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How SoFi is Helping the Endangered Young Entrepreneur



With the average student loan debt burden on the rise, it’s little wonder that loans often hold people back from pursuing their entrepreneurial goals. At SoFi, we’ve heard these stories time and again – friends, classmates and SoFi members who dream of starting their own businesses, but who feel trapped in a traditional job because they need to make that loan payment each month.

Anecdotes like these are supported by the data: the startup rate is about half of what it was three decades ago. In addition to a smaller number of new businesses, people under 35 make up a smaller proportion of entrepreneurs. The burden of debt has certainly played no small part in these trends.

And I’ve experienced this phenomenon firsthand. After graduating from college, I worked with a friend on a startup idea. Over four months, we began building out our product, raising a small amount of money, and talking with potential customers. We worked from the living room, not the garage, but otherwise it was a quintessential, exhilarating startup experience.

Eventually I opted for the security of a job in consulting while my friend decided to stick with our startup. Fast forward a few years, and my former venture has 40 million users and a nine-figure valuation built over an incredible entrepreneurial journey that I witnessed from the stands instead of the driver’s seat. I’m happy with the decision I made and have loved the path I’ve taken since, but I know many people don’t feel as if they even have a choice – and that’s a frustrating experience.

It was with these people in mind that SoFi launched its Entrepreneur Program in 2013. The program empowers a select handful of promising entrepreneurs by giving them financial flexibility and a support network to help them find success. Participants in the program receive four main benefits:

  • Financial help: loan deferment for up to 12 months, along with waived income requirements if you haven’t yet refinanced loans with us
  • Investor access: introductions to investors in the SoFi network
  • Mentorship and coaching: a series of workshops over 6 months on topics like fundraising, growth and acquisition, and marketing strategy
  • Peer network: fellow entrepreneurs who have gone through or are experiencing many similar challenges

Over the past year and a half, SoFi has admitted over 30 entrepreneurs into the program, many of whom have excelled. Benny Joseph’s Good April was acquired by Intuit, while Bradley Buda’s Meldium was acquired by LogMeIn. And many others have gained awesome customer traction and significant additional funding.

And now, we’re pleased to introduce the eight new members of SoFi’s Entrepreneur Program. The group comes from many different backgrounds, lives all over the country and has startups spanning industries from finance to farming. Over the next few months, each of them will share stories about their entrepreneurial journey on the SoFi blog.

Take a look at our new entrepreneurs and their businesses below. We’re excited to see what our third class has in store. Welcome and congratulations!

Andrew Dietrich, Final (Secure credit card with unique card numbers for each merchant or transaction)

Elena Lucas, UtilityAPI (SaaS API for customer utility data to enable the new energy economy)

James Barrett, Tenant Turner (Tenant vetting service for property managers)

John Ciecholewski, Sunn (Smart lighting and software that promoted circadian health to mimic natural lighting indoors)

Niles Brinton, Charborn (Biochar soil amendment sales and distribution to increase crop yield in commercial farming)

Peter Akman, Raxar (Sensor-based physical asset tracking software for facility management)

Peter Glenn, CrowdSchool (Marketplace for K-12 teachers to create and share project-based lessons)

Van Standifer, Flexspot (On-demand marketplace to expand urban parking supply)

 

As SoFi’s Entrepreneur Program Manager, Alan helps SoFi members who are starting businesses connect with investors, mentors and peers to overcome the challenges of building a new venture while dealing with student loan debt. Learn more about the SoFi Entrepreneur Program here.


ABOUT Alan Donner Alan serves as Product Marketing Director for SoFi Personal Loans and for Wealth. Alan holds a BA from UC Berkeley and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.


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