Gov. Asa Hutchinson and FIS Chairman and CEO Gary Norcross announced a agreement Wednesday (July 18) to extend the state’s partnership with the Jacksonville, Fla.-based publicly-traded company to highlight the city as a growing “microhub” for financial technology startups.
Hutchinson and Norcross said they agreed to extend the sponsorship for the Venture Center’s Fintech Accelerator program after a dinner discussion Tuesday night about how the program is now gaining national attention and attracting applicants from across the globe to participate in the 12-week business bootcamp for early stage “fintech” companies.
“I want you to understand that we are investing in it as a state and the city of Little Rock with the Venture Center and it is making a difference whenever we can have a diversified economy that includes technology,” Hutchinson told the overflow audience of more than 500 people gathered at the city’s newly-refurbished Robinson Center conference room. “Our goal is to be a microhub of technology companies right here in Arkansas.”
Before introducing Gov. Hutchinson, Norcross said FIS has backed and sponsored the accelerator program in Little Rock with the state Department of Economic Development and the Venture Center for the past three years mostly because of the Fortune 500 company’s ties to city going back more than five decades.
Founded as Systematics Inc. in 1968, and later acquired by Alltel Information Services in 1990, and eventually bought by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fidelity National Information Services Inc. in 2003, FIS is now the world’s largest provider of banking payment technologies with more than 20,000 financial clients in over 110 countries.
“It certainly isn’t lost on any of us that 50 years ago, there was small fintech startup in Little Rock, Arkansas, and that company has now grown to FIS,” said Norcross, a former Arkansas native who now leads the Florida-based Fortune 500 that posted annual revenue of more than $8 billion in 2017.
Highlighting FIS’s growth, Norcross said the support of Gov. Hutchinson and the state’s financial and banking sector convinced him to continue the program in Little Rock for another year, despite other entreaties to uproot the startup accelerator program and relocate it to a larger U.S. city.
“So, we are going to announce today that this time next year we will all be back together and we will be doing the fourth Accelerator back here in Little Rock,” Norcross announced to thundering applause before introducing Hutchinson.
Following Norcross’ brief speech, the popular Republican governor gave his annual appeal for the companies completing the intensive 12-week program at the Little Rock Technology Park to remain in Arkansas and grow their companies or consider a satellite office in the city.
Hutchinson then told the audience that he spent time “skeet shooting” with executives from all 10 companies, allowing them to experience the numerous amenities and quality of life attributes of the Natural State. He said he then offered them a familiar roll call of top executives from Arkansas who built well-known Fortune 500 companies from small beginnings in the state.
“Understand all the hidden secrets in this state and the talk about talent – we have entrepreneurs. Gary Norcross is not a bad entrepreneur that comes from here. But how about Sam Walton, how about Don Tyson, how about Charles Murphy … it goes on and on, the entrepreneurs that are here in Arkansas that believe in innovation that are looking at the world in a different way,” said Hutchinson.
Before and after Hutchinson and Norcross took the stage, top executives from the 10 select fintech startups wowed the crowd with 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.
After being selected from a pool of more than 280 applicants from 40 countries, each of the select companies were given $75,000 after completing the program that included “in-depth mentoring and training” from dozens of executives and mentors in the financial and banking sector that were invited to participate by FIS and The Venture Center. At the beginning of the program, Venture Center Managing Director Wayne Miller said many of the 10 fintech companies completing the program have raised additional venture capital during their stay in Little Rock and others are near to closing deals with key partners in the banking and financial sector.
“I truly believe this (program) makes Arkansas the land of opportunity,” he said.
Miller also applauded the past participants of the earlier Fintech Accelerator programs in 2016 and 2017, highlighting several executives from the other 20 companies in the audience that were part of the previous classes. Altogether, startups completing the program over the past three years raised a combined approximately $57 million in capital and created 637 jobs in the state, he said.
The Venture Center director said several of the startup companies from the two previous classes have entered into formal agreements with FIS, and four of the startups have established their headquarters in Little Rock, he said.
“There will be more announcements to follow as it pertains to this cohort,” he said. “Our results have been meaningful, and at the end of the day isn’t that really what this is all about.”
This year’s group of early stage startups included participants from as far away as Zurich and London to companies located near two of the nation’s hottest startup hubs in Austin and Silicon Valley. The Demo Day pitches also offered the audience, potential investors and potential banking and financial partners a window into new fintech innovations that use a wide array of emerging technologies, from alternative intelligence, blockchain, predictive analytics to algorithms and cloud-based cybersecurity systems.
Following are this year’s program graduates.
Arcanum Technology (Athens, Ga.)
Billon Group (London, UK; Warsaw, Poland)
Bucket Technologies (Santa Ana, Calif.; Bentonville, Ark.)
FinVoice (San Francisco)
Gas POS (Birmingham, Ala.)
LexAlign (Austin, Texas)
Pay Your Tuition Funds (Washington, D.C.)
Sonect AG (Zurich, Switzerland)
UpperRoom Technology (Green Bay, Wisc.)
Verikai (San Francisco)