Tariq Bokhari Discusses His Journey From Fintech Into Nonprofits and Public Service

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on October 11, 2022

Nobody anymore reads the books written by Horatio Alger, but his stories of impoverished boys (all of his heroes were boys) who worked their way into middle class prosperity have shaped their American success mythology since the late 19th century. Tariq Bokhari has lived that life. He grew up in poverty and has been living on his own since he was 16. But instead of lecturing people about about self reliance, he is dedicated to helping others born into similar circumstances to escape poverty.

Bokhari worked his way into Radford University and graduated in 2003, eventually moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked redesigning and implementing risk and cybersecurity programs for various Fortune 500 companies, including GE, Wells Fargo and Wachovia. He credits learning risk management as a formative experience that taught him how to quantify and control risk, which gave him the confidence to take risks as an entrepreneur. He eventually rose to Head of Innovation and Investment at FIS Global, a $9B+ Fintech company.

Bokhari launched his first startup, RaaS (Risk as a Service), in 2015. It was an immediate success and grew to serve hundreds of banks with their risk and cybersecurity managed services and software.

A serial entrepreneur, Bokhari launched the Carolina Fintech Hub in October 2017 to foster collaboration between the world’s leading financial services firms and innovative startups in the industry. More recently he launched Meta Lab to reinvent the current approach to technology accelerators by focusing on solving specific problems and deal-making between startups and incumbents. Carolina Fintech Hub has partnered with Boston’s Mass Challenge to launch the Meta Lab Startup Challenge.

Bokhari was elected to Charlotte City Council in November 2017, and remains of the council. We asked him about growing up poor, why he launches nonprofits, and the difference between running a company and serving in government.

Grit Daily: Among other initiatives, you’re the founder of The Meta Lab, which fosters collaboration among leaders in fintech and healthtech, specifically in Charlotte. Why those two industries?

Tariq Bokhari: Charlotte is built on a foundation of banking over the last 50 years. I founded the Carolina Fintech Hub as a nonprofit joint venture between these heavy-hitter banks (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Ally, Truist, US Bank, Barings, etc.) to lean into the high growth fintech space, and bring jobs and innovation to Charlotte. Over the years this evolved into a program we now refer to as Meta Lab. As we evolved in our recruiting capabilities on the banking-to-fintech side, we then decided to expand into our second largest power industry, healthcare, partnering with Atrium Health in the same way. Being able to not just win on the talent front in recruiting companies to Charlotte, but also tee up game changing “deal making” opportunities between the startups and our incumbents proved to be highly effective. Due to this approach, we have directly originated the recruitment of more than 2,000 new jobs to Charlotte, and assisted in the recruitment of 10,000 over the last 5 years to Charlotte.

Grit Daily: Meta Lab is trying to reinvent the current approach to technology accelerators. How? 

Tariq Bokhari: The major accelerators today have evolved to a place I like to refer to as “for the few”. The few top tier accelerators accept the few startups that make it to get to know the few big companies they try to get deals with and get capital from the few VCs. The space is ripe for disruption. The Meta Lab has been designed to attract and support the many through a platform based approach, and one centered around deal making.

Grit Daily: I am always hearing from entrepreneurs whose goal is to “change the world,” which I generally see as hyperbole at best and delusion at worst. You are specifically focused on your home city. Why?

Tariq Bokhari: Man, I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs. Even if they are smart enough to attempt it, the odds are not in their favor. But I truly feel scoping a ‘change the world’ vision into something more achievable – like change a top 20 sized city – is the way to actually have a shot.

Grit Daily: You grew up poor and moved out when you were just 16, neither of which is typically a good start for financial success in life, despite our rags-to-riches mythology. What can you tell us about your start in life and how it influenced the choices you have made?

Tariq Bokhari: That’s a deep one, but I will just give a single answer for now: my upbringing put a chip on my shoulder that’s never left me. That chip made me never want to go back to where I came from. Over time I was able to harness it to help pay it forward in a positive manner for those in need of upward mobility – but it remains to this day a double edged sword. The “never satisfied with anything” mindset keeps me driving forward, but as I get older it’s challenging to sit back and just be happy.

Grit Daily: You’re a member of the city council of Charlotte. I started my journalism career covering local government. Lots of successful business people will tell you that government should run more like a business, which I think is like saying a train should run more like a truck. The two things have some similarities but fundamental differences. What have you learned from your experience in politics and government?

Tariq Bokhari: So true. For a long time I was in a ‘problem solving’ mindset, as I always was in the business world. Aside from running at a different pace, I realized quickly that the big visions needed a more collaborative approach, and they would take a lot longer than I was comfortable with. So a little bit of patience (I’m still working on that one, LOL), paired with building out the teams in staff needed to get things done. I like picking topics others aren’t jockeying over (e.g. digital divide and 5G, blockchain for efficiency, etc.) and working on them in my normal way as an individual contributor still, but that isn’t viable across the board.

Grit Daily: You have founded two organizations for the purpose of teaching tech skills to disadvantaged people, one for young people and the other for adults. Please tell us about those, and have they been successful?

Tariq Bokhari: We’ve built an adult training program designed to teach those in need with an aptitude, but perhaps no social capital, to become full stack developers. 159 have graduated that program to date, with an average of >80% people of color, >50% female, and an average salary entering the program of <$20K. We spun that off to youth to meet them earlier and get them interested in tech, and have brought >1800 high schoolers through the program, using esports to meet them where they are, and Epic Games Unreal Engine as a bridge to STEM. That evolved to internships, where 60 interns have worked for 8 companies.

Grit Daily: You advocate “Social Impact By Design.” What does that mean?

Tariq Bokhari: Simply put, it takes the old model of making a bunch of money and then settling down to do charitable work at the end of one’s career and tosses it upside down. How can one launch a company or innovation that could – by initial design – create a meaningful social impact. In my mind, that’s the only way these things can become truly scalable at levels we are going to need.

By Peter Page Peter Page has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Peter Page is an Editor-at-Large at Grit Daily. He is available to record live, old-school style interviews via Zoom, and run them at Grit Daily and Apple News, or BlockTelegraph for a fee.Formerly at Entrepreneur.com, he began his journalism career as a newspaper reporter long before print journalism had even heard of the internet, much less realized it would demolish the industry. The years he worked as a police reporter are a big influence on his world view to this day. Page has some degree of expertise in environmental policy, the energy economy, ecosystem dynamics, the anthropology of urban gangs, the workings of civil and criminal courts, politics, the machinations of government, and the art of crystallizing thought in writing.

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