Interview with Victor Senapaty, Co-Founder of Propelld, a FinTech startup

Victor Senapaty

An exclusive interview with Victor Senapaty, Co-Founder of Propelld, a FinTech startup specializing in lending in the Education segment

In the realm of financial technology, trailblazers are redefining the boundaries of lending and reshaping the financial landscape. Mr. Victor Senapaty, the visionary Co-Founder of Propelld, stands at the forefront of this evolution.

As the driving force behind this innovative fintech startup, Mr. Senapaty has harnessed his expertise to create a platform that is revolutionizing lending dynamics. In this exclusive interview, we have the privilege of delving into Mr. Senapaty’s entrepreneurial journey, the founding principles of Propelld, and the profound impact that this fintech startup is bringing to the industry.

Can you share the inspiration and story behind the founding of Propelld? What motivated you to start a FinTech startup focused on lending in the education sector?

Victor Senapaty: Propelld is a sequel of the passion and perseverance of three IIT Alumni, Victor Senapaty, Bibhu Prasad Das and Brijesh Samantaray, who also happened to be childhood friends. Even while relishing the comforts of their high-paying jobs, they did not feel fulfilled by the significance of their work.

Since childhood, they always wanted to build something that would make a meaningful contribution to society, something that would have a positive impact on people’s lives.

In early 2017, while discussing their shared passion for change in society is when they struck upon the significant gap between how education financing is offered in the country versus what is verily required by the students. 

Armed with this knowledge, they spent months researching the education financing industry, studying the different models that existed, and trying to figure out what they could do differently. They finally hit upon an idea that they felt was truly unique – an underwriting system that could democratize access to education.

They started building a financial product with a unique underwriting that would enable them to assist students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford education, and they wanted to do it in a way that was fair, transparent, and accessible to everyone.

As they moved from one education segment to another with differentiated products and education-focused underwriting policies, they saw the vindication of their steps by both students and Institute partners.

From there, Propelld has been skyrocketing for an India where no deserving student is deprived of quality education due to financial barriers.

Education lending is a niche segment within the FinTech industry. What market gaps or opportunities did you identify that led to the creation of Propelld?

Victor Senapaty: At Propelld, we leverage the best practices and tools of the financial services industry to make the Education ecosystem more efficient. Furthermore, we think that the investment perspective linked to educational costs requires a distinct FinTech player focused on education, which handles these expenses differently than other expenses.

This is one of the problems we are trying to address as well. Because, due to the high NPAs associated with education loans, majority of the lenders look at education lending with a sceptical lens. But what we are trying to prove is that we cannot look at an education loan similar to any other retail loan which only considers the present repayment capability of the individual or the family.

Education has the highest ROI and therefore the repayment capability should also be based on the future repayment potential of the individual/family.

On the same note, the penetration level of education loans in India at the moment is just 2-3%. That too concentrated on Tier 1 or Tier 2 Engineering or MBA colleges. But that just consists of a minimal percentage of students in comparison with the rest who wants to pursue quality education in different segments but cannot due to financial constraints.

This is where we fit in solving these concerns with our personalized loan products for different education segments (School, coaching, university, Skillup) with a unique underwriting technique.

Ultimately, we have realized that the diverse nature of educational products and consumers demands a high degree of product customizability to enable a specialized player to delve deeper into the sector.

Our vision is to democratize access to education, and we acknowledge that financial products have traditionally played a crucial role in any ecosystem to achieve this goal.

As such, we leverage financial technology to offer innovative solutions that simplify the education financing process and make education more accessible to all.

How does Propelld differentiate itself from traditional lenders in the education space, and what unique features or services does the platform offer to its users?

Victor Senapaty: Our competition primarily consists of upstart startups, both horizontal and vertical players, as we operate in a niche market. Horizontal players view education merely as a sourcing channel, while education-focused vertical players lack experience and market dominance.

Our sustained leadership position in this segment and the vast market potential leave us with limited competition.

In terms of retaining our institute partners, we continuously strive to improve our product offerings and leverage non-traditional data sources to serve a higher number of learners better. Our close-knit relationship with the institutes enables us to make frequent product modifications, integrate with their systems, and remain their preferred partner.

Regarding students, we plan to transition towards more relationship-based offerings shortly. This will involve assisting students in rating and reviewing courses and educational services, enabling them to make informed decisions and fostering better connections.

Overall, despite the healthy competition we strive to cut-edge innovation to stay as the preferred education financing partner for our partner institutes and every Indian family.

Propelld’s platform likely deals with sensitive financial information. How do you prioritize data security and privacy to build trust among borrowers and lenders?

