The app's first lesson centers around debt management. | Joe Applegate/Courtesy Photo

Lindsy Mobley
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According to co-founder and business administration sophomore Joe Applegate, Racoon is like the Codeacademy of trading stocks.

The student-created company is targeted toward graduating students and students new to the workforce who struggle with financial literacy. The company provides people with affordable financial education on relevant topics such as student loan debt, Applegate said.

Applegate is the chief financial officer and co-founder of Raccoon. Since freshman year, he had been deliberating with former roommate and Cal Poly wrestling teammate Tommy Espinoza about creating some sort of business revolved around financial education.

Espinoza was one of the students selected to attend the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur’s Program at Draper University, where he met Yonathon (Yoni) Dejene, 19.

Espinoza and Dejene formed Raccoon during the program this past winter. Espinoza is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Raccoon, and Dejene is the president and co-founder.

“We thought, hey, financial education is a big problem right now,” Espinoza said. “And we were doing this program with the venture capitalist Tim Draper, and we ultimately decided to join forces. So after that, at the conclusion of the program, we had a demo day — a pitch finale.”

As some of the youngest entrepreneurs attending the program, they were also one of the few to receive funding from the billionaire venture capitalist, Dejene said.

Applegate and Espinoza had always talked about their interest in finance and passion for learning how money works, how to trade stocks and other financial issues. And they realized a lot of people didn’t know a lot of these skills, Applegate said.

“People started to ask us questions about finance,” Applegate said. “And that’s when we started to realize there’s a problem out there that needs to be solved.”

They had researched other financial education online courses but found they were all unaffordable, unstructured or full of “wordy” articles, Applegate said.

“Basically, we went into this extensive research phase, where we started talking to a lot of people and a lot of customers to see if this problem was really true and if it resonated with them. And we realized more than ever before that financial education was broken,” Applegate said. “And that’s when Raccoon was born; it was aimed to fix this massive problem.”

The students partnered with finance professor Larry Gorman to help with the content of the courses. He will also assist by reaching out to his network for other content creators, Espinoza said.

The Raccoon team plans to build other courses based on what users need.

“We’ve narrowed down our focus onto teaching three things,” he said. “First is financial literacy. This is where we teach our users about the most essential terms in finance, the ABCs of finance, so to speak. Second is financial fluency, where our users begin to apply their knowledge in a simulated and safe environment. And finally is financial application. This is where our students can apply their newfound financial knowledge into their lives.”

Dejene is also the designer and developer of Raccoon. He has a background in marketing and runs a program called Studinov as well as a magazine called Gulf Elite that has more than a million subscribers from all over the world, he said.

Dejene has worked on 22 projects in eight different countries. This wide breadth of experience has given him the background and network to help jump-start Raccoon.

“What we’ll do is have a lot of social media channels as well as magazines and publications and a lot of partnerships with schools. So our main distribution channels are going to be through magazines and directly talking to schools,” Dejene said.

In addition, they have already made key partnerships with some of the leading companies in the industry. One such company is called Vuru (a new stock analysis), which is allowing Raccoon to be launched to its client base of 85,000 people, Applegate said.

Another member of the Raccoon team is 17-year-old Fabian Fernandez-Han, the chief creative officer.

According to Raccoon’s website, Fernandez-Han received 10 shares of Berkshire Hathaway through his work to make young people more financially literate at Warren Buffett’s Grow Your Own Business Challenge. He has been featured on CNN Money, TEDx, ABC News and Fox News.

Correction: A previous edition of this article said Raccoon was the only start-up to receive funding from Tim Draper. That claim was incorrect.

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