By Péralte C. Paul
Nearly every shopper at some point will experience the frustrations of having to return a product back to the retail point of purchase.
But Freeing Returns, the startup brainchild of Barbara Jones, Charlotte Mattier, and Paul Nguyen, aims to make product returns simple and hassle-free anywhere and whenever the customer wants.
The idea was deemed so great that it won the grand prize “Best in Show” of the inaugural FinTech Hack @ATDC, a three-day competition held Nov. 6-8 that was sponsored by Worldpay US, Yodlee Interactive, and NCR.
“It’s huge,” said Jones, who is chief executive of Lillii RNB Inc., an Atlanta-based information technology company that specializes in Oracle Retail Consulting. Mettier is the company’s Oracle retail point of sale developer and Nguyen is its product developer.
“This is our first hackathon together,” Jones said. “Paul and Charlotte have only been with the company for seven months and we didn’t think we were going to win the whole thing so this is the best week ever for us.”
In winning the grand prize Jones and her team received $73,000 in services — including legal, coaching, networking, and coaching, among other items — to help turn the idea into a viable and successful startup company. The grand prize also included $7,000 cash.
Freeing Returns beat out 13 other teams competing in the FinTech Hack @ATDC, which were comprised of more than 80 technology-oriented entrepreneurs, developers, designers, and coders — all competing for more than $85,000 in prizes.
The idea behind the event — the first major initiative out of the Advanced Technology Development Center’s FinTech program — was to bring various members of the tech together to collaborate and come up with disruptive, financial technology-related market solutions, based on Worldpay’s, Yodlee Interactive’s, and NCR’s technology and data analytics capabilities.
Participants formed 14 teams centered on solving challenges presented by the three sponsors, and to compete for the prizes. One team came from as far as California; another team included a 12-year-old Python programmer.
The teams’ ideas tackled challenges faced by a diversity of sectors ranging from retailers and restaurateurs to consumers. Their solutions, which addressed a number of challenges, included a crowdsourced, peer-to-peer lending platform for small businesses, a personalized promotions app designed to help merchants win competitors’ customers, a payments transaction idea to cut credit card fraud while building customer loyalty built around facial recognition technology, and yet another that created stock exchange where sports fans could buy and sell shares of their favorite professional athletes.
For the sponsors, the hack was an opportunity for to interact with and help provide a creative opportunity for the developer community and raise awareness about financial technology, or FinTech, a fast-growing sector, particularly in Georgia.
“FinTech is really an open and opportune space right now and some people are confused by what FinTech is really all about and how expansive it is,” said Joe Kleinwaechter, vice president of innovation and design at Worldpay US, one of the world’s leading payments and transaction processors. “This brings an awareness. Our internal motto inside Worldpay is that we’re trying to help the disrupters disrupt. We partner with ATDC and we partnered with this hackathon here because we believe that best way we can help them disrupt is by bringing awareness and then they can help us know where the market is going by being out in the field.”
The hackathon’s other sponsors echoed those sentiments, noting its post-event mentorship and coaching component.
“I’ve seen way too many hackathons where people just build out a prototype and then they don’t do anything with it. We want to see them go beyond that,” said Jeanine Swatton, director of developer evangelism at Yodlee Interactive, a technology and applications platform that fuels innovation in FinTech and digital financial services. “We work with our hackathon winners to make sure that if they want to move forward with the idea, we mentor them. There are some great ideas here and at the end of the day, you don’t want to see them die out.”
It’s with that in mind that the FinTech Hack @ATDC has a post-event component focused on coaching and mentoring for the winners.
“A lot of the feedback we’ve been getting from entrepreneurs is that they really have no place to go after they have concluded a hackathon and won a hackathon,” said Michelangelo Ho, ATDC’s FinTech catalyst. “What we wanted to do is incentivize entrepreneurship within FinTech and help grow the ecosystem.”
Here’s a list of the winning teams and what they won:
Best in Show (Grand Prize Winner): Freeing Returns
Grand Prize (over six-month period) includes:
- Up to eight hours per month of personalized, one-on-one mentorship from key, high-ranking decision makers of the sponsoring companies.
- Coaching and business strategy guidance from ATDC.
- Acceptance into ATDC’s FinTech program.
- Networking/Connections to investors.
- Cash: $7,000
The winning “Best in Show” team also receives:
- Brand and PR consultation package from Trevelino/Keller.
- Legal counseling and advice from Baker Donelson.
- Two Hot Desks for three months at Atlanta Tech Village.
- One, 1-hour counseling session and (if applicable) a provisional patent application from Troutman Sanders.
- Accounting and financial whiteboard session from Bennett Thrasher.
Best Use of Worldpay APIs: Emoji Pay
- Idea: Making communications and payments easy using emoji.
- Prize: $4,000 in cash and access to decision makers.
Best Use of Yodlee Interactive APIs: Freeing Returns
- Prize: $4,000 in cash and access to decision makers. Freeing Returns.
Best Use of NCR APIs: Crazy BZ
- Idea: A solution to help small business owners cut employee theft and fraud
- $4,000 in cash and access to decision makers.
These teams or members each won $100 Individual awards:
- Flock: “Fan Favorite” — Offers online trusted customer ratings tailored to your travel and dining tastes.
- Nathan Melanson of Blue Chips: “Most dedicated developer” — App to allow sports fans to own and trade shares of their favorite professional athletes.
- Charlotte Mattier of Freeing Returns: “Most dedicated designer”
- Drive Thru Wallet: “Best presentation skills” — Cut drive-thru pain for consumers through speedier payment transactions and function that groups customer loyalty rewards from various quick service restaurants.
- Rank Score: “Best leadership” — Solution gives restaurant owners realtime performance data.
- Face Trace: “Best original idea pitched” — Payment option using facial recognition to cut credit card fraud, build trust.