Victor Senapaty: Prioritizing data security and privacy is crucial for building trust among borrowers and lenders in a platform like Propelld, which deals with sensitive financial information.

Implementing end-to-end encryption for all data transmissions and storage ensures that sensitive information remains unreadable and secure even if intercepted. Also, strict access controls and authentication mechanisms is in place where only authorized personnel should have access to sensitive data, and roles and permissions should be clearly defined.

In a country like India, with a vast and diverse education landscape, how does Propelld customize its lending solutions to cater to the needs of various educational courses and institutions?

Victor Senapaty: As a progressing sector, the education segment needs personalized financing solutions to meet the requirements of students, parents, and educational institutions alike. While building financial products, it is imperative to consider various segments of students, the outcome of different courses, and the performance of educational institutions. This is what fintech financing platforms are moving towards.

Fulfilling the need of the hour, Propelld has built optimal financial products. For instance, we have financing products that require the students to pay a smaller amount of EMI during the course.

And they can pay higher EMI amounts once they land a job after completing their education. This is devised keeping in mind the students who won’t be able to pay their EMIs without a job. In the coaching segment we have a No-cost EMI

Moreover, the right financing products offer a win-win situation for all the involved stakeholders. We also make educational institutes an integral part of the financing ecosystem. It helps in ensuring that the courses offered are value-based and thorough, guaranteeing the students’ repayment capability.

Propelld is situated in Bangalore, a hub for startups and technology companies. How has the startup ecosystem in Bangalore contributed to Propelld’s growth and success?

Victor Senapaty: First and foremost, Bangalore’s abundant talent pool has been a game-changer. The city’s thriving community of skilled professionals has allowed us to tap into diverse expertise, from tech wizards to business strategists, propelling our product development and innovation.

Networking and collaboration opportunities have been invaluable. Engaging with fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, and industry leaders in this tight-knit ecosystem has not only expanded our knowledge but also led to fruitful partnerships and even potential investors.

Access to capital is a significant factor that cannot be overlooked. The presence of numerous venture capital firms and angel investors in Bangalore has provided us with essential funding avenues, vital for scaling and realizing our vision.

The support from various startup incubators and accelerators has been instrumental. These programs have acted as catalysts, refining our business model, enhancing our product, and guiding us through the tumultuous early stages.

In summation, Propelld’s remarkable growth and success owe a significant debt to the thriving startup ecosystem in Bangalore. The perfect blend of talent, resources, collaboration, and support has truly been our launchpad to excellence.

Financial inclusion is a global challenge. How does Propelld address the needs of students from underserved communities or those with limited access to traditional banking services?

Victor Senapaty: The traditional methods of credit underwriting majorly focus on the current financial situation of the students. As a result, most financially weak students are considered ineligible for loans. Instead, Propelld takes an alternative approach to assess the borrower’s repayment capability.

We consider the student’s academic performance and the potential outcome of the job. It helps in a better understanding of the repayment capabilities of the student borrowers.

All traditional financing institutions need collateral and Cosigner to disburse loans. It acts as financial security in case the borrower is unable to repay the loan. Previously, the students who didn’t have any collateral and assets were unable to get education financing.

As a result, they had to let go of their educational aspirations. Whereas, Propelld’s financing solution has changed this. Students can now get financing through our platform without any collateral or cosigner and pursue their desired education courses.

When it comes to interest rates, Propelld boasts a set of unique selling points that set us apart from the competition. At present, an astounding 99% of our loans, specifically tailored for students and parents in the school, coaching, and upskilling segments, are offered at absolutely no cost(Zero-cost EMI).

This is made possible through a subvented product approach, wherein the burden of the interest rate is entirely shouldered by the institute, granting unparalleled financial relief to those seeking educational support.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start a FinTech venture in the education sector?

Victor Senapaty: The insights I’m sharing transcend the boundaries of FinTech, offering universal guidance for enterprise development. While challenges may vary, unchanging principles remain paramount. It’s important to note that these insights reflect personal perspectives:

Firstly, choose a challenge that equally excites you and your co-founders, compelling a steadfast commitment through all obstacles. Envision the transformative impact upon success as a motivating force.

Secondly, the vital role of co-founders cannot be overstated. Beyond skill diversity, prioritize shared values and unwavering trust. Co-founders should engage in open, ego-free discourse, fostering diverse viewpoints to arrive at comprehensive solutions.

Lastly, understanding market dynamics and customer needs falls within your purview. While expert opinions are valuable, combining them with entrepreneurial intuition ensures decisions align with the market’s pulse.

In essence, these principles resonate across entrepreneurship. The allure of the challenge, a cohesive co-founding team, and the fusion of expertise with entrepreneurial judgment pave the way for your enterprise’s triumph.

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