Ellis raises $5.6 million to pave the way for international students – TechCrunch
Almost anyone who has moved to a new country knows that setting up the basics, like a bank account, is the most difficult task to accomplish. This is why Ellis was created for international students who plan to study in the United States. Before their arrival, they can open a debit account with Ellis’ neobank and also subscribe to a 5G mobile phone plan. The startup is also working on a product to co-sign leases.
Ellis announced today that it has raised $5.6 million in funding led by Kindred Ventures, with participation from Castle Island Ventures, 20VC, Dreamers VC and V1.VC. The round also included investments from a host of founders, many of whom are immigrants: Harry Hurst of Pipe Founder; Joshua Browder of DoNotPay; Balaji Srinivasan; Matteo Franceschetti of EightSleep; Ranjan sardine soups; Tom Blomfield of Monzo; Alexander Leishman and Andrew Benson of River Financial; Cyril Berdugo and Tom Petit de Landis; Italic’s Jeremy Cai; and Keith Ryu of Fountain.
Ellis was founded by Sampei Omichi, who moved to the US in 2017 to attend college, before working at fintech River Financial. Omichi told TechCrunch he founded Ellis because “what many don’t realize is that college campuses are the modern Ellis Islands for immigrants and highly skilled entrepreneurs in the United States.” Examples of former international students include Elon Musk, Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, he noted.
When Omichi moved to the United States five years ago, he had to find a way to get a prepaid phone plan, open a bank account without a social security number, and apply for a debit card. Then he spent years managing the visa process, tax policies for non-residents, and maintaining travel and immigration documents in multiple systems – “all of which lead to long hours of stress and, at worst, , a risk of deportation,” he said. .
Along the way, he met many other international students struggling with the same issues. After being rejected for an H1-B visa in 2021, Omichi decided to cast Ellis. He added that his guiding principle is his younger brother, who is currently a senior in high school about to also move to the United States for college.
“This is a market that has long been overlooked and treated like second-class citizens by financial institutions and tech companies,” Omichi said.
Ellis works by collecting basic documents, like a passport, Form 1-20 or DS-2019, then using that information to give immigrants a phone plan, an international checking account and a debit card before they go. move to the United States. The same information is also used to create an immigration profile which automates all paperwork including applying for a social security card, filing non-resident tax returns, creating credit profiles, renewing visas and work permit application.
Ellis Money is a neobank for international students moving to the United States Users without a social security number provide a passport and Form 1-20 or DS-2019 to open an FDIC-insured bank account four months before moving to the United States United States Accounts can be funded with domestic SWIFT and ACH transfers, and they can either use a virtual debit card or receive a physical one in the mail. Ellis Money is in partnership with Blue Ridge Bank to provide checking account services. Ellis Mobile, meanwhile, is an MVNO built on top of T-Mobile’s network. It will be launched in May.
As for the cosigner product, called Ellis Rent, the company will begin work on it later this year. Since the parents of most international students don’t earn U.S. income, they can’t act as rent co-signers, Omichi said. As a result, students often have to pay 6-12 months rent up front. He said Ellis is currently working with insurers to underwrite that risk so he can act as a co-signer.
The funding will be used for products and engineering, as well as Ellis’ core distribution strategy of partnering with international education agencies around the world.