Polish fintech has Momentum
One of the fastest-growing and often most lucrative industry for young technology companies to enter is financial technology, or fintech. With banking mostly conducted online and increasingly on smartphones, the trend is likely to continue in the following years. Today, we talk with one of the most promising Polish fintech start-ups, Atsora, who have built an innovative online platform that acts like an entrepreneur’s or small start-up’s CTO, combining banking, accounting and other services in one place. The Polish start-up was recently one of three Polish companies to receive the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 prize for innovation
Recently, we wrote about Horizon 2020 prize recipients Quantum Lab, who just recently went on to win Polish Startup of the Year from the CESAwards. Let’s hope today’s Horizon 2020 winners, Atsora, fare just as well in the future. To learn of the fintech start-up’s current and future plans, I spoke to co-founder Krzysztof Pulkiewicz.
Web.gov.pl: First of all, please tell me a little about the history of Atsora – when was it founded, by whom, and what are some of the things you do?
Krzysztof Pulkiewicz: Atsora was cofounded by myself and Anna Ciesielska. It was founded over a year ago, and our history is that we both spent a few years working as consultants for Accenture, one of the top global consulting companies. We were working with banks, insurance companies and brokerage houses, and helping those large enterprises manage their IT and business problems.
After leaving Accenture, we launched our first company, an enterprise software house, and then we established Atsora as a fintech start-up, with the mission statement that we will build technology that will create a bridge between small and medium entrepreneurs and banks.
The main reason we started this company is that we know how banks work because of our experience, and at the same time when we left consulting we became entrepreneurs, so we know by experience what the key problems and challenges are for those running their own business.
We believe there is a big gap between banks and SMEs, and our technologies will help to bridge this gap.
What are your main products? Could you tell me something about Momentum?
Momentum is above all a platform, and we use this word not only because it’s cool and sexy, but mainly because it’s an analytical data platform that we built first of all to provide a SaaS solution for SMEs directly, while at the same time to allow third parties such as banks and software developers to create their own business functionalities and applications on top of our platform.
Currently, we’re moving in two directions. First of all, we’re leveraging the technology platform we have and have created several functionalities that are offered in a SaaS model for SMEs. We are entering the SME marketplaces, integrating with the key accounting and CRM packages. In addition, we’re working with the banks, so that they can create their own services and functionalities for their SME customers based on our platform. This is the wide spectrum of applicable scenarios that we are working with.
And is Momentum… gaining momentum?
We began offering the service for entrepreneurs earlier this year, and at the same time we began working with several banks as part of the FinTech Innovation Lab program in London, which is one of the elite fintech accelerators and is run by Accenture and the top UK banks. Over three months, we were presenting our product to key banks, including HSBC, Barclay’s, RBS, Lloyd’s, Citibank and Merryl Lynch - the top banking players. It was a good starting point for us to understand the banks’ strategies for SMEs and also what kind of platform we could build together to offer a solution that would benefit the banks and SMEs at the same time.
The Momentum platform was created before we took part in the FinTech Innovation Lab program, but the program allowed us to really reshape the platform, discuss potential business models and define the key functionalities for banks and for SMEs.
Is your target market in Poland or the UK, or are you thinking globally?
As we have two complementary operating models, the first one is working with SMEs directly, and we are working with SMEs in Poland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We are also starting to work with Intuit QuickBooks, which is one of the biggest players in the U.S., UK and Western European markets.
In terms of banking, we started with the UK because we leveraged this FinTech program, but we’re also working with banks in our home market. It’s a process that takes a little longer than standard software projects, but we’re already working with several banks around the UK and Western Europe, both early stage and well advanced.
How did you come to receive the Horizon 2020 prize? Did you apply or did the European Commission find you?
We were looking for grants and programs that would help us move our vision forward in terms of additional financing, different programs that would allow us to grow and build our footprint outside of Poland. It was a good moment, because the rules of the game have completely changed for the new EU funds; you’re no longer competing against companies in your own country, but rather against a much wider spectrum of companies around Europe.
We applied for the Horizon 2020 prize with the support of our consulting partner. We spent quite a lot of time working on the application, trying to understand how to describe our idea and our appetite for growth in just 10 pages. We sent the application and we were recently notified that we were one of three Polish companies to receive the phase one prize.
However, for us, phase one is just a starting point. In our long-term strategy, we’re looking to really build our footprint and expand to other countries, so we’re looking to get phase two of the program, to secure the funding for our next strategic moves.
Would you also consider venture capital as a funding source?
Yes, of course. We are in discussion with several firms. In terms of fintech investment, you can split it between venture funds that are run by big banks and financial institutions, what you’d call enterprise VCs, and the more typical VCs. We are in discussions, but at the same time we are mostly focused on the business’s KPIs (key performance indicators).
What are Atsora’s plans for the prize money in the future?
It’s a short timeframe, because we now have less than six months to work on our strategy and our business plan for phase two, which is a much longer-term project. If we do receive the phase two money, we’ll use it for building a really open API-based platform both for SMEs and banks. At this moment we’re focused on putting all the pieces together just to create a well-planned strategy for the next two years.
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