MARIO AVILA, CEO of Emerge Financial Wellness and its Contigo Financial subsidiary, says new partnerships this quarter may spur further growth and help trigger a Series B capital raise, later this year.
Based in Nashville since Contingo's inception in 2011, Avila, 32, founded the company to address the financial needs of disadvantaged borrowers, by partnering with employers to offer their employees reasonably priced loans, thereby allowing workers to avoid incurring debt with predatory lenders.
The company's formal launch was in 2012. In 2013, Contigo was acquired by Emerge, a financial-wellness company then anchored in San Francisco, and operations were subsequently colocated in downtown Nashville, with Avila as CEO. Emerge founder Jonathan Harrison remained aboard for about a year overseeing product development, before moving to his current advisor status.
Though Avila said another acquisition seems unlikely in the 2015-16 timeframe, he acknowledged that in addition to soon-to-be-announced channel partnerships, the company could in coming months unveil "some ideas spinning-off what we've been doing."
The company has accepted roughly $2.3MM in outside capital since inception, and now has dozen or so full- and part-time workers, he said.
Its investors include Serious Change, a roughly $70MM impact investment fund based in New York, as well as Avila himself and Jumpstart Foundry, the Nashville accelerator Avila joined in 2012.
Avila also received a $25K grant from entrepreneur Jim Sohr, through a program conducted via the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, where Avila earned his MBA. Sohr also makes investments via Five Star Venture Funding, but Avila said Sohr is not an investor in Emerge.
Avila said he hopes that Emerge can remain headquartered in Tennessee, because -- in addition to the quality of life -- substantial shares of Emerge's target consumer/employer markets, as well as complementary FinTech and payments ventures (including sub-prime lenders, which have spawned entrepreneurs with capital to invest) are based in the surrounding region.
No target for the Series B has yet been established, pending partnership announcements, related projections of further organic sales gains and other developments.
Avila also noted that while startup overhead is lower in the Southeast, Tennessee residential real-estate and other costs are rising as population growth creates longer commutes -- thus, placing greater importance on satellite cities such as Murfreesboro taking-on greater roles in Greater Nashville and in the Southeast's other metroplexes.
Asked about competition, Avila noted San Francisco-based LendUp (B2C) and UK-based FundingCircle (B2B).
The CEO said he expects to keep growing Emerge and continue building a role in the Wellness and FinTech segments of the Payments sector.
Avila appears to be gaining personal traction as a bona fide alternative financial-services thought-leader, recently serving as chairman of Bank on Music City, an initiative sponsored by United Way and others to help consumers establish healthy banking relationships. Among other speaking engagements, Avila is scheduled to appear during the annual AllPayments Expo, in February, in Las Vegas.
► For Avila's further comments published today regarding the idea of creating a Nashville FinTech accelerator, please click here.
Avila's retained advisors include attorneys with Nelson Mullins (principally Geof Vickers); and, HR/Accounting management pro's with XMi Holdings. Emerge banks with Pinnacle Financial.
The CEO said the company's advisory board contains virtually all those previously reported by VNC, with perhaps the most active being Julia Polk (New Ventures Consulting), as well as both David Fredriksen and Evan Austill, CEO and COO respectively of Nashville-based PatientFocus, which has a tech platform supporting healthcare patient payments.
In addition, Emerge CTO Zach Todd is also co-Founder and advisor to locally based LogicFI (fka Titan Intelligence Systems), which offers technology that supports credit underwriting, risk assessment and decision-making. Todd says he is also co-founder of LendMD, which offers patient-payment options.
Avila earned his MBA at the Owen School and his bachelor's at Dartmouth College, according to his LinkedIn profile. VNC