Next-level computer vision: When off-the-shelf software options don’t cut it

next level computer vision.png

Let’s say you’re in Tokyo and you see a billboard with a catchy photo. You want to know what the billboard says, but you can’t read Japanese. No problem! You can use Google Translate to take a picture of the billboard, highlight the text you care about, and then your phone will translate it into English. This is a prime example of computer vision, which allows us to automatically extract, analyze, and understand information from images due to recent advances in machine learning.

Given these advances, we thought it would be straightforward to adapt off-the-shelf computer vision programs to pull important data from identification documents, a task that most fintech companies face in the field. Ultimately we found that off-the-shelf computer vision programs were not sufficiently accurate continue reading

How can investors use machine learning to pick the right startups?

Photo credit: Machine perception

Photo credit: Machine perception

When considering a startup, especially an early-stage startup, investors want to conduct as much due diligence as possible. What little data they can gather is scattered all over different sources including Crunchbase, LinkedIn, Pitchbooks, company websites, etc. Consolidating this data takes a great amount of time and effort. Furthermore, the data sets can be incomplete or biased depending on the search queries — imagine overlooking a keyword. To make the due diligence process fairer and less cumbersome for investors, various platforms are using machine learning (ML) to pull together information about startups from all available resources to help investors assess companies and investment opportunities. But where machine learning really shines is in the interplay of data-driven insights that are qualified by human intuition and personal experience.

Top 100 Emerging Market Inclusive Fintechs


You may have heard of companies like WePay and Oscar. WePay is an online payments service provider; and Oscar is a user and technology-centered health insurance company. And you might have witnessed how these fintech companies are contributing to the transformation of the financial services sector in the United States. But what’s happening in the global south? There, “inclusive fintech”, or fintech products and services that serve the bottom of the pyramid, is thriving in its own right with the likes of Tala and Branch. The sector is growing – enough to compile a list of our top 100 inclusive fintech companies by funding raised in emerging markets.

Catalyst Fund presents the Top 100 Emerging Market Inclusive Fintechs. Get insights about accessibility, affordability & flexibility, customer-centric design, speed and digital-first approaches and how these approaches can improve outcomes.

Article originally published on the World Economic Forum

A Fintech Approach to Financial Inclusion


We are pleased to announce that BFA will be hosting a Financial Inclusion Week event, which will be part of a week of global conversation exploring the most important steps to achieving full financial inclusion.  Partners from around the world are holding conversations to explore this year’s theme New Products, New Partnerships, New Potential.

BFA will host a webinar focused on the benefits, challenges and insights of fintech approaches to financial inclusion as part of Financial Inclusion Week. The webinar will highlight key findings from three of BFA’s global programs: Catalyst Fund, FIBR and OPTIX.


Thursday, November 2nd, 2017


9:00am - 10.30 am EST

Early insights on incentivizing Indian customers to go cashless


Early this year, Amitabh Kant, CEO of the National Institution for Transforming India (Niti Aayog), declared “Cards, ATMs, POS will all become redundant in India by 2020, and India will make this jump because every Indian will be doing his transaction just by using his thumb in thirty seconds….”Although evidence indicates that demonetization has moved India towards a digital economy, there is still much work to do before Kant’s vision becomes a reality. Read insights on going cashless.

Harvesting wins Best FinTech Award at African Microfinance Week

Harvesting FMO.jpeg

Catalyst Fund Investee Harvesting, won the FMO FinTech for Microfinance Prize of EUR 10.000 at the African Microfinance Week (SAM) in Addis Ababa, Ethopia. 

The jury consisting of FMO, the African Development Bank and Accion, chose Harvesting due to the scalability of its solution and that it uses satellite data information to fill a widespread information gap within the current financial system. This allows financial institutions to issue (new) loans to farmers and to better manage their agricultural portfolio since Harvesting provides information on farmers' crops, acres and production activities.

SOCAP Conversations: The State of the Inclusive Fintech Field

The Inclusive Fintech Track at SOCAP17

David and Colleen.png

We are excited to announce that Catalyst Fund and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are supporting a content track on Inclusive Fintech at SOCAP17. David del Ser, Director of Inclusive Fintech for Catalyst Fund, and Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Community Innovation at JPMorgan Chase & Co. sat down with the SOCAP organizers to discuss the state of the inclusive fintech field and the sessions they are developing for SOCAP17. Read the interview

Originally published on the SOCAP blog on September 12, 2017.

Register for SOCAP17 to attend the Inclusive Fintech Sessions and learn more.

Catalyst Fund and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are sponsoring the Inclusive Fintech Track at SOCAP17

The AI-Driven Bank in Emerging Markets


Article written by David del Ser and Alexandre Lazarow

If you think artificial intelligence is a thing of the future, ask yourself why your Amazon homepage looks different from ours or how Google translates websites on the fly. Consumers in developed and developing countries are benefiting today from these smarter types of software. In particular, the subfield of Machine Learning is making rapid strides in everything from detecting rare types of cancer to correcting our grammar. In essence, software development is transitioning from a process where humans figure out a few rules for the machines, to one where the machines learn the many implicit rules from the existing data. Continue reading.

