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Credit card for emerging markets wins MIT $100K Accelerate

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A snowstorm raged outside, but 28 teams vied for prizes at the MIT $100k Accelerate entrepreneurship competition on Feb. 12 nonetheless. 

Duo fetched the $10,000 grand prize, focusing on credit cards for underserved markets. The company aims to build Latin America’s next generation of business-to-business financial services, starting by focusing on Mexico’s 4 million small- and medium-sized companies that lack credit. In Mexico, banks won’t issue credit to companies less than two years old, resulting in owners acquiring massive debt and commingling business and personal expenses.

“This is the first step for next-generation financial products for companies in Mexico,” said Duo co-founder Hugo Lopez-Velarde MBA ’20 (pictured above). “In Mexico, corporate cards are uncommon — often, business owners use personal cards and take on credit on behalf of their businesses.” 

Duo’s card will also generate credit history for the companies. Users can apply online and receive near-instant approval, plus a virtual card until one arrives in the mail. The corporate card is also paired with a data analytics dashboard to give new business owners oversight among employees who use the card, as well as spending control.

Encora's therapeutic wearable wristband stops hand tremors in neurodegenerative patients.

Credit: Encora

Runner-up Encora offers a therapeutic wearable wristband that stops hand tremors in neurodegenerative patients; it’s autonomously adaptable to each user. 

Hikma Health, meanwhile, creates customized data systems for healthcare providers to improve outcomes for Syrian refugee patients, working with partner organization the Syrian American Medical Society. That team started with the support of the MIT Media Lab Refugee Learning Accelerator. Hikma is Arabic for “healing wisdom.”

Many teams opted to focus on healthcare technology and optimization, said Accelerate co-managing director Harry Kainen MBA ’20. Other teams focused on social good, developing products such as affordable respirators and small business loans in emerging markets. 

The winner and two runners-up were named based on audience choice. They will go on to compete for $100,000 at the Launch competition this spring.

This year brought a new, interactive format. Instead of a series of presentations followed by judging, only nine teams presented on stage during the event’s first hour. Next, they adjourned to booths, where ticketholders mingled with the companies and cast votes for their three favorite ideas. 

Kainen said he hoped that the event’s new format empowered students to champion their favorite ideas.

“Since the vast majority of people who come to this event are students, we wanted to give them more power,” Kainen said.  “We hope it increases their amount of investment in the event, and we want to see increased interaction and value. This is a strictly democratic process.”

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