business loan

An interest in investing in companies focused on making a social impact has been steadily growing, with companies like Bain Capital, UBS, and TPG Growth getting involved in impact investing. Bain Capital launched a $390 million double-impact fund, while TPG has its $2 billion “The Rise Fund.” The Impact Engine began as an accelerator fund in 2012 and transitioned to a venture firm focused on putting seed and Series A money into supporting companies making a positive impact. Many of these investors are looking at companies impacting the environment, clean water, women-backed businesses, and other social issues that need to be addressed. And, that includes a very serious — and growing — problem that is related to the mountain of student loan debt that keeps growing.

Making an Impact on the Student Loan Problem

Representative Rodney Davis, Co-sponsor of the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, explained, “Student loan debt is now the second highest form of consumer debt and prevents many in the workforce from fully contributing to our economy. Student loan debt is such a major issue that some private companies have found that offering a benefit to help employees pay down their student loans has allowed them to recruit and retain young talent.”

With that as a backdrop, new companies are emerging and gaining funding attention from investors intent on making a positive impact through their money.

Tackling Student Loans Through Employer Benefits

FutureFuel.io, a technology provider of student-debt employer benefits solutions, just announced that it received $11.2 million in Series A financing.

The company’s Student Debt FinHealth solution, a SaaS platform, is aimed at providing an employee benefit option that allows employers to make direct payments to an employee’s student loan balance. In return, this reduces overall student debt, helps employers retain talent, drives greater productivity from less financially stressed employees, and fuels personal wealth and national economic wellness.

Along with legislation, investors could see a way to help tackle student debt by investing in companies like FutureFuel.io. “When I was in college, the cost was much lower, and I benefited from student loans,” Representative Scott Peters, Sponsor of the Employer Participation in Repayment Act, noted. “Today, young Americans are so crippled by college debt they can’t invest in a home, start a family, or save for retirement. This legislation allows employers to contribute tax-free dollars to help their employers pay down this debt.”

Female-Funded and Led

Many investors who believed that they could help drive change were involved in financially backing this company. The funding was led by Rethink Impact, a female-led venture capital firm that invests in female leaders — in this case, Laurel Taylor, Founder of FutureFuel.io — who leverage technology to tackle the world’s biggest problems. Jenny Abramson, Founder and Managing Partner of Rethink Impact, has also joined the company’s board of directors.

According to Abramson, “We are incredibly excited to partner with FutureFuel.io and employers nationwide to eliminate student debt. The results employers have seen from providing FutureFuel.io offerings to employees speak volumes. Employees using the platform are 35 percent more likely to outperform their peers, have a willingness to work for their employer for five years, and women and persons of color indicate they prefer student debt benefits 11 to 1 over 401(k) benefits.”

Additional funding came from Breton Capital, First Data, G9 Ventures, The Impact Engine, Reach Capital, Salesforce Ventures, SixThirty, and Vulcan Capital. Since its inception, FutureFuel has now raised $15.7 million. This financial backing illustrates how many investors are also interested in the idea of helping the whopping 44 million people in the U.S. carrying $1.5 trillion in student loans to reduce their financial burdens.

A Viable Student Loan Solution

It’s this type of financial backing that’s necessary to make inroads on such a problem. Taylor stated, “We are thrilled to have the support of iconic VCs and corporate strategics, who are enabling the firm to capture and serve the explosive market demand we are witnessing. Jenny and the Rethink Impact team have been incredibly catalytic for us.”

Already, FutureFuel.io is reaching several million in need who are laden with student debt via strategic distribution channels. The company is working with small- and medium-sized businesses, Fortune 500 customers, and channel partners operating within the life insurance, HR/benefits/payroll, and credit union industries.

As more startups and investors focus on making this type of positive social impact, the quicksand feeling surrounding problems like student debt may disappear, along with the problem. In turn, it won’t just be student debt that will be addressed; the other financial problems associated with having such debt may be solved as well, including delayed homeownership among young adults, minimal to nonexistent 401(k) contributions, and a significant wealth gap that’s been nearly impossible to close.

The FutureFuel Platform

FutureFuel.io makes the implementation of student debt-centric benefits easy through a SaaS platform that empowers employers and partners to turn on any of the offerings as a benefit to employees through a mobile-first and modular millennial-centric experience. The company’s platform consists of six modular offerings, including:

Repayment:

Empowers employers to offer contributions directly to employees’ student loans. Employees may direct existing benefits to help pay down student debt through unused vacation days, bonuses, peer bonuses, or new employer-sponsored contributions.

Round-Up: 

Sweeps spare change to the user’s student loan with the highest interest rate via a user’s spending habits and goal-based behaviors. FutureFuel.io automates the entire experience in a way that feels invisible to users.

Refinancing Marketplace:

Curates multiple lenders on a single platform, who compete to refinance users’ loans, saving an average of $19,000 over the life of the loan and lowering interest rates by an average of 1.7 percent.

Roll Up:

Aggregates a user’s (on average) four to seven student loans in one place for ease of understanding, management, and payment automation. FutureFuel.io pulls in the metadata on each and every loan and then frames the impact of each action taken by the user in a hyper-personalized manner.

Recalibrate:

Provides employee access to a dynamic calculator that projects total debt, dollars, and days saved through FutureFuel.io’s snackable actions, such as refinancing, receiving employer-sponsored repayment, and leveraging round-ups. FutureFuel.io’s personalized planning tool helps users determine and understand pay-down options based on their own personal goals.

Read:

Offers sophisticated content via student loan financial literacy and education.

Regulation:

Applauds recent efforts in Congress to revise the tax code to facilitate employer assistance in repaying student loans. In the House, Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) led a bipartisan group of more than 100 members in introducing the Employer Participation in Repayment Act last month. Key co-sponsors include members of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, including senior member Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).

On the other side of the Capitol, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD), both members of the tax-writing Finance Committee, similarly have led a bipartisan group in introducing a companion Peters-Davis Bill to the Senate. Additionally, last year, the ranking minority member of the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR), joined with another senior member of the committee, Ben Cardin (D-MD), to introduce the Student Loans Parity Act. That measure is expected to be reintroduced this year. Enactment of these bills in Congress would accelerate the regulatory momentum generated last year by an IRS ruling confirming the potential permissibility of employer matching contributions to pension plans based on employee payments on student loans.

Making a Social Impact

Social impact via investing is gaining strength, and for good reason: People are hungry for more avenues to make a positive impact on the world around them. Through platforms like FutureFuel.io’s, employers and investors alike can significantly change an individual’s life — and, by extension, a company’s future and the economy’s health.

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Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Palo Alto, California-based Hostt, specializing in helping businesses with hosting their website for free, for life. Previously he was the co-founder of Pixloo, a company that helped people sell their homes online, that was acquired in 2012.

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