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Ex-banker's startup wants to help democratise Wall Street hiring

[NEW YORK] There's a new way to get your foot in the door on Wall Street.

The Lobby, launched earlier this year by a former investment banker, helps connect recent graduates with insiders at New York's top finance companies, private equity firms and hedge funds to level the playing field for those who don't come from elite schools or have family connections. The startup said Thursday it has raised US$1.2 million in seed funding.

Founder Deepak Chhugani, who grew up in Ecuador and worked for UBS Group AG and Bank of America Corp's Merrill Lynch, said it was really hard to get noticed by Wall Street without a specific pedigree. Mr Chhugani saw this as a proxy for income inequality and vowed to find a way to change the system.

"You have to go to a certain school or have a certain network to get a certain job and those who aren't part of that rarely get a chance to move up - unless they get lucky," Mr Chhugani said in an interview. "We are trying to remove the need for luck."

Through anonymous 30-minute phone calls, job seekers can ask questions about how to get into the firm, including what it's really like to work there and advice on how to polish their resumes to make it stand out.

The traditional inside-circle hiring practices on Wall Street have led to a notable lack of diversity in the industry and big banks are eager to change that.

Last month, during a Bank of America quarterly earnings call, a lender told investors its crop of summer interns was "the most diverse group ever". Women comprised 45 per cent of the current class, while non-white interns made up 55 per cent. Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Wells Fargo & Co reported similar figures.

The Lobby offers a solution to find the best hidden talent. The startup's "insiders", who are paid for their time, also provide mock interviews and offer career advice on how the candidates can improve their chances of landing jobs.

Since June, the company's revenue has grown 30 to 50 per cent month-over-month, according to a statement. Seed investors include Silicon Valley's startup accelerator Y Combinator Inc, 37 Angels LLC, Ataria Ventures and other angel investors such as Columbia Business School's chief innovation officer Angela Lee.

Matt Mireles, a scout investor at Social Capital, invested personally in the early round.

"Talent is spread evenly across society, but opportunity is not," Mr Mireles said in the statement.

"The Lobby is creating the real meritocracy that we tell ourselves the job market is – or at least should be – by expanding access to society's most elite jobs to everyone who didn't go to, or couldn't afford, Harvard."

BLOOMBERG