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Overview

Sixup is reinventing student lending with an outcomes-based system that funds and incubates high-achieving, low-income students through the lifecycle of social mobility: upmatching to colleges with better outcomes, performing academically, graduating on time, getting jobs and building wealth.

Their Story

Sixup estimates, through NCES aggregate data, that for 7 million college-aged kids across the U.S., the gap between what they’re able to pay in tuition and what they owe ranges anywhere between $5,000 to $15,000 a year. This whopping $35 billion to $135 billion underfunding gap often forces low-income, high-achieving students to forgo attending their dream schools in favor of less expensive, lower-tier schools. While costing less in the short term, the choice to attend institutions with lower outcomes is one these students will pay for over the course of their lives.

“The system is broken; it wasn’t designed with these students in mind. They’ve worked hard, they’ve beat the odds, but they’re getting left behind,” says Sunwoo Hwang, founder of Sixup, a fintech company aiming to offer an alternative approach to the issue of underfunding for low-income students. “Our students are eager for access to responsible, affordable loans that will allow them to attend their ‘dream’ and more selective schools and relieve them of the financial stress that often means their grades suffer, or they miss invaluable summer internship opportunities, from having to work multiple jobs to put themselves through school.”

Hwang knows the predicament these students face all too well. The first in his family to go to college, even with the help of financial aid, Hwang was short $12,000 a year on his tuition. As a result, he had to choose to either forgo the opportunity to attend Northwestern or defer enrollment for a year and work nine different jobs to get himself through school. He chose the latter, and although he graduated in 1995, he had to sacrifice internships and studying abroad, experiences that helped his peers land jobs when they graduated.

More than 20 years later, Hwang wants to help repair the badly broken system so that students can attend the schools that will bring the brightest futures and actually enjoy their time there without having to stress about the financial burden. To do this, he’s created Sixup, which aims to close the underfunding gap by creating a new asset class that benefits both investors and students financially through impact investing.Sixup has trademarked a term for this model: Upmatching.

“Banks won’t lend to low-income students commonly defined as ‘thin-file’ in the capital markets, since they lack a cosigner and minimum FICO. It took a while for sophisticated credit and institutional investors to hop on board,” Hwang says. “There has been a systemic ‘subprime’ stigma with low-income students, even high performers. But once they were able to appreciate Sixup’s alternative credit model and that Sixup was identifying investment-worthy students that were ‘FuturePrime,’ they started investing and helping us get to market.”

Thus, Sixup has created a new lending and credit model that doesn’t require a cosigner or FICO, and underwrites based on student achievement and educational outcomes. It therefore identifies underbanked and undervalued borrowers into a new asset class Sixup refers to as FuturePrime, when they would otherwise be categorized as subprime. To do this, Hwang and his team created a credit model from scratch. “We had to figure out how to look at student performance metrics in real time,” Hwang says.

“We had to build algorithms and regression models based on performance of students.” The central question Sixup is aiming to answer: What if students could be given opportunity, not based on their access to a cosigner with a good credit score, but on their academic promise? To do this, Sixup had to figure out a way to tweak the existing financial model so that it could properly match capital with borrowers.

“Low and moderate income populations are underserved by banks. And why only focus on the Ivy League? What about kids going to Main Street schools?” Hwang says.

Sixup had to build relationships with key external partners who could help connect them with low-income high-achieving students – community organizations, federal outreach and student service programs, charter schools, and colleges’ financial aid offices that are focused on working with this population.

“These organizations identify high achievers and fill the counseling gap those kids have by giving them support like test prep and mentoring,” he says. In 2016, Sixup launched its first state pilot in Texas. It has since grown state by state, making sure it meets each jurisdiction’s compliance laws. Today, Sixup offers loans in 18 states.

Next, the startup had to identify and build relationships with potential funders willing to invest their money based on students’ merit. Sixup lenders include a range of debt investors, from foundations including Rockefeller, Kellogg, and Jack Kent Cooke to banks that include the likes of Goldman Sachs. These financial partners believe what Sixup believes: High-achieving, low-income students can be as successful as any other student group if they are afforded the same opportunities and resources to take advantage of them in higher education. Their commitment to this social impact is at the forefront of why these partnerships were realized so quickly. And Sixup has broken the mold to become the first student lender with a CDFI designation, opening up an entirely new asset class for impact investments by banks through the Community Reinvestment Act.

Because investors are betting on students’ performance, it’s important for Sixup to make sure their borrowers are set up to succeed as best as possible. To do this, the company offers wraparound support, including a job match program that helps pair students to summer internships, a credit boost program focused on helping students start building good credit behavior, and an online tutoring program to help support students in their academics.

“We are taking a bet on students’ performance, so our success is aligned with their success,” Hwang says. “That changes the whole relationship with our borrower.”

What They Do

Gap loans for high-potential low-income students

Key People

Sunwoo Hwang

Founder, CEO

Location

San Francisco, CA

Website

sixup.com/

2018 Challenge Winner
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