Tag Archives: startup funding


Finance Industry Vet Behind Non-Profit Borders.Org

Business Plans Without Borders aka Borders.org is a novel non-profit intended to provide wind in the sail for startups launched by immigrants, refugees and under-served inner-city entrepreneurs.  Created by long-time finance industry veteran Paul Azous, the altruistic initiative defies current political in-sensibilities and embraces the simple notion that small businesses are the lifeblood of a vibrant economy.

The spirited debate surrounding immigrants vs. legal immigrants, nationalism vs. populism and let’s not forget the philosophy embraced by White House Svengali Steve Bannon’s  and his leaning to  ‘traditionalism*’, MarketsMuse Curators were inspired to spotlight a news story profiling what is perhaps an easy idea to digest:  it’s all about altruism, or at least that is the thesis being advanced by a long time finance industry consultant who has accrued more domestic and international frequent flier miles than most.

Finance industry veteran Paul Azous, a Seattle-based self-made entrepreneur who is often referred to by polls across the private placement industry for being a  “Top 40 Under 40” has a view that both sides of the aisle should embrace when it comes to putting the wind in the sails of folks who aspire to achieve the American Dream. The thesis that drives the non-profit “Business Plans Without Borders”  is simple: “..if those with passion, focus and entrepreneurial aspirations who want to do good for themselves and their communities lack the compass that can point them to the on ramp are not embraced and given a lift by those who understand the obstacles faced by [legal] immigrants,  refugees and the under-served from within our very own borders, who can we support?!”

Per below news release, Azous and his wife launched the non-profit in Q4 2016 with the goal of providing business plan preparation, mentoring as well as awarding startup grant funding to inner-city entrepreneurs as well as incoming immigrants and refugees who are able to meet merit-based criteria and applicant requests are reviewed by a volunteer Advisory Board comprised of start-up gurus and thought leaders from across various industries. Azous is looking to aggressively add to the advisory network whose members not only review applicants, those advisors are also committing to match grants extended by the non-profit.

SEATTLE, Feb. 15, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Serial entrepreneur and veteran business plan advisor Paul Azous announced that he has recently launched a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the most vulnerable in society with their business startup needs. The organization, Business Plans Without Borders  assists refugee, immigrant, and inner-city, low income aspiring entrepreneurs with business plan writing assistance in the form of business writing collaboration, the allocation of grants and facilitating networking opportunities with seasoned industry professionals. Aspiring entrepreneurs who qualify for assistance can apply directly via the organization’s website, www.borders.org . Grants are awarded based on merit.

Paul Azous is an 18 year finance industry veteran and Founder/CEO of Prospectus.com, a global consulting firm that assists startups and later stage private and public companies with a broad range of professional services, from business plan and prospectus writing to initial public offering and stock exchange listings.  During the past 15 years, Paul and his firm have guided scores of companies across multiple industries and geographic regions in helping to launch start-up and fast-growth businesses. His primary focus has been on developing business plan summaries, financial and business models, conducting company valuations and assisting with debt or equity offerings. Through a global consultancy framework, Azous has been credited with fast-tracking nearly 5,000 companies in over 50 countries with their business planning and investor documentation needs.

“Creating Borders.org has been a goal of my wife, Tamar and myself for several years, as we’ve always been determined to mentor and back aspiring entrepreneurs who have not had the benefit of a support system,” says Azous. “With Tamar’s background in micro finance and her own “momtrepreneur” experience, coupled with my background, Borders was just a matter of time.”

Entrepreneurs within Border.org’s target demographic typically lack the resources necessary to launch a successful business, even if the business fills a market need. This leaves them unable to raise sufficient funding to adequately develop and market their products or services and consequently, those initiatives are short-lived. Borders.org assists with the most important document that a business owner or entrepreneur must have: the business plan. A business plan enables entrepreneurs to build a roadmap for their company, and is a necessary component to raise capital from qualified investors and/or lending institutions. Borders.org guides entrepreneurs through the strategic business planning process and links them with a wide network of volunteer industry professionals who provide free business startup services, including legal work, accounting, and marketing.

About Borders.org

Business Plans Without Borders aka Borders.org – is a 501(c)(3) non–profit organization. The organization was created to assist low income, refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs with writing and developing their business plans. Borders.org staff works one-on-one with aspiring entrepreneurs, helping them formulate, structure and develop cohesive business models, provides merit-based grants to awardees and networking opportunities with accomplished mentors who can bridge the gap between a strong idea and successful implementation. Continue reading

blythe masters

Babe of Investment Banking Now Babe of Blockchain?

Blythe Masters, once considered the “Babe of Investment Banking” in view of her long tenure and celebrity senior role at JPMorgan—which included her being credited for helping to create those snarkly financial derivative products known as credit default swaps (CDS), has since aspired to become known as either the “Blockchain Batgirl” or the “Babe of Blockchain” through her latest career role as CEO of the bitcoin-buttressed fintech startup Digital Asset Holdings. But, now that Blythe is no longer flying with the superpowers that came with her JPMorgan superhero costume, she is rapidly discovering that startup land has more sharp elbows than JPM’s bond trading floor.

blythe masters bitcoin doll
photo courtesy of Bloomberg Markets

Despite the fact Ms. Masters is undeniably a bona fide member of any Masters of the Universe Club (sic Tom Wolfe/Bonfire of the Vanities)—and however much “blockchain technology” has inspired a cadre of brokerdealers and banks to get on board a train that could evolutionize the financial industry at large, and even despite a potential “death-knell magazine cover”  courtesy of October’s Bloomberg Markets Magazine, Masters’ foray into the world of fintech startup funding is proving to be bumpy at best. The “blue ocean” this famously-fetching, blue-eyed blonde banker is now swimming in is populated not only with sharks, but with migrant bankers’ bodies floating ashore and otherwise left beside the yellow-brick road to billion dollar Unicorn valuations.

