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Fintech for small business: Six UK start-ups helping out SMEs

The six winners of innovation foundation Nesta's Open Up Challenge include a current account for freelancers, a cashflow management tool for SMEs and platforms that match businesses to investors

From a current account that works out taxes for the self-employed to a platform that matches up companies and investors, fintech for small business is a growing market.

Now, six fintech start-ups have been given a boost after being named as winners of the Open Up Challenge today.

The prize fund, designed to support innovative fintech products and services for SMEs and promote open banking, is hosted by innovation foundation Nesta.

Each of this year’s six winners will receive £200,000 to help bring their products to market.

Chris Gorst, challenge prize lead at Nesta, said: “Since 2017, the companies we’ve backed have been building a quiet revolution, transforming how small businesses find the best bank accounts and loans, manage cashflow, reduce financial admin and trade with one another.

“These tools are easier than ever to use and, as our winners show, they are quickly growing popular with small businesses.

“We are confident that 2019 will be a tipping-point in the emergence of a new, more customer-focused financial services market in the UK.”


Fintech for small business: The Open Up Challenge winners


Sam O’Connor and Adam Goodall, co-founders of Coconut

Coconut is a current account designed for freelancers, small business owners and the self-employed to free them from completing business administration tasks.

The London bank automatically updates a user’s accounting details, removing the need for bookkeeping, and provides an estimate of how much tax they will owe at the end of the year.

The app, which currently has 4,000 users also gives advice on what expenses freelancers and self-employed workers can claim for.

Funding Circle

Funding Circle is a global small business loans platform that matches businesses that seek funding with investors in the UK, US, Germany and the Netherlands.

By allowing investors to lend directly to businesses, London-based Funding Circle claims to make the lending process quicker and easier for businesses and can advertise better returns for investors.

To date, £5.6bn has been lent through the platform to 56,000 small businesses worldwide.

Funding Options

Funding Options aims to help find the best business finance deals for UK SMEs by scanning the market to find the financing options that best suit the business’ needs.

The funding comparison platform has been described as the “matchmaking website for small businesses and lenders” and claims to have helped small businesses raise more than £100m in finance.


The Fluidly team

Fluidly provides “intelligent cash flow management software” to small businesses to help monitor and predict their financial in and outgoings.

Fluidly’s technology uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and financial modelling to help predict business finances from the available data in their accounting packages and bank accounts.

The company claims to “help SMEs to sleep better at night” by helping them to manage their cash flow.


OpenWrks helps with borrowing, money management and repayments by allowing customers to safely share financial information with trusted businesses.

The Nottingham start-up was co-founded by Olly Betts and Mitul Sudra in 2015 to help more fintech companies benefit from open banking.

The toolkit for open banking helps businesses to provide more personalised products and services.


Swoop aims to simplify the process of securing funding for businesses.

By filling out a single form, Swoop will automatically try to match a business to one of the 1,000 funding providers that use the service.

Swoop simplifies and speeds up access to loans, investment, grants and financial savings, and can automatically analyse which banks and service providers are the best value for a business.


What is open banking?

The £5m prize fund is run in partnership with government competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, as part of its open banking reforms.

This package of reforms requires Britain’s largest banks to securely share customer data with licensed financial start-ups and was created to encourage fintech companies to disrupt the sector and come up with innovative ways to make banking processes cheaper and faster for consumers.

Chris Gorst, Open Up Challenge prize lead at Nesta
Chris Gorst, Open Up Challenge prize lead at Nesta

Mr Gorst added: “The UK is the first country in the world to introduce ‘open banking’, and regulators, banks and start-ups around the world are watching closely to see whether the country’s reforms are a success.

“Ultimately the true test of success is whether consumers and small businesses get their hands on better products and services – and trust that their data is being kept safe.

“It’s critical that the UK learns lessons from open banking and continues to reform regulated markets.

“The result will be a better deal for consumers and small businesses in the near term – and more innovation in the long term.”