are delivered globally, and total investments accumulating, FinTech will continue to be the toast of the town in 2017, closely followed by cloud software (expected to grow to US$76 billion by 2017), and mobile, which has attracted over US$1.9 billion in funding over the past five years. 

What is the most common need of a startup?

Since we are typically dealing with early stage startups, mostly who are B2B facing, the most common need is good product market fit. Feedback from target customers so that their future iterations of their product will match the need, that is why Proof of Concept Engagements with enterprise customers are so critical.

Other than Boston, is there a startup community you’re excited about?

I do think geographies are becoming less critical as more resources move online, and geographic boundaries become blurred. Chicago has a great ecosystem and funding for early stage FinTech startups, as does Los Angeles. Austin is also a hotbed for all sorts of tech, with a more affordable price tag for living. If you look to Europe, with Brexit – cities like Dublin and Amsterdam are in good position to have increased activity with the entrepreneurial community.

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