By Tom Brown
Today, our newest portfolio company, FairPlay.ai, announced that we led their most recent fundraise and that I joined the company’s board. I want to take a moment to explain why we are so excited about this investment and the opportunity that lies in front of Kareem Saleh, John Merrill, and the team that they have built.
The explanation for any investment begins at the top. Nyca invests, above all, in founders. Kareem and John are great founders. I have known each of them for a decade. Kareem, as is true for many businesspeople with a law degree locked in the closet, is a gifted salesman. Over the last decade, I have watched him grow into a visionary leader. His co-founder, John, is a brilliant technologist whose research on neural networks, speech recognition, and ad targeting has for decades been pushing the boundaries of machine learning. Together, they have recruited a team stacked with all-stars in ML and AI.
Kareem, John, and their colleagues are bringing that expertise to bear on a problem that we are all passionate about: rooting out the systemic racism and discrimination that mars American society. For almost the entire history of this country, exploitation of and systematic discrimination against Black people, members of other minority groups, and women was rampant and condoned. As a formal legal matter, such exploitation and discrimination are now explicitly forbidden, but the legacy of our collective history is visible today across our country. This is particularly true in the creation and distribution of wealth. Compounding that wealth gap, research shows that members of those groups have less access to (and pay higher prices for) mainstream financial services, including installment loans, credit cards, mortgages, and even bank accounts. Other research suggests that they do so even if they present the same risk of default or non-payment as customers who belong to other demographic groups.
We are investing in FairPlay to help bring the era of effective redlining in the distribution of financial services to an end. We believe that everyone should have access to financial services, including credit. When a financial institution decides not to offer a particular applicant a service or to charge that applicant a higher price than another customer, the decision should be justified on the business merits and be easily explained. Having worked on this problem for many years, we know that through the proper application of machine learning and AI, decisioning tools used to underwrite the delivery of financial services can often be both more fair and more accurate. In other words, eliminating bias often increases profits.
FairPlay has built technology that enables every financial institution to ensure that its decisioning tools are as fair and accurate as possible. But credit isn’t the only use-case for their solution. Their technology can also identify and root out unmerited discrimination when technology is used to screen people for access to employment or housing. We are excited to help them grow and watch them make the world more fair.