This Philly Startup Helps U.S. Latinos Text Support to FamilyBy Erin Kane |
A Philadelphia-based startup company called Regalii is seeking to make life easier for Ana Garcia and 31 million others — the estimated number of Mexicans living in the United States who send money to support family members in Mexico.
Ana, a petite 20-year-old who lives in Kennett Square, shares a home with her two small sons, Dylan and Irvin, along with her parents and four younger siblings. All are supported by the income Ana’s parents earn working in the borough’s signature industry. “Hongos,” she said, the Spanish word for mushrooms.
Similar to many other families who make their home in this historic part of Chester County, identified as the Mushroom Capital of the World, the Garcia family is from Mexico. And relatives in Mexico, including Ana’s grandparents, depend on her parents’ wages.
Three times a month, a member of her family travels to a local business that caters to immigrants who send money — known as remittances — back home. While the amount varies, Ana’s parents send a few hundred dollars per month. Transaction costs, usually between eight and ten dollars, are tacked onto every remittance: sizeable, recurring fees that are ubiquitous.
“But what else is there?” Ana concedes. A better solution may be imminent.
Texting With Purpose
Regalii, a social gifting platform, is positioning itself to become the premier choice for people who send money to Mexico or anywhere else in Latin America.
According to the company, founded by Edrizio De La Cruz, an MBA graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 69 billion dollars are remitted to Latin America every year.
“Remittances are the lifeblood of many poor families in Latin America,” said De La Cruz, a native of the Dominican Republic. “In Mexico alone, over 60 percent of people who receive them fall below the poverty line. Remittances put food on the table, clothing on their backs, and a roof over their heads.”
Through the use of SMS technology, or text messaging, the company’s service allows users to circumvent third party proprietors who take a growing cut of the dollars intended to support family members.
Instead, through Regalii’s secure website, users can purchase credits — similar to a gift card — to be redeemed at retail stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies in Latin America.
After the transaction, a code is texted to the designated recipient, who presents it at a store pre-selected by the sender. The process is hassle-free, safe, and better yet, “no one is paying any fee,” said Juan Maldonado, a spokesperson for Regalii.
Among the benefits of using the service, said Maldonado, are transparency and safety — two persistent concerns cited by many who send remittances to Latin America.
According to Lorraine Armstrong Martinez, who has worked with migrants for nearly two decades at the Chester County Migrant Ministry, “80 percent of Mexicans, if not more, send money back home.” And fraud, here in the United States and across the border, is all too common. Sometimes, signatures are forged, and remittances may not reach their intended recipient. “It hurts to see that,” said Martinez, whose busy office in Kennett Square services 60 clients a week.
Regalii, which takes its name from the Spanish word for gift, “regalo,” wants people like Martinez to know that its mission is to improve the lives of Latinos by meeting an existing need.
“Regalii provides a free, safe and easy solution to a complex problem,” explained De La Cruz, whose viral marketing campaign also includes partnerships with nonprofit organizations. “Its not a question of why we should partner up, but how.”
A Launch With Global Reach
Regalii has quickly gained recognition. Among the 2012 recipients of the GoodCompany Ventures Fellowship Award, a designation that helped to develop its status as a promising social innovation, the start-up was granted access to entrepreneurial resources — including office space in Philly.
Regalii plans to formally launch its service next week — learning from its customer base in real time — but the concept is already creating buzz within the Latino community, especially among the young and tech-savvy.
“Our ultimate goal is to become the best way to support your family in Latin America,” Maldonado said. “Hands down.”
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