Although widely known, statistics for student loan debt in the United States are still quite shocking: Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among 43 million borrowers. Just for the Class of 2016 alone, the average graduate had $37,172 in student loan debt – up six percent from 2015.
After graduating from Princeton University in 2005, Matthew Cooper and his parents faced a similar grim reality. In witnessing the painful loan process dealt to his parents-a minister and a teacher-from a customer service and technical perspective, he knew something had to change. “For me it was very clear that what was most wrong with the consumer loan space was the process of making payments,” says Cooper, “especially for minority and low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities.” However, it wasn’t until 2014 that Cooper would join forces with Nadin Homsany to found EarnUp, a consumer-first financial technology platform allowing for an automated budgeting process to make loan payments simpler for the consumer – or the more than 200 million Americans with debt.
EarnUp earned institutional funding after Cooper met David Blumberg at a March 2016 StartOut event at the law firm of StartOut Advisor, Mike Sullivan. After raising $3 million in seed-stage funding from Blumberg Capital, Kapor Capital, and other leading angel investors, the fintech startup launched in early July with a mission to improve consumer financial health. EarnUp has scored some major partnerships to facilitate this mission, including Dr. Dan Ariely’s CommonCents Lab through Duke University, and the prestigious Financial Solutions Lab in partnership with JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and the Center for Financial Services Innovation.
The consumer-first platform provides an automated process to pay back loans faster by setting aside extra money for future payments whenever consumers can afford it. “With thousands of active users, we are simplifying consumer’s financial lives by helping them get out of debt with less stress,” says Cooper. “It is very humbling.”
The world of finance is nothing new for Cooper: after working for a Saudi bank in his mid-20s, his return to the states brought him to the heart Los Angeles as a private equity investor for Clearlake Capital Group. As an out entrepreneur, he attended gay tech and startup events in San Francisco, meeting the likes of serial entrepreneur Tom Burke and Shift founder George Arison – the latter of whom connected Cooper to Mike Sullivan and his network of LGBT venture capitalists in the Bay Area.
For many startups, raising money can be a long, uphill struggle. Angels, venture capitalists, executive summaries, pre-money valuations, due diligence… Unless you’re a serial entrepreneur, getting financed can present a daunting challenge. Luckily for Cooper, beginning his startup proved less daunting through a series of organic relationships formed within StartOut’s diverse ecosystem of LGBT business leaders. “StartOut gave me access to high-quality capital and more networks of investors to pursue,” he states. And with recent coverage in Forbes and the New York Times, the future of EarnUp is bright in its quest to transform the consumer loan payment experience in the United States.
And what advice does Cooper have for other LGBT entrepreneurs? Simply put, “Turn your life’s struggles into your greatest assets.”
To learn more about EarnUp and employment opportunities, visit: http://www.earnup.com.
Founded in 2009 with chapters in New York City and San Francisco, StartOut is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization fostering and developing entrepreneurship in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) community. StartOut helps aspiring LGBT entrepreneurs start new companies; supports current LGBT entrepreneurs as they grow and expand their existing businesses; and engages successful LGBT entrepreneurs as role models and mentors. StartOut’s goals are to support, educate, inspire and connect members of the LGBT community around entrepreneurship and business leadership. Learn more and become a member at https://startout.org/membership.