Make It in Brooklyn: Propel
Field: Fintech software development
HQ: 397 Bridge Street
Founded at a local incubator, fintech startup Propel has expanded significantly in the district since 2014 – and is committed to building their emerging business in Downtown Brooklyn. The team of nearly 30 engineers, designers, product managers, and other staff develops products to help low-income Americans improve their financial health, including the Fresh EBT app used by millions of SNAP recipients each month.
Six years ago, founder and CEO Jimmy Chen moved from Silicon Valley to Brooklyn to join the first class of entrepreneurs at Blue Ridge Labs, Robin Hood Foundation’s social impact incubator on Court Street. After graduation, Chen chose the neighborhood as home base for Propel’s early growth. The firm’s first hires worked from shared space at the Downtown Brooklyn Greendesk, and the team won seed-stage investment through DBP’s Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest for Good in 2016. Chen calls Downtown Brooklyn “a uniquely good place to run a company” and points to the neighborhood’s diversity as a key factor in keeping the team here.
Growth on Bridge Street
After outgrowing Greendesk in 2019, Propel moved to a full-floor office at 397 Bridge Street. The team was drawn to historic design details like hardwood floors and oversized windows at this newly-renovated loft building. Over the past year, Propel has hosted several talks and networking events in their space and has formed relationships with other tenants, including fellow tech firm The Recurse Center. Out in the neighborhood, staff can be found sharing lunch at Xi’an Famous Foods, enjoying happy hour at Circa Brewing, and walking or biking to work from nearby Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, and Boerum Hill.
Propel’s first product, Fresh EBT, allows users to check their EBT account balance, clip digital coupons, and match with local career opportunities. Today, the app works in all 50 states and three U.S. territories where the food stamp program is administered. At monthly “goodwill hackathons,” team members are encouraged to brainstorm together about additional ways the firm can use technology to address challenges faced by people experiencing financial hardship. In response to COVID-19, Propel is helping distribute cash grants to Fresh EBT users in areas impacted by the pandemic, and has developed resource guides for SNAP recipients to help navigate benefit program changes. Read more about Propel’s efforts here.
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