Editor’s note: This is the third of four stories about the VC FinTech Accelerator program at the Little Rock-based Venture Center. Link here for the first story in the series and link here for the second story.
Some came to Little Rock to capitalize on access to a global leader in financial technology products. Others came for advice, counseling and direction – seeking a path to success. Some might stay because they found accessible leadership that is earnest in supporting their businesses.
Jim Koettig, founder and CEO of Public Funds Tracking Investment Tracking and Reporting (PFITR), has been introduced to leading state officials such as Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan, who has expressed an interest in PFITR’s bond-pricing module.
“I believe we have an opportunity to make Arkansas the model for fiscal stewardship for the entire nation,” Koettig said. “I would move the company down here to Little Rock if I could get the state’s business. I’d move down here in a heartbeat.”
Grant Wallace, chief deputy treasurer for Milligan, also attended the meeting with PFITR, and said the company has an “interesting product” that the office will continue to evaluate.
“We’re trying to navigate and see if it’s the best product for us,” Wallace added. “We’ll continue to support and promote the Venture Center and the work they’re doing.”
PFITR and nine other companies are participating in a 12-week Financial Technology (FInTech) Accelerator program operated by the Venture Center of Little Rock. The startups come from across the globe, with offices ranging from India to Chicago, New York, Atlanta and North Little Rock.
The program ends Aug. 3 as the startups gather at the Clinton Presidential Center to pitch their businesses to investors from around the world.
“It’s going to be a pretty intense day,” said Steve Rice, director of digital strategy and membership for the Venture Center. “Founders will give a 10-minute investor pitch for the entire audience, including investors, and then we’ll have cocktail tables set up for continuing conversations at a cocktail hour at the end of the program.”
The FinTech Accelerator program has not only given the entrepreneurs access to potential customers and investors, it has helped the startups hone their business model to achieve success. For example, Monotto, a Charleston, S.C.-based startup founded by three millennials, worked with the Accelerator’s leadership team and FIS executives to reshape their customer base. FIS is the lead supporter of the FinTech Accelerator.
The business was originally conceived to provide an automated solution that would simplify investing for their fellow millennials. It was a direct business-to-consumer program. That changed during participation in the FinTech Accelerator program. With input from FinTech leadership and mentoring team, along with FIS participation, the founders found a “pivot point” that changed the business model.
“We started off thinking our original approach was great but the real light-bulb moment was the point when we pivoted and realized we could sell the product to local and regional banks that could onboard these individuals,” said Jared Kopelman, one of the co-founders. “And the users will still get the same end product but it allows us to make this offering on a much larger scale and roll it out to a lot more individuals. It helps out the banks and it makes their customers or users more valuable over time. And it then helps out the end customer we were trying to reach by allowing them to build financial stability.”
Each of the startups has a similar story of finding success in Little Rock.
For Bleu founder Sesei Bonsi, he’s developed relationships with a point of sale vendor in Arkansas that provides access to implement Bleu’s Bluetooth point of sale system in local fast casual restaurants. Bleu is installing its system in @The Corner, located in downtown Little Rock.
“We want to sustain the current ecosystem for how merchants are getting their POS system,” Bonsi said. “They’re able to maintain their current great customer service with the POS provider while using our cutting-edge technology.”
Bleu’s technology is scalable and can grow as businesses that use its system expand. “We want to support these businesses throughout their lifetime,” Bonsi added. “We want to be there in their first location and as they become the next Chipotle or Taziki’s or Taco Bell, our system will be there to continue to provide great service.”
Building relationships with local vendors and businesses gives Bleu an incentive to consider locating in Little Rock, Bonsi said.