Venture Center announces 2018 participants for 12-week FinTech business boot camp

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 398 views 

Two startup companies from Poland and Switzerland were among the 10 startup companies that were selected Wednesday (May 2) to participate in the third iteration of the Venture Center’s FinTech Accelerator program.

Venture Center President and CEO Lee Watson, along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, introduced the top executives of the select companies at a standing-room only, kickoff party at the city’s downtown Technology Park. This year, Watson said, the companies were chosen out of a pool of 281 applicants from 47 countries, 26 states and six continents.

“It’s great that people from other cities and around the world now see Little Rock as this place where FinTech entrepreneurs grow, and some of our companies are doing really well,” Watson said.

FinTech is backed by the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fortune 500 financial tech firm Fidelity Information Services (FIS) and run by the nonprofit startup incubator.

The chosen companies each are given $75,000, with a potential to earn an additional $100,000 to $300,000 and will participate in a 12-week program that includes “in-depth mentoring and training” from FIS and The Venture Center.

Selected companies for the 2018 program include:

  • Arcanum Technology (Athens, GA)
  • Billon Group (London, UK; Warsaw, Poland)
  • Bucket Technologies (Santa Ana, CA; Bentonville, AR)
  • FinVoice (San Francisco, CA)
  • Gas POS (Birmingham, AL)
  • LexAlign (Austin, TX)
  • Pay Your Tuition Funds (Washington, D.C.)
  • Sonect AG (Zurich, Switzerland)
  • UpperRoom Technology (Green Bay, WI)
  • Verikai (San Francisco, CA)

Before the companies were introduced, Gov. Hutchinson made his annual promotional pitch concerning the state’s strong business climate and invited all the companies to consider re-locating their companies to the state after the 12-week competition is completed.

“We are not a partner, we are an investor in this,” said Hutchinson. “We wanted to support this accelerator program, and we support it because we believe it is a good return for the state. It’s a good return in terms of reputation, nationally and globally, that we can be a national leader in innovation in the financial sector and technology. But also we hope that the return on that investment is that some of you will say, ‘Wow, what a great place Arkansas is.’”

The program, which was first introduced in 2016, will culminate with a Demo Day in late July at the Clinton Presidential Library where top executives from each company will make 15-minute “pitches” to dozens of investors, financial services executives and business leaders — hoping to attract new venture capital or partnerships with larger banks or investment groups.

Companies from the 2016 and 2017 accelerator program have gained impressive traction since last year, gaining Series A capital investments, endorsements from the American Bankers Association, and partnerships with FIS and other banks, including the former Bear State Bank of Little Rock.

FIS Chief Product Officer Rob Lee said his company not only supports the startup accelerator program as a sponsor, but backs the program in a number of other ways. In 2016, FIS made a major commitment early in the process to support the Accelerator program, buying into its commitment to identify startups with the greatest potential to deliver a viable and innovative product that could create business efficiencies.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based financial services giant, which has annual revenues exceeding $9 billion and has kept a large presence in Little Rock dating back to the start of Systematics in the late 1960s, also has dedicated resources and senior executives to mentor the entrepreneurs in the FinTech Accelerator.

“We’ve got a great group of companies that have been selected this year …, and we look forward to spending a lot of time with each of them over the next 12 weeks,” said Lee.

Stacie Whisonant, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based PHY (Pay Your Tuition) Funds Inc., said she was excited to be a select group of startup companies to participate in this year’s Accelerator program. Whisonant, who started her FinTech tuition payment service firm in 2016, learned about Arkansas from a participant in the 2017 program.

“I’ve been watching the program for the last two years and then I had a friend that went through the group last year – and she validated to me that it was legit,” said Whisonant.

The PHY executive said she hopes to use the 12-week business boot camp experience in Arkansas to grow her early stage startup, which has a staff of 10 and three banking clients. She said her company is seeking to raise $1 million in capital to support future growth.

In conjunction with today’s announcement, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service released a study that the Venture Center has created an additional 192 jobs within the previous year, an increase of 43% from a year ago, resulting in 637 total jobs created by members since the startup academy was founded four years ago.

The six-month economic impact analysis also noted that entrepreneurs interacting with the Venture Center on a daily or weekly basis have created more jobs and raised more capital, including $57 million dollars to date. Ross Owyoung, a second-year student at the Clinton School, partnered with a local startup incubator to complete the study.

Owyoung began this project in September 2017 by reviewing literature to identify the most important variables for conducting a statistical analysis on economic growth. He used interviews and surveys to capture the financial statistics and business profiles of entrepreneurs with a membership at the downtown nonprofit.

Editor’s note: TB&P’s Roby Brock interviewed Rob Lee, Chief Product Officer for FIS. You can watch the full interview below. <br≥

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