Notes NY Times business news journalist Nathaniel Popper—one of the 4th estate’s leading bitcoin industry experts (and a MarketsMuse in his own right), Digital Asset Holdings is running into the types of startup funding challenges that mostly all mortals encounter when pitching ideas scrapped from a whiteboard: questionable valuation, untested technology value proposition, a highly-fragmented and often dysfunctional target audience, and last but not least, an investment structure that is being increasingly challenged across the institutional investing world for giving preferential ownership treatment to a select group of early investors. In this case, Digital Asset Holdings is providing a very sweet deal and a very exclusive suite of follow-on round financing options to its anchor investor, which happens to be her former employer, JPMorgan.

Here’s an excerpt from Popper’s piece—“Cash Call For a New Technology” which appeared on the front page of the 29 December edition of the New York Times business section.

The newest venture from Blythe Masters, until recently a star banker at JPMorgan Chase, appeared to be an overnight success story in the making.

Her start-up, Digital Asset Holdings, is working in one of the hottest areas of growth on Wall Street today: the blockchain technology that underlies the virtual currency Bitcoin. And Ms. Masters has already received a promise from JPMorgan, her former employer, to be the lead investor on the new project, pitching in around $7.5 million.

But Ms. Masters’s company has been struggling for months to close the deal with other investors. Most recently, large banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have balked at putting money into Digital Asset Holdings after learning that JPMorgan was being given better terms than other investors, according to several people briefed on the deal.

The banks and financial firms looking into investing, the people said, have also expressed doubts about the actual software solutions Ms. Masters’s start-up is working on, much of which has been put together through purchases of smaller start-ups.

“The deal would need to improve materially for us to get involved,” said one executive at a financial firm, who has been looking at putting money into Ms. Masters’s company, speaking on the condition of anonymity because negotiations were continuing. “It’s not supercompelling.”

Digital Asset Holdings’ chief marketing officer, Beth Shah, said assertions that the company was facing challenges in raising funds were inaccurate but she declined to provide further details. All of the potential investors declined to comment.

The challenges that Ms. Masters is facing reflect in part the increasingly difficult environment facing start-ups of all sorts as investors have begun to worry that the tech industry has been overhyped and overvalued, pushing down values for companies both public and private.

She is also contending with the difficulty of building a viable business around the virtual currency Bitcoin and the various technological concepts it has introduced to the financial industry, most of all the blockchain.

Digital Asset Holdings is proposing to build something similar to the blockchain database, in order to provide a cheaper and faster way to trade other sorts of financial assets, such as loans and foreign currencies.

The problem for Ms. Masters is that several other start-ups are trying to do something similar, and there is no guarantee that any of the start-ups will ultimately succeed. Many industry experts think that it could take years to get to the point where the blockchain technology can be used effectively by banks — if it works at all.

The New York-based start-up ItBit, which is building its own blockchain-like technology, had been out trying to raise $100 million based on the assumption that the company was worth $250 million. More recently, it has scaled that back and is now hoping to get $50 million from investors, with a valuation of $135 million.

Ms. Masters hopes to raise from $35 million to $45 million, valuing the company at $100 million.

In recent months, the software that Ms. Masters has shown to potential investors allows for the issuance and trading of so-called syndicated loans — large loans broken into pieces and sold to different investors. It can take weeks for trades in this market to go through, a time span that D.A. is trying to shorten.

Investors who have looked at the software, though, say they are not convinced that Ms. Masters’s technology will fix the problems in the loan market, which are attributed as much to human cooperation as to bad software.

There are also indications that Digital Asset Holdings has not had an easy time integrating all the outside technology start-ups it bought. For example, two of the three employees who worked at Blockstack, which the company acquired in October, have already negotiated to leave D.A., people briefed on the situation said.

“All employees who were offered permanent positions at the time of the acquisitions of Bits of Proof, Hyperledger and Blockstack are still with the company,” said Ms. Shah, D.A.’s chief marketing officer.

One of Ms. Masters’s competitors, known as R3, has approached the problem from a different angle and is trying to determine how the banks want to use the blockchain before building specific software. With that strategy, R3 has signed on over 40 banks as partners in recent months, including all of the big banks that Ms. Masters is trying to persuade to invest in her company.

None of this has scared off JPMorgan, which has agreed to lead the Series A investment round in Digital Asset Holdings, people briefed on the negotiations said. To reward JPMorgan, the people said, D.A. plans to grant it warrants to buy a bigger share of the start-up in the future at the same price it is getting now. JPMorgan is said to have committed to helping Ms. Masters’s company improve and secure adoption of its technology.

Some of the other banks looking into investing in D.A. raised concerns about the JPMorgan deal in a meeting this month at the Sandler O’Neill offices that included Citi, Goldman and Bank of America representatives. Smaller financial companies, like Nasdaq and Markit, have also remained on the fence, the people briefed on the negotiations said.

For the full story from the NY Times, please click here