A tale of three unicorns

October 23, 2022 | By Jen Langione

Many of today’s generation of fintech visionaries were minted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, using new technology and growing digitization to disrupt the status quo. The most successful of these have navigated the uncertainty of the pandemic by understanding how to remain relevant in a rapidly changing global marketplace – and how to harness those changes to bring the benefits of the digital economy to more people.

”The best way to prepare for the future is to create the future,” says Sabrina Tharani, the Mastercard vice president overseeing its Start Path startup engagement program. Mastercard has supported more than 350 startups from more than 40 countries in the program, many of which have become valued commercial partners – and 11 of which have achieved unicorn status, with valuations topping $1 billion (and a handful more approaching that milestone). 

Since its launch in 2014, Start Path has expanded its programming to support fintech innovation across various sectors with the potential to push the industry forward and impact more people: crypto, open banking, small business and In Solidarity for underrepresented founders, including Black founders who traditionally attract only a tiny fraction of venture capital.

Those accepted into the program can access Mastercard assets, resources and expertise to uncover and evaluate opportunities, structure pilots, support the development of new products and services, and forge the connections they need to scale.

There’s no single “it” factor in assessing prospective startups, Tharani says, but the company’s criteria includes the strength of the founders’ credibility and conviction, the potential to scale globally, and the kind of problem they are solving.

“We’re not on the hunt for the next unicorn,” Tharani says. “We are looking for strong, novel and technically sound value propositions that solve real-world challenges. Those companies are more likely to make the most out of the program and find long-term success – but of course, we’re always thrilled when a unicorn is able to say that they started with Start Path.”

To learn more about navigating the path to success, the Mastercard Newsroom interviewed leaders from three unicorns that participated in Start Path. Thought Machine, Zeta and Razorpay all joined the program as early-stage startups and all are working today with Mastercard on next-gen products, including open banking, banking as a service, new payment flows and data and analytics.

Here’s what they had to say:


Banner photo courtesy Thought Machine

Jen Langione, Manager, Communications, Product & Engineering