Fintech Portable announced today that it has closed a $2.5 million seed round led by Harlem Capital Partners. Portable, founded by Nate Sofio and Alex Yenkalov, also launched its beta today for institutional use.
It provides identity management and protection for financial services, banking and consumer apps, while Sofio calls it a financial digital passport that helps with consumer identity, making work less cumbersome for consumers and financial services. He said the company’s goal is to wean people off passwords, helping consumers gain more ownership of their financial data by granting them control over who can access it.
The app works like this: Portable stores information used to access existing financial apps. Every time the app is opened, a portable log-in appears and allows users to log in in two clicks.
“If you’re a consumer, we recognize that the reality of who has access to your identity and financial life — historically confusing and messy — is at worst, adversarial and exclusionary,” Sofio told Technology Flow. “We believe this is the right way for consumers to take ownership of their data, hold it securely and share it for access or updates, and take advantage of the many promises you’ve heard in open banking.”
Yenkalov noted the emergence of decentralized identifiers, verifiable credentials, and zero-knowledge proofs, saying the industry is closer than ever to allowing financial institutions to benefit from consumers owning and sharing their own data.
“In a way, by holding users to their authentic data, Portable is turning them into secure APIs,” he told Technology Flow. “It has enormous potential to transform consumer-provider interactions in the financial world.”
Calling the fundraising journey “this kind of weird hopscotch situation,” Sofio says he started building the app while studying at the Wharton School of Business early last year. He runs competitions and accelerators in his free time. Eventually, he met Yenkalov, who helped him formulate the app’s hypothesis. Thanks to a series of warm contacts, the two were able to start scraping together money and met investors.
Sofio said Portable chose Harlem Capital to lead the round after a call he’ll never forget: Yenkalov, a Ukrainian citizen, was caught in the middle of a fundraising call with the firm as the country went to war with Russia. Sofio recalls the air raid sirens going off, and for the first few minutes of the call the conversation was not about business but about finding a way to support Yenkalov’s escape from the country.
“It’s a VC firm, and their mission is to make great investments,” Sofio said. “They put all that aside and say, ‘Hey, it’s a global crisis — what else can we do for you?’ For me, it’s something to remember forever, obviously.”
Harlem Capital partner Brandon Bryant said the fund was initially drawn to Portable by the idea that verification of identity in fintech was still unresolved. “Their platform allows you as a user to create your own credentials one time and bring them with you to every fintech application,” Bryant told Technology Flow. “We think this will be a big unlock for the industry.”
Carl Vogel, partner at Sixth Man Ventures, which invested in Portable’s seed round, echoed similar sentiments. “This app realizes that creating user-owned financial identities can create meaningful product and operational improvements not only for consumers but also for financial institutions,” he said.
“Portable’s solution is exciting for us as both traditional financial institutions and Web3-native companies look to securely onboard and manage users,” continued Vogel. “We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Portable on their journey.”
Sofio said the company plans to use the money to expand the team and accelerate its growth. It is also working on its SOC2 and ISO/IEC 27001 security certifications (the former is a voluntary standard for managing consumer data while the latter is an international rubric for managing information) and is leaning towards blockchain to grant consumers bulletproof records of their data. “
As a child, Sofio learned the importance of verifiable identity information. He was born in Columbia, adopted and raised in Stamford, Connecticut. He describes his surroundings as predominantly immigrants and says there is always an underlying fear and anxiety about proper documentation.
“I grew up seeing different types of financial exclusion because of poverty, immigration, cash dependence and a lot of concerns about documentation and building relationships with brick and mortar banks,” says Sofio. “Those are things that lock good people out of using basic services.”
He studied anthropology during his undergraduate years at Yale and always planned to attend law school. His first job out of university was as a paralegal, where he managed to build databases, developing his love for information gathering. He has worked for various software and fintech startups for over a decade, focusing on product management fraud and anti-money laundering.
He soon realized the connection between data management, identity issues and the financial services needed. From there, he dropped everything, canceled plans for law school, and embarked on a journey of learning about identity, which naturally led him to Wharton.
“Historically, a lot of people have been left out of the system because they’re not bad, but because they’re hard to understand,” he said. “We want to make that a thing of the past by standardizing how both traditional and alternative data can be owned, shared and trusted.”
This article has been updated to clarify what the Portable app does.