An Interview with Alexandre Lazarow of Omidyar Network


Catalyst Fund recently had the opportunity to speak with Alexandre Lazarow, CFA, Principal, Investments at Omidyar Network and member of the Catalyst Fund Investors Advisory Committee (IAC) about the Catalyst Fund model, fintech startups, innovations and InsureTech. Read his interview on our medium blog

What is the Investment Climate for Fintech in Emerging Markets?

A positive outlook according to our investor network


We recently had the opportunity to survey the Catalyst Fund Circle of Investors, which connects our startups to a wider group of investors and also acts as a channel for sharing our insights about the investment climate for fintech in emerging markets. The Circle of Investors are optimistic about funding for inclusive fintech. Results of the survey provide insights into what investors think about inclusive fintech, investments and emerging markets. Read more

Originally published on the SOCAP blog on August 22, 2017.

Register for SOCAP17 to attend the Inclusive Fintech Sessions and learn more.

Catalyst Fund and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are sponsoring the Inclusive Fintech Track at SOCAP17


Building Trust in Digital Financial Services: The Promise and Challenges of Inclusive Fintech in India

Photo by The White Ribbon Alliance Flicker Creative Commons

Photo by The White Ribbon Alliance Flicker Creative Commons

India is at the forefront of building an ecosystem that encourages innovation in digital financial services for low-income customers. New technologies have created new opportunities to expand access to financial services and empower consumers. But many digital solutions are slow to scale as consumers often distrust what is unfamiliar. Building trust with low-income consumers underpins the success of any digital financial product. So, from product design to product delivery, how can financial service providers build and maintain customer trust in digital solutions?

Tailored to Indian fintech startups, financial institutions, investors and development practitioners, join Catalyst Fund for an afternoon for a panel discussion and workshop on how to design for trust in digital financial services along the customer journey.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


The Grand Ball Room, Leela Palace Hotel


  • 1.30 pm: Registration
  • 2:00 pm to 2:10 pm: Welcome by Maneesha Chadha, Head of Global Philanthropy, J.P. Morgan
  • 2:10 pm to 3:00 pm: Panel - The Promise and Challenges of Inclusive Fintech in India: Why Trust Matters
  • 3:00 pm to 3:15 pm: Coffee Break
  • 3:15 pm to 6:15 pm: Workshop - Designing for Trust in DFS
  • 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm: BFA Networking Reception

Panel: The Promise and Challenges of Inclusive Fintech in India: Why Trust Matters


Maelis Carraro, Associate at BFA, and Program Manager, Catalyst Fund 


  • Maneesha Chadha, Head of Global Philanthropy, J.P. Morgan 
  • Rohit Bhatia, CEO, Paylatr
  • David del Ser, Director of Fintech Practice at BFA and Catalyst Fund
  • Smita Aggarwal, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network

Workshop: How to design for trust in DFS?

The workshop explores the key elements of trust in digital financial services and how companies can integrate it at every step of the customer journey. Participants will walk away with practical tips on how to create customer trust from product design to product delivery. 

Practical workshop Facilitated by:

Maelis Carraro, Catalyst Fund Program Manager

Workshop Materials

Read the Catalyst Fund Design for Trust Toolkit

Networking Reception

Brief Remarks from:

  • David del Ser, Director of Fintech Practice at BFA and Catalyst Fund
  • Rajesh Bansal, Senior Advisor at BFA

Speaker Profiles

This event is organized by Catalyst Fund, J.P. Morgan and BFA and is by invitation only. Contact us to request invitation here.

A Spotlight on Inclusive Fintech @SOCAP 2017


Catalyst Fund in partnership with JPMorgan Chase & Co, is hosting the first spotlight on inclusive fintech at SOCAP. 

  • When: October 10-13, 2017
  • Where: Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA

SOCAP is the world’s leading conference on social capital markets—a gathering where powerful ideas are sparked and game changing partnerships get started. The conference brings together social entrepreneurs, impact investors, funders, business leaders and other innovators and problem solvers from across the world. Now in its 10th year, SOCAP is a catalyst for much needed change, creating a vibrant market for ventures that support people, planet, and profits.

Here are some of the upcoming panels organized by Catalyst Fund:

(Session dates and times confirmed as of 9/15/2017)

Risky business: How can we lower risks to scale innovative fintech companies?

One of the key challenges for impact investors is figuring out the level of risk involved in early-stage companies. But what if that risk could be somewhat removed to pave the way for more money to flow in innovative solutions? In this session investors and startups of Catalyst Fund will discuss ways to de-risk investments in fintech startups in emerging markets by working with a group of like-minded investors, funders, entrepreneurs and fintech specialists.

