Evan Leaphart seeks out big opportunities to grow Kredit Academy, from Miami to Buffalo and beyond

The Miami-based startup raises $1 million+ in 43North pitch competition

By Nancy Dahlberg

In a performing arts center packed with 4,000 people last month, Miamian Evan Leaphart, founder and CEO of Kredit Academy, was the night’s big pitch competition winner. Kredit Academy one of five startups chosen by VC judges to each receive $1 million, and Leaphart’s pitch also won the people’s choice award – and another $25,000.

But this contest was not in Miami, but Buffalo, NY. 43North is a state-funded accelerator program that hosts an annual startup competition to attract and cultivate high-growth startups. Next year, 43North’s winners, including Kredit Academy, become portfolio companies that receive free incubator space in Buffalo, mentorship, and access to other business incentive programs such as START-UP NY. Leaphart says he has already been connected with the Endeavor office in Buffalo.

“New York is committed to spurring the growth of innovative and creative new startups, and the 43North competition is just one of the ways New York is working to find revolutionary solutions to today’s challenges,” New York Governor Hochul said in a statement. “I congratulate the five enthusiastic winners who will be bringing their game-changing businesses to Western New York, hiring staff, raising capital, and investing in property and equipment.”

While 43North certainly hopes that Kredit Academy will stay in Buffalo, the commitment is for a year. Being so entwined in the Miami Tech ecosystem for a decade, Leaphart says he will make periodic visits to his Miami Tech “family” and Miami will always be home to Kredit Academy. But he said Kredit Academy will be hiring a team in Buffalo and working with local organizations to expand his business, and Leaphart envisions that Kredit Academy will continue to grow an office in Buffalo for years to come. What’s more, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

We’ll get to that. But first let’s catch up on Kredit Academy.

From Kiddie Kredit to Kredit Academy

Formerly known as Kiddie Kredit, Kredit Academy is a comprehensive financial literacy platform offering white-label, credit-based solutions, aimed at empowering consumers, particularly teens and young adults, with knowledge and tools to build sound credit, while also providing financial institutions an effective means of engagement and growth. The name change is not a pivot, but rather a rebrand to better reflect what the company has grown into.

It’s a big problem to tackle. Credit card debt in America recently surpassed $1 trillion, the highest in US history. Over 90 million adult Americans are considered credit challenged. And GenZ is projected to that the greatest spending power in history – over $500 billion – “so it’s important we start the conversation about money and credit earlier,” said Leaphart.

Leaphart always planned for “Kiddie Kredit”, which offered young kids a fun way to learn about building credit, to “grow up” and offer services for older teens and young adults as well. The Kiddie Kredit solution will still be offered – indeed financial habits begin to form at age 7.

But for older teens and young adults, one of the first products on the runway is a secured credit card, in partnership with Discover, to build credit safely with features that also encourage building up saving. The money that is put aside for securing the card will be put into a high-interest bearing savings account for the teen, Leaphart said. When the person is ready for an unsecured credit card, the money is returned with interest or it can stay in the savings account.

With its b2b2c business model, Kredit Academy is forming partnerships with smaller banks, small businesses and community organizations to offer the card to their young clientele. The revenue-generating startup already has one financial institution under contract for the new product. The cards will come with a customizable rewards program, so the organizations can build in rewards that will inspire brand loyalty.

“Rewards are issued not just based off how much you spend but how much you learn in the process,” says Leaphart in an interview with Refresh Miami. “We will be the world’s first credit card for the next generation that places an emphasis on education.”

How can Buffalo help?

Buffalo is the headquarters of M&T Bank, which has a $43 billion commitment to improving economic outcomes of low and moderate households. Leaphart hopes to partner with M&T, an anchor partner of the 43North program, to launch Kredit Academy in the city, providing social impact through their products and jobs for Buffalo residents for years to come.

With the million-dollar investment and 43North’s mentorship and connections, Leaphart plans to build up their sales operations and go full force with executing on Kredit Academy, he said.

Leaphart, who is also a co-founder of Black Men Talk Tech that recently hosted the Unicorn Ambition conference in Miami, said he hopes to take some learnings from being part of the Miami tech ecosystem to help Buffalo. For example, he’d like to replicate Miami’s successful Barbershop Speaks program in the heavily Black east side of Buffalo and has already been talking to founder Jefferson Noel about that. He also sees the 43North program as “a dope case study on supporting startups” that other cities, including Miami, could learn from. While Miami is now flourishing as a tech hub, there are many startups that are becoming discouraged because the capital sources are not there at the earliest stages, Leaphart says.

“We just have to find additional ways to like get people capital in meaningful ways so it’s not like they’re just on this pitch contest spin cycle,” Leaphart says about Miami. In contrast, 43North offered “a whole ecosystem of support,” he adds. “Buffalo wrapped their arms around all of us.”

Over the past nine years, 43North has invested in 64 companies, nearly 60% of which have a continued presence in Buffalo, 46% of which have founders of color and 26% having female founders. The portfolio companies had collectively created more than 1,100 jobs in Western New York.

In addition to the 43North investment, Kredit Academy announced in April it raised $1.4 million from Nueterra Capital, Plain Sight Capital, Fuerza Ventures, Verve Capital, and angel investors and former pro athletes Dwyane Wade and Baron Davis. Leaphart also recently participated in Tampa Bay Wave’s 2023 FinTech|X Accelerator. In 2022, the startup participated in Amazon’s Black Founders Build with Alexa and Google for Startups’ Black Founders Fund and graduated from an EndeavorLAB cohort in 2021. Leaphart is currently participating in the Act House accelerator in Tulsa, and hopes to expand Kredit Academy in Tulsa as well.

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Nancy Dahlberg