Atul Kamra’s first job was working in a garment factory for his aunt in India. He learned a lot about the fashion industry and how fashion retailers operate. He eventually came to America on a scholarship and launched a career in business, learning about “character and cash flow” at big-name companies like American Express Bank.
Now the self-proclaimed financial services junkie is the Managing Partner at SixThirty, a venture fund and go-to-market program that focuses on finTech and late seed-stage ideas from across the world.
SixThirty operates out of T-REX in St. Louis. The company’s position in the heart of the Silicon Prairie gives it a unique opportunity to leverage St. Louis’s strengths all over the world.
“I often say, if you’re hungry for capital go to San Francisco. If you’re hungry for revenue, come to St. Louis,” said Kamra.
Kamra said that St. Louis is a city that buys technology and turns it into revenue, and is culturally attuned to the practice of collaboration, which puts it in a position to be a coach.
“What has been really important for us to build out at SixThirty has been the readiness on the part of the financial services community to collaborate, said Kamra. “At the heart of being ready to collaborate is [providing] time. I think this idea that we’re available to begin with, and then available to collaborate, is an important asset for us.”
Kamra said SixThirty bridges the gap between startups and the corporate world. The fund works by investing up to $250,000 in B2B fintech startups and entrepreneurs, and providing them with connections to the corporate financial world.
“We started with a footprint in the St. Louis region, but our connection is pretty national today,” said Kamra. “Most people don’t realize that based on an Economist [report from] last year, St. Louis is the second largest hub for financial services in the country. We have a very deep and broad footprint.”
Their corporate partners are the likes of Mastercard, Edward Jones, State Farm and Bank of New York Mellon, the world’s largest custody bank founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1784.
SixThirty looks for corporations that are force multipliers, meaning they have their own needs, but they also bring the needs of their issuers and merchants with them. They also require that corporate partners have time to commitment as well as capital to foster collaboration.
“One of the most important aspects of corporate partners coming on board with us is their intentional direction to have their leaders spend time with the entrepreneurs,” said Kamra. “They bring capital, they’re force multipliers, but their commitment to bring high-potential talent to the table, to both coach and be coached […] is really valuable for both parties.”
So what does SixThirty look for in their entrepreneurs? According to Kamra, “vitamin D and vitamin E.”
“D is for discontent. Somebody really has to want to make something better,” said Kamra. “E is for endurance. […] Your sales cycles are long in the B2B space. How do you have a sense of urgency, but on the other hand, be confidently patient.”
Kamra said entrepreneurs also need a strong engineering mindset around creating solutions, sense of collaboration and a natural ability to build trust.
“It is entirely a trust and relationship business,” said Kamra. “For a leader in financial services or technology to see you and remember you after a 50 or 60-hour week, why should you be memorable? The idea has to be great, but he or she also has to find somebody they can trust, that human connection.”
SixThirty currently has 42 companies in their full portfolio. Ten are in non-U.S. cities, six are from St. Louis and the rest are scattered from coast to coast. Kamra travels all over the world connecting with corporations and startups and is opening a SixThirty office in Hong Kong later this year.
With so much happening all over the globe, there’s one thing that Kamra said really excites him about his career.
“By far, dealing with entrepreneurs, no doubt about it,” said Kamra. “I think that’s the most exciting part of my work. That’s what gets me going. I will go to the to the ends of the earth to find a good entrepreneur.”
Christine McGuigan, Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News with on-location reporting by Brian Lee, Managing Director of Silicon Prairie News