Date & Time:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
10:45am - 11:45am PST


Berit Ashla, VP, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors


  1. Maelis Carraro, Program Manager of Catalyst Fund and Associate at BFA
  2. Tahira Dosani, Managing Director, Accion Venture Lab 
  3. Frank Schutte, CEO, Mobilife
  4. Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Community Innovation, Office of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase & Co. (TBD)

Scaling FinTech for Inclusion around the world

FinTech innovators have the potential to increase access to, improve the quality of,  and reduce the cost of financial services for the underserved at scale. But to scale successfully, they need access to different kinds of capital in their growth trajectory. This session explores the capital and resources needs of inclusive fintechs. Startups at different stages of venture development, funders, and investors speak to the challenges of identifying the right capital at the right time.

Date & Time:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm PST


Vikas Raj, MD, Accion Venture Lab


  1. Christopher Sheehan, CEO, WorldCover
  2. Allison Lu, VP of Credit, Tala 
  3. Alex Lazarow, Partner, Omidyar Network 
  4. Jacob Haar, Managing Partner, Community Investment Management

Hype or Reality? AI for Financial Inclusion

Artificial Intelligence is today’s buzzword. AI has the potential to reduce costs, boost client engagement and improve business decision-making. When targeting low-income customers, AI can mean better-margins, higher employment rates and manageable fees on financial services. But how is AI currently benefiting fintech companies and what challenges are they encountering? This session covers how fintechs, financial institutions and Silicon Valley investors view AI’s potential in global financial services and the implications for low-income customers.

Date & Time:

Thursday, October 12, 2017
11:00 am - 12:00 pm PST


David del Ser, Program Director of Catalyst Fund and Inclusive Fintech Director at BFA 


  1. Felipe Cunha, CEO, ToGarantido 
  2. Sheel Mohnot, Partner, 500 Startups
  3. Qiuyan Xu, Chief Data Scientist, Cignifi

Designing Inclusive Financial Products that Build Trust

Trust is the backbone of business success and it is ever more important when offering digital financial services to low income customers. From product design to product delivery, how can startups build and maintain trust with their customers? This panel discusses the key elements of trust building in inclusive product design, the challenges faced by early stage companies and a roadmap to build trust along the customer journey.

Date & Time:

Thursday, October 12, 2017
2:45 pm - 3:45 pm PST


Maelis Carraro, Program Manager of Catalyst Fund and Associate at BFA


  1. Rohit Bhatia, CEO, PayLatr
  2. Kristen Berman, Common Cents Lab
  3. Michael Mori, Dalberg Design Impact Group (DIG)

Powering Solutions for a Financially Healthy America

Since 2015 the Financial Solutions Lab has supported 27 companies who are building products that improve the financial health of American consumers. Companies from the Lab's first two graduating classes raised over $135MM in follow on capital and are now serving nearly 1.5MM Americans. This session will explore some of the learnings and insights from this program which will have relevance for grant-makers, investors and entrepreneurs Featuring founders from the Lab, the session will highlight how technology is improving the financial health of American consumers through innovative distribution and servicing models that open up new markets and could have broad long-term implications on the U.S. financial services industry.

Date & Time:

Thursday, October 12, 2017
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm PST


Ryan Falvey, Managing Director, the Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation 


  1. Colleen Briggs, Executive Director of Community Innovation, Office of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  2. Morgan Conbere, Co-Founder and CEO of Token Transit 
  3. Nico Barawid, International Partnerships, Nova Credit
  4. Jerry Nemorin, CEO and Founder of Lendstreet

Below are other Catalyst Fund events taking place during SOCAP

The Catalyst Fund and JPMC Reception and Demo Day at SOCAP

  • When: Wednesday, October 11 at 7pm to 9:30pm PST
  • Location: Sartle Library + Embark Gallery
  • Program: Demo Day of Catalyst Fund companies and networking
  • Request invitation by contacting Kelly Nguyen:


Racing into Machine Learning: Data Readiness and the Developing World


While machine learning has become more widespread and has been applied across different industries, few organizations have the adequate expertise to utilize the technology properly. Before jumping into a #machine learning investment, stop and consider your data and how a strong data foundation should be used to inform the insights from machine learning. Read about #datareadiness to start off on the right foot. 

How can fintech startups engender trust and best leverage AI and ML for the next generation of financial products?

Catalyst Fund’s new cohort of inclusive fintech startups spans the globe and pushes the boundaries of innovation in sectors as diverse as mobile money, agriculture and insurtech. As Catalyst Fund investees, these impact makers receive grant funding and tailored and hands-on technical advice. In turn, the startups also help us learn about three main questions:

  1. How can digital financial services be more customized, convenient and accessible than traditional offerings?
  2. How can formidable barriers to inclusion be overcome?
  3. How can investors, donors, and advisors best catalyze successful and innovative models?


Catalyst Fund, a sponsor of The Good Capital Project 2017

The Good Capital Project (GCP), the next step in bringing impact investment into the mainstream. Through a design thinking process, the GCP will convene and leverage expertise from the financial, design, academic, non-profit, governmental and impact communities to drive greater collaboration, partnerships and accelerate capital flows into purpose-driven investments. The project will focus on generating innovative and sustainable solutions to align the capital markets with the human needs of tomorrow. 

Catalyst Fund 

When: June 19th, 2017

Where: Convene, Midtown East, 730 Third Avenue, NYC