One Year Look Back: Lessons From Startup Founders in Mastercard’s Startup Engagement Program

Black founders are building solutions to solve pain points in the fintech space experienced by small business owners, gamers, developers, creators, influencers and countless others who make up the innovation economy. 

The Plug caught up with founders from the Mastercard Start Path In Solidarity program to understand what trends they saw in their respective industries in the last year and how they foresee these trends taking shape in 2023.

XR Sports Group

There’s a growing lack of mistrust in third-party platforms among content creators, Kedreon Cole, the founder and CEO of XR Sports, a social commerce website builder for creators, said. He believes more creators will continue to leverage their personal platforms going into 2023.

“Creators have recognized that they may be potentially leaving money on the table by only going through third-party platforms to grow their fan base,” Cole told The Plug

And in doing so, social media influencers have been transforming business models. Previously, creators and athletes served as brand spokespeople — now they are creating products as an extension of their personal brands. 

And this is not limited by industry — YouTube personality MrBeast built an online merch store, actor George Clooney created the tequila company Casamigos and artist Cardi B created her own line of vodka-infused whipped cream. Arguably one of the most successful influencers in this space is the Kardashian family who has launched over 20 businesses including Kylie Cosmetics and Skims. 

“More and more retailers will probably start to look at working directly with the creators instead of just working with platforms that are hosting creators,” he said, noting that social commerce is a growing market.

“It’s still a very nascent space, believe it or not, and the creator economy will continue to expand significantly in 2023,” Cole said.


When looking at social commerce from an e-commerce perspective, Marvin Francois, co-founder and CEO of oneKin, an AI-powered live shopping platform, said brands will prioritize distribution channels that provide shoppers with “personal, instant and responsive” experiences. 

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq, co-founder and CEO of Goodfynd, a point-of-sale platform for food trucks and mobile vendors, echoed that customer behavior will continue to lean toward proximity and convenience with an increase in popularity among mobile vendors over traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.

Over the course of the pandemic, another trend oneKin observed was a sharp rise in socially responsible purchasing by consumers. But over the last 18 months, there has been a reversal in “prioritizing values over value.”

“[It] is expected to persist in 2023 driven by economic uncertainty and higher prices. Shoppers are increasingly seeking cheaper options, which is in sharp contrast with the 81 percent of brands that plan to increase prices due to inflation,” Francois told The Plug. “Brands will have to explore creative ways of retaining their customers including offering new products with higher perceived value or introducing budget-friendly options.”


In 2021 YouTube announced that it paid out more than $30 billion to creators over three years from ads, merchandising and more. And when you add other leading platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and Facebook that figure grows exponentially, James Jones Jr., co-founder and CEO of Bump, a financial service platform for creators, said. 

Enabling creators to efficiently track and manage payouts and then invest them into their businesses or purchase stocks, crypto and NFTs through a fintech platform will be critical for the continued growth of independent wealth among creators, Jones believes.

“Both bitcoin and ethereum have withstood the shocks and tremors of the cryptocurrency earthquake that brought down other coins and exchanges such as FTX. This bodes well in 2023 as we believe more creators will be making more money and will be looking for more assets to invest in,” Jones told The Plug.

“We also believe that creators will increasingly rely on diverse sources of revenue to support themselves and their businesses and the days of having only one revenue source are behind us,” he said.

Tatum Games

Tatum Games, which helps indie developers and game studios improve monetization, said the data it has collected in building the platform indicates that gamers are conscious about how they are spending their time. 

“Even though people are still continuing to play games at a much higher and longer rate, they’re doing so with intention,” Founder and CEO Leonard Tatum told The Plug. A lot of times they’re participating in some sort of competition or eSports, or something that earns them some monetary gain and I think that sort of trend is going to continue.”

This model which is known as “play-to-earn” has gained popularity and Tatum believes that it will continue to do so. A survey conducted by ZEBEDEE, a leading payment processor for the gaming industry, found that 67 percent of respondents were more likely to play free games if they provided opportunities to earn crypto as a reward.

“I think people will adopt it simply because if you’re going to spend your time doing something you might as well make some money doing it,” he said.


A pain point small business owners often face is having a full, clear picture of their business’s financial situation, so Finpro uses AI and machine learning to automate the financial planning process.

A trend Serge Amouzou, founder and CEO of Finpro, believes will continue growing is business owners paying attention to the importance of financial planning and analysis. 

“We’re in a recession, layoffs are happening all around, it’s much more critical for businesses to have insight into their financials and making sure that data is streamlined and organized across business functions so that they can make it through this essentially tremulous time,” Amouzou told The Plug.

This story was sponsored by our partners at Mastercard. The Start Path In Solidarity program is part of Mastercard’s In Solidarity commitment of $500 million in products, services, technology and financial support to help close the racial wealth and opportunity gap. For more information about the Start Path In Solidarity program visit here.

Alesia Bani

Alesia Bani is a writer and journalist from Philadelphia and The Plug’s Innovation Reporter covering the Black tech ecosystem in Philadelphia. She previously worked for the Institutional Diversity office at her alma mater Temple University and has a background in reporting on identity, DEI and local government.