Appearing in lights onstage at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (July 17) made his annual appeal to ten out-of-state financial technology startups to consider setting up shop in Arkansas to grow their early stage businesses.
The jobs-focused Arkansas governor made his appeal on the final day of the Venture Center’s 12-week Fintech Accelerator program only moments after FIS Chairman and CEO Gary Norcross announced plans to extend sponsorship of the program for another year. Hutchinson told the more than 200 people attending the Venture Center’s annual Demo Day that he and the FIS executive agreed earlier in the week to continue the partnership for the fifth year running.
“The state of Arkansas invests in this Fintech Accelerator because we want FIS to continue to be a global leader in financial technology,” Hutchinson said. “And, so we invest to support one of our home-growns that still has great roots here in the state. But we also invest because we want a return on the investment by building the technology sector here in this state.”
Hutchinson continued his brief onstage speech by noting that several of the 40 startup firms that have participated in the previous four iterations of the program have since set up headquarters in Central Arkansas. He told the executives for the 10 fintechs making presentations that they were welcome to relocate to Arkansas, come back to do business, or visit later for leisure and tourism.
“I am delighted through the last four cohorts we have been able to gain a number of technology companies,” Hutchinson said. “Just through this accelerator program, they say ‘Arkansas is a great place to do business.’ We have financial support here, we have the technical support, and they are good partners with us.
“And I hope today that many of you from out-of-state – whether you are investors, whether you are in financial services, or you are with a tech company – understand that Arkansas is leading the way in computer coding education, we are a good partner in terms of the talent we want to produce,” said Hutchinson highlighting his statewide computer coding initiative.
Before Hutchinson’s recruiting pitch, Norcross said FIS has backed and sponsored the accelerator program in Little Rock with the state Department of Commerce and the Venture Center for the past four years mostly because of the Fortune 500 company’s ties to the 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.
Norcross said FIS had invited more than 50 of its own clients from across the globe to hear the five-minute Demo Day presentations and possibly make deals with the 10 cohort companies following three months of in-depth mentoring and training with FIS.
“