In the burgeoning wealth-management industry, customers with lots of money to invest have always gained the lion’s share of attention from both the big banks and the growing ranks of startups elbowing into this business.
But when Tricia Jose (MASc 2017), the 25-year-old founder of Vicis Labs, began scouting around for market niches, she took the classic entrepreneurial left turn and headed off in the opposite direction – toward millennials and freelancers toiling in the gig economy who struggle to manage their irregular incomes, much less save anything.
Sprout, a web-based platform created by Vicis Labs, uses predictive data analytics to analyze an individual’s transaction history as a means of developing strategies for timing bill payments and managing cash flow during dry spells. The service will be launched early in 2018.
Jose didn’t set out to become an entrepreneur in the booming “fintech” sector. After completing a master’s degree in biomedical engineering at U of T, she teamed up with two MBA students at the Rotman School of Management and a third student in the Munk School of Global Affairs. Together, they developed an app to help low-income families in the developing world manage their money. They saw it as a way of improving the quality of life for people living under tremendous duress. Financial well-being, as she says, is closely tied to physical and mental well-being.
The app won a competition in the Middle East. But realizing they’d have to relocate to the developing world to properly launch their product, Jose and her collaborators shelved their initial plan and instead adapted it to an overlooked Canadian demographic that also contends with financial precarity.
When her team began its research, they quickly discovered that many in this market segment had difficulty setting aside money for taxes – a process done automatically for people with standard employment income. Sprout has an option that diverts a portion of income to a tax reserve fund. “Tax is our wedge,” Jose adds. “If we can get people to [set aside] their taxes, then we can get them to contribute to an RSP. It’s an opportunity to be at the centre of their economic lives.”
Having participated in more than one Toronto business accelerator, Jose has built Sprout on “family and friends” financing as well as a $10,000 grant from the Behavioural Economics in Action, a group at the Rotman School. She completed a soft launch of the product and is aiming for a round of angel financing in the next few months. Once established, Jose sees Sprout relying on a subscription model. “We’re trying to target people differently than our competitors,” she says.