Earlier this May, a world-class team of capital markets experts launched Jia, a blockchain-based fintech platform that provides accessible, affordable, and rewarding financing to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in emerging markets. Jia’s model is designed to ensure entrepreneurs can grow their businesses and build wealth for their communities.

Jia is announcing $4.3 million in equity funding with an additional $1 million committed for on-chain liquidity through a partnership with Huma Finance, a decentralized finance protocol. The round was led by TCG Crypto, with participation from BlockTower, Hashed Emergent, Saison Capital, Draft Ventures, and other strategic fintech and blockchain funds, as well as prominent angel investors including Packy McCormick (Not Boring), Anand Iyer (Canonical Crypto), Jared Hecht and Rory Eakin (founders of fintech lending companies Fundera and CircleUp).

MSMEs in emerging markets are often excluded from access to affordable financing from banks and forced to rely on informal local lenders for capital to operate their businesses. Entrepreneurs often face triple-digit APRs, forcing them to give up the lion’s share of their profits in order to expand their businesses.

Mobile lending apps, which emerged with broader internet access in emerging markets, are an improvement. They often underwrite and pay out small loans in hours. But while these apps have seen strong adoption, they remain expensive and typically cap loans at low amounts, leaving a massive hole in the market for $500-$10,000 loans — precisely the size that many MSMEs in emerging markets need to purchase inventory and grow their businesses.

To fill this gap, four emerging market finance veterans — Zach Marks, Cheng Cheng, Ivan Orone, and Yuting Wang — teamed up to launch Jia.

The four met at Tala, where they worked together to help scale the startup’s user base from six thousand to six million borrowers across three continents in six years. At Tala, they saw a need to turn banking from a transactional relationship with value flowing from borrower to lender, into a two-way street, where borrowers are compensated for the value they create with ownership. In less than a year, Jia has built a new fintech stack that uses blockchain technology to distribute ownership, building off the principles of community finance groups where borrowers are owners and not just customers.

“There are millions of brilliant entrepreneurs across emerging markets who are locked out of the legacy financial system,” said Zach Marks, chief executive officer and co-founder of Jia, who began his career working in economic development at McKinsey & Co. after researching street vendors in India on a Fulbright Fellowship.

“We created Jia to give those business owners fair access to the right tools to continue creating new jobs, growing their operations, and expanding opportunities in their communities,” he added.

Jia is one of the few blockchain-based solutions aimed at addressing financial inclusion in emerging markets, a long-touted application of the technology. Jia’s platform allows investors to deploy capital to real-world businesses and earn competitive returns. In tandem, small business owners build sustainable wealth in their communities.

Jia employs an automated underwriting model to evaluate potential borrowers, and deploys capital to them from on-chain liquidity pools backed by global investors. When borrowers repay, they receive token rewards, giving them an ownership stake in Jia’s long-term growth. Local partner organizations who co-sign for approved borrowers can also receive token rewards and yields upon successful loan repayment. Jia’s token incentives unlock lower interest rates, longer repayment periods, and more flexible credit terms, along with broader access to the Web3 economy.

Jia borrower Armando Porlares, a bakery owner in Manila

Starting in Kenya and the Philippines, Jia supports entrepreneurs across industries, from healthcare to education to local retailers and restaurants, including Armando Porlares, a bakery owner in Manila.

Mr. Porlares makes a healthy profit and employs fifty people. He needed financing to continue growing his business but had trouble accessing affordable options as an MSME in an emerging market.

“I tried to get a loan from a local lender, but when I saw the price, I realized it would take my whole profit,” said Mr. Porlares. “When I found Jia, I found a lender who wanted to work hard alongside me, and invest back into my business and our community, too.”

“The Jia team’s expertise in scaling businesses in emerging markets and dedication to building an ownership economy for entrepreneurs around the world made us confident they are the right group to tackle this,” said Gaby Goldberg, an investor at TCG Crypto who led the deal to back Jia. “We’ve all been waiting for crypto’s killer app to expand financial inclusion, and Jia is using blockchain technology to create real-world impact and phenomenal economic opportunity.”

“We believe the future of finance is bringing real-world assets on-chain, leveraging DeFi liquidity to unlock access to new financing opportunities — especially for those who may be outside the traditional financial system,” said Winnie Lau, an investor at BlockTower Capital. “Over the last year, we’ve seen how crazy high DeFi yields are unsustainable. With Jia, liquidity providers can earn real yield uncorrelated with crypto volatility while supporting MSMEs in emerging markets. This team has a strong record of building transformative credit business in emerging markets and are replicating the playbook with crypto under the hood.”