His business card reads: “I was blessed with $100K in student loan debt.” Most would view that much debt as a burden. Not Tony Aguilar. “If it wasn’t for my experience in having to deal with that much debt, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today,” says Aguilar, the CEO and founder of Chipper, an app that allows student loan borrowers to analyze, manage, and pay back their student loan debt faster. As its name implies, Chipper helps college graduates “chip away” at their debt.
Student debt is a massive problem, and Aguilar wants to be a catalyst for change. “The government is trying to solve it, but they’re essentially putting Band Aids on the issue. Just kicking it down the road instead of trying to solve the epidemic,” he says.
In addition to being “blessed” with $100K in student loan debt, Aguilar was blessed with parents who insisted he go to college, though neither of them completed high school. “They understood that education is a gateway to living a better life and making a better income,” says Aguilar.
Since attending college was a forgone conclusion for Aguilar, he embraced his college experience as an adventure. Born and raised in a small town in Texas, he refused to apply to Texas schools. “I wanted to get away, as far as I could to see what was out there,” Aguilar says. He passed on the ivy leagues and instead chose Indiana University for its prestigious Kelley School of business and its size. “I really wanted to find myself and just experience people from all different cultures and be somewhere I can experience life at a bigger scale.”
With a degree in finance and economics, Aguilar came back to Texas and founded Chipper. Typical Chipper users can have a dozen loans, and up to eighteen if they attended graduate school. Chipper helps users find the 150-repayment forgiveness loan consolidation options out there in the market. Once users link their loans in the app, Chipper’s algorithm takes over, showing them the forgiveness programs for which they qualify. “It’s a very modern tool to help people understand their options and enable them to take action in just a couple clicks,” says Aguilar.
Chipper automatically enrolls users in the loan forgiveness program that they choose. “We handle all the paperwork after the signatures and any other forms necessary to ensure they get into the plan,” says Aguilar. To date, Chipper users have qualified for over $250 million in loan forgiveness. “This is a life changing financial situation for so many people. Some of our members have had $50,000, $65,000, $100,000 forgiven,” says Aguilar.
The users who fail to qualify for any loan forgiveness programs can chip away at their college loans by linking the credit cards they use to make daily purchases in the Chipper app. Each time they make a purchase or enjoy a meal, the app rounds up their transaction to the nearest dollar and applies it to their student loans. “So every day they’re chipping away little by little,” says Aguilar.
To get Chipper aloft, Aguilar turned to angel investors who shared his vision and believed in him. But as Chipper grew and required more financial runway, he was forced to turn to venture capitalists, some of which were reluctant to invest in a company started by a Latino. “Those conversations and the environment of those meetings changed dramatically,” says Aguilar, comparing the pitches he made to VCs to the ones he made to his angel investors.
Fewer than two percent of all VC capital goes to Latino founders and just two percent of VCs are Latino. “That correlation is there . . . People end up investing in people they can relate to and people they connect with . . . Until we get more Latinos into seats on the other side of the table—into VC funds making decisions on where they inject the capital—we’re not going to see a shift in the dollars going to Latino founders,” says the CEO.
As a community, Latinos must be more proactive about helping other Latino entrepreneurs. When he’s not running Chipper, Aguilar expends considerable energy helping Latinos and other founders with backgrounds like his, living by the philosophy, “As I climb, I pull.” Wherever he can open a door and make an introduction for these founders, he does. “The hardest part is getting into the room with these VCs. Once you’re in the room you can showcase your skills and your passion,” Aguilar says.