What’s Next In podcast: Two Black fintech founders on access, opportunity and bad advice

February 24, 2022 | By Siobhan Stewart

“Just take the money.”

Fonta Gilliam and Dennis Cail heard this time and again as they worked to get their respective startups Wellthi and Zirtue off the ground. Black startup founders have historically struggled to raise funding — these entrepreneurs receive as little as 1.2% of all venture capital funding the U.S. — but both say that’s among the worst advice they’ve ever received.

In the latest episode of “What’s Next In,” Mastercard’s podcast that informally explores technology, innovation and ideas, host Vicki Hyman sits down with Gilliam and Cail, who joined Mastercard’s Start Path In Solidarity track for traditionally underrepresented fintech founders in December. They discuss how Wellthi and Zirtue are harnessing the power of community to bring more financial security to underserved communities, and the challenges they have faced in bringing their mission to life.

“Take the money, any money, doesn’t matter where it comes from,” is what Gilliam recalls hearing in the early days building Wellthi, which updates savings circles popular in developing nations for the digital age. The money was tempting, but some potential investors wanted to do away with the social impact mission, while others wanted too much control of the company. “I think you really have to be confident in what you’re building and your business model,” she says. “You’ve got to know it’s going to be tough and be willing to be scrappy.”

“It’s all about access,” says Cail, whose lending app Zirtue formalizes and automates the lending process between friends and family. “That’s all we’re really asking for. Give us the access, which creates the opportunities and let us run with it based on our God-given talents and gifts and how we’re able to lead, and how we’re able to demonstrate and deliver.”

To hear more from Gilliam and Cail, subscribe to “What’s Next In” on Apple Podcasts or stream it directly in the player above.

Siobhan Stewart, Specialist, Communications