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Northeastern students from around the globe converge on Miami campus for week-long immersion in financial technology

Students presenting at the Fintech Trek in Miami.
Students from across Northeastern’s global network participated in a Fintech Trek in Miami over spring break. Photo by Kelly Gavin for Northeastern University Miami

Miami is an unsurprising destination for spring break. 

But Northeastern University students from across the globe came to the city this month not for the beach but for the startup scene, participating in a fintech trek. 

“Going through this kind of crash course and hearing from founders in a week and getting to build and iterate the beginning stages of my own startup in a group was really valuable,” said Shivi Sharma, an undergraduate finance major on Northeastern’s Boston campus. 

“The trek really allowed me to get my arms around the breadth of the fintech field,” Sharma continued. “It really helped me understand what types of technical skills to build and what areas exist that might be interesting for me to look into.”

Fintech, or financial technology, is technology used to augment, streamline, digitize or disrupt traditional financial services. Miami has emerged as a hub for companies competing in the fintech space.

The Student Fintech Trek was held during Northeastern’s spring break and brought 15 students from across the global network to Miami for an immersive experience in the city’s fintech scene. The students were selected through a competitive application process and met founders of successful local companies. The week culminated in a pitch with judges from SoftBank, the Knight Foundation and Lab22c, a consulting agency for startups.

“When I saw that you can meet with all these big CEOs within the fintech space, that just grabbed my interest,” said Rich Zou, a Northeastern student in Oakland pursuing an undergraduate degree in data science and business administration. “And I’m the guy who likes to challenge myself, and we have to make a startup in four days.”

Indeed, Zou said his team’s pitch changed over the course of the week as students learned more about fintech and the problems that it could solve. 

“Our first problem was involved in micro investing in real estate, but then we’re like ‘OK, that didn’t work,’” Zou recalled.

So they shifted to a financial management and budgeting app geared toward Gen Z users.

Meanwhile, Sara Quintero, a student on Northeastern’s London campus, and teammates pitched grant management software that uses AI to help nonprofits generate impact reports. 

“It was just five days, so it was very much a trek or sprint into fintech, but I would say that I learned about how fintech can be used to inspire positive change and the entrepreneur ecosystem and really leverage just how advanced our technology has become,” Quintero said. “Since I study politics and international relations with business and sustainability and have this interest in fintech, I kind of combined all of these interests into focusing on how I can enact a positive change on my campus and my career with this experience.”

Judges who received the students’ pitches said they were impressed.

“It’s just incredible that they built this in four days, and every single one of the groups had something really great to share with us,” said Caryn Lavernia, a vice president and senior partner at Lab 22C consulting firm. “I was really impressed with what they brought to the table.”

Jon Belgrad, a program officer at the Knight Foundation, described the students in three words: “courageous, tenacious and resourceful.”

“Entrepreneurship is tough, it’s a long journey,” Belgrad said. “I hope this is a spark, a catalyst for them to pursue — whether it’s this entrepreneurial idea in front of them or just bringing that approach to how they approach life — and kick off their entrepreneurial-oriented careers.”

The judges also said they hoped the participants in the trek decided to base these careers in Miami … noting that the city usually sees a different kind of student during spring break.

“As a Miami native, I love it when institutions bring young people and talent to our community in a way that is not just about partying for spring break,” Lavernia said. “There is a really Interesting and and deep community of entrepreneurs, and an ecosystem where people can build here.”

Belgrad agreed.

“To have students from all over the world come here and look at Miami as a place where they have the resources they need to build a high-scale, high-impact company is something we’re really glad to see,” Belgrad said.