Pay With Face, Insurance Via Smartphone & More: The Five Fintech Disruptors In The New Visa Corporate Acceleration Program In Bulgaria

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Around one and a half years ago, a young fintech startup that had just received its initial funding to automate expenses management for companies, went to Visa to validate their product and value proposition. This startup’s name is Payhawk, and today it has clients from 14 different countries, has raised €3.5M of capital and continues its development at a rapid pace.  

This was the pilot test of the Visa Innovation Program, a corporate acceleration effort in Bulgaria under the Visa brand, facilitated locally by the VC fund Eleven Ventures. The idea – Visa opens the door to its clients and partners so that startups can test, validate, (well, sometimes pivot too) and scale their solutions in a real environment, and Eleven facilitates the process and brings in mentors. Alongside Payhawk, another five companies went through the first season of the fintech acceleration program of Visa last year, and this resulted in four successful pilots and additional funding of €5.6M. 

“The first season not only validated that our ecosystem needed such collaborative platforms, but also allowed many of its participants to grow significantly. Some have attracted significant funding and opened up new markets, others have completed successful PoCs with local banks and non-banking financial institutions, others have grown in their understanding of their own go to market strategy and this is where they would like to grow,” comments Vesselina Markova from Eleven Ventures.

After a successful pilot last year, Visa Innovation Program is coming back with a second edition to accelerate another five fintech startups and pair them up with corporate partners and clients so that innovative solutions could reach the market and the customers quicker. 

Season 2 comes with more innovations for end-customers

Now as the second cohort of companies to go through the innovation program was selected, it’s easier to predict what will be the fintech products that will become trendy on the market soon. Unlike the previous year, when there was a rather business process optimization focus, this time all the selected startups have customer-facing products “The core areas Visa is exploring at the moment are building the future of retail, accelerating banking transformation and enhancing customer experience.

This year, we also added another theme, ‘social impact’. Visa is supporting female technology entrepreneurs globally and we are proud to have our first women-founded fintech start-up join Bulgaria’s Program, IRIS Solutions.

“We place the customer at the center of the bank’s digital transformation, which is one of our focuses in 2020, and especially during recent times. We are constantly innovating to improve customers’ experience, whether they are banking through their mobile device, paying with our digital wallet or are serviced in our offices,” says also Vladimir Mahnev, the Chief Digital Officer at Raiffeisenbank Bulgaria, one of the active partners of the program, ” tells us Sevdalina Vassileva, General manager SEE, Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus.

The five new fintech products

Buying insurance policies while sitting on the couch, exchanging emails with a polite bot that reminds you of forgotten bills before it’s too late, paying with QR codes and face recognition (without a smartphone!), purchasing a new laptop and paying for it later – this is in a nutshell how the startups entering the second season of the Visa Innovation Program are planning to enhance customers’ experience. And not least, open up new business opportunities for other companies too. 

Boleron is a mobile-first digital insurance platform covering the full range of insurances offered – from travel to property, health, car, and even extreme sports. The idea is simple – the user can purchase an insurance product from one of the eight partners of Boleron through a mobile app or the website, and receives all the documents per mail. The company was started in 2019, and has already received an investment of undisclosed size from Ivaylo Slavov, founder of one of the fastest-growing IT service companies in Bulgaria – Bulpros.

Started in 2014 in Switzerland and having its main development and operations center in Sofia, eCollect pursues the vision to be Europe’s leading debt collection platform. ECollect has developed a fully automated receivables management platform that processes billing, dunning, pre-legal and legal collection, as well as all related customer communication throughout borders. The company works both with physical and digital businesses to help them collect their receivables while retaining their customers. 

Iris Solutions is a newcomer in the open banking field founded in 2019 and launched official operations in 2020. The company offers electronic payments based on QR technology and multibank e-wallets. With the QR technology-based product Iris Pay, the startup gives online and physical merchants the opportunity to easily receive payments, and users – the convenience of paying without having to fill in any data. The Multibank e-wallet is the other customer-oriented product of the company – it allows users to manage different accounts and cards through one app.

NewPay is the youngest company in the cohort, which is right before the launch of its product and doesn’t even have a website yet. NewPay’s idea is to offer a product similar to the one of the Swedish company Klarna, which offers online shoppers to purchase items now and pay for them later. The solution provides alternative payment methods for online shoppers and merchants, including instant financing.

PayByFace is a Romanian company with an office in Switzerland that has developed a system freeing the users of caring cards and smartphones when shopping. The company provides innovative POC-terminals and biometric payment processing platform that gives customers with PayByFace accounts the opportunity to pay at the registered merchants with their faces.

When and in what form these products will reach the market cannot be forecasted yet. The Visa Innovation Program is an opportunity that will help them validate the products with the market and the customers, but the teams will also have to do a fair share of work. “The companies that benefit most of this program are the ones who are proactive and those for whom temporary failures are a stepping stone to success. Product and technology are important, but in order to build a business, they may have to go through several pivots,” is convinced Markova. According to her, the ability to present the strengths of a product and a company in an appealing way is what most of the companies that applied for the program and were shortlisted need to work on. This year, the program carried out in Sofia, has also international participation, and due to the current situation will start with online and virtual workshops and sessions, tailored to the needs of each participant. “This year, we also added another theme, ‘social impact’. Visa is supporting female technology entrepreneurs globally and we are proud to have our first women-founded fintech start-up join Bulgaria’s Program, IRIS Solutions,” adds Sevdalina Vassileva from Visa.

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