Investing In Fintech Start-Ups

By Laura Layden Naples Daily News, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) CSI globalVCard founded "CSI Kick Start" to invest in financial technology (or fintech). The incubator continues to seek investment opportunities and recently opened its annual funding application process to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Naples Daily News, Fla.

With money and mentorship from a local business incubator, a two-man team in Los Angeles is changing the corporate world one healthy micro market at a time.

The business incubator, CSI Kick Start, made its first investment in Delicious Nutritious Markets based in Los Angeles in 2014 and the partnership is paying off.

There are now more than 100 grab-and-go markets providing healthy food to workers in lunch rooms and break rooms across America, including a few in Southwest Florida. Think carrots, not candy bars.

"We're trying to revolutionize the employee experience of eating at work," said Caroline Perry, the director of CSI Kick Start.

Delicious Nutritious Markets was founded by Mike Johnson, known as the "vp of happiness," and Ben Thomas, the "vp of dreams," on Jan. 1, 2014. They heard about CSI Kick Start and reached out to its chief executive Keith Stone, who is also the president and CEO of CSI globalVCard, a leading provider of corporate payment solutions based in Bonita Springs. Stone took an interest in what the startup was doing, offering mentorship, money and payment system know-how.

With a novel self-checkout system the markets -- stocked with nutritious meals and snacks by caterers and other food operators -- virtually run themselves. The system not only takes payments, but manages inventory, making the markets easy to restock.

Markets operate on the honor system. Employees use an app to scan and pay for food with an iPhone, or swipe a company card or other credit card at an iPad kiosk to make purchases. (There are no cashiers or security guards.)

The check-out technology used at the markets, known as Yoke Payments and jointly developed by CSI globalVCard and Delicious Nutritious Markets, was recently recognized as the best point-of-sale innovation by PYMNTS.com, which covers every aspect of the payments industry from retail reinvention to the internet of things.

Though developed for the micro markets, Yoke can be used for other purposes, opening up new revenue opportunities for CSI and Delicious Nutritious Markets.

"There are so many applications for our payment infrastructure," Perry said. "They are limitless."

CSI globalVCard founded CSI Kick Start to invest in financial technology (or fintech). The incubator continues to seek investment opportunities and recently opened its annual funding application process to aspiring entrepreneurs.

"It's huge," Perry said. "Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in fintech because we all like to disrupt the banks. Right?"

Global investment in financial technology is on the rise around the world. In 2015 it surpassed $22 billion.

The CSI incubator is offering startups a minimum investment of $500,000. Eighty percent of the investments will go into the payments space, Perry said.

The tech incubator, founded in 2014, saw Delicious Nutritious Markets as an ideal fit in its mission to radically transform financial payment systems in the business-to-business, or B2B, sector, where companies are focused on selling products and services to other businesses.

In California there are micro markets at five Apple stores, a Honda dealership and the headquarters for skin care provider Proactiv and shoemaker Reef, to name a few.

In March 2015, CSI globalVCard opened a micro market at its headquarters off Bonita Beach Road, where it has about 80 employees. The market is a hit, especially at lunchtime. On a recent Friday, supplies ran low in its reach-in coolers, but by Monday the market was fully stocked and hopping again. Some of the most popular offerings are pot roast, baked ziti and chicken with vegetables. Snack options include kale chips, Clif Bars and mixed nuts.

Locally there are also markets at the Naples Accelerator, a government-funded center designed to grow startups in Collier County, and at a Discovery Senior Living center. At the Naples Accelerator, the market was customized to operate under another brand, but still uses Yoke Payments.

There are plans to open a market in Fort Myers at the Rocket Lounge, a privately-funded tech accelerator offering shared space for startups.

"We would like to put these in universities. We would love to sponsor a market at FGCU," Perry said.

CSI Kickstart is reaching out to local caterers to spread the word about the business opportunity to operate the small markets in Southwest Florida. It will host a "Wellness for Work" public event on March 8, which will include a gourmet healthy food tasting showcasing local chefs.

All a business needs to set up the micro market is a wall, an outlet and an internet connection.

"It just kind of encourages happier, healthy employees, who aren't eating Snicker Bars and crashing at 2 p.m. It's a lot easier than putting in a vending machine," Perry said.

Johnson and Thomas, who have been friends since college, came up with the idea for the small markets when they were at the gym and couldn't find a healthy snack.

The bottleneck that kept Delicious Nutritious Markets from opening more markets was the self-checkout technology and inventory management platforms that operators used to run the markets before Yoke was developed. "Those two pieces of the pie were just 20 years behind," said Johnson.

A market installed at a business can have multiple benefits.

"Think about it, having a place where people can eat lunch together it brings people that are maybe in different departments that never go out to lunch together. It gets them talking. It creates a whole other place for ice to be broken," Johnson said.

The incubator is keeping a lid on how much it invested in Delicious Nutritious Markets, which it now has an equity stake in. "We've literally become part of the family. Everybody just cares about one another and wants to see everyone succeed," Johnson said.

CSI Kick Start funded its third startup Front Runner Films, also based in Los Angeles, last year. The film company produces humorous and heartfelt corporate videos.

Front Runner has a full production crew and has amassed an impressive portfolio of award-winning corporate videos.

CSI globalVCard has been in business for 27 years. The incubator helps it stay agile and keep up with the current innovations in the payments realm, Perry said.

"It allows us to keep the spirit of innovation. And it allows us to move quickly into new verticals, while still allowing us to develop new innovations in the payments space," she said.

To apply for funding from CSI Kick Start, startups must submit a one-minute video on why they want to be part of the CSI family and fill out an online questionnaire, which seeks information on everything from their product and vision to their competition and motivation.

"There will be a series of interviews with our staff," Perry said. "It will be a very intensive process."

For more information and to apply for funding visit csikickstart.com/apply.

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