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Artificial Intelligence Lending Startup Upstart Network Raises $50M, Partners with Banks

On Our Radar: Deals we are paying attention to for their impact on industry.


Upstart Network, an artificial intelligence (AI) lending platform founded by ex-Googlers, has raised $50 million in equity funding.


Progressive Investment Company, Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan and First National Bank of Omaha led the Series D round for the San Carlos, Calif., startup.


Upstart also announced new bank partnerships as it zeroes in on the booming fintech market. Those partners are First National Bank of Omaha, First Federal Bank of Kansas City and Accion Chicago. Through the partnership, the banks gain access to Upstart’s AI platform, while allowing them to enforce their own credit policies. A few years ago, Upstart launched its first technology partnership with Customer Bank, its division BankMobile, and other lenders.


Founded in 2012, Upstart has raised more than $160 million to date and has over $100 million in cash and equity capital on hand, the company said.


“Credit is generally overpriced and unfairly distributed because it relies on techniques developed before the advent of modern computing,” Upstart CEO Dave Girouard wrote in a blog post. “But technology and data science, in the form of AI, have the opportunity to change all of that.”


Upstart uses machine learning to make its credit decisions and eliminate fraud, offering uncollateralized fixed-rate personal loans from $1,000 to $50,000 for a range of uses -- home improvement or wedding or moving expenses, for instance. According to the Upstart website, to determine loan eligibility, its model considers credit history and scores, education, area of study and employment history.


The time-consuming and inflexible procedures of traditional banks have inadvertently spurred the growth of the alternative peer-to-peer lending platforms like Upstart, which are easier to use and charge fewer associated fees.


Upstart competes with such fintech startups as SoFi, Prosper Marketplace and Funding Circle, which don’t lend their own funds, but act as facilitators between borrowers and lenders.


Fintech is single-handedly eliminating the purposes of many banks, says Naomi Rosenblum, a fintech analyst at Equitech Financial Consulting in Tel Aviv, Israel.


“New players are entering the lending and payment technologies scene at an astonishing rate, as there are many opportunities for growth,” Rosenblum told Karma Network. “With the rise of competition, consumers have a plethora of options to choose from, and these lending solutions are filling niches we’ve never seen before.”


More than $3.3 billion in loans have originated from the Upstart platform in the last five years, according to the company. The startup, which counts former Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff among its early investors, grew revenues by about 80% in 2018 and reached profitability in the second half of the year.


Anastasia Ustinova is a freelance business writer based in Seattle with more than 10 years of experience reporting around the world. Her stories were featured in Bloomberg News, Businessweek, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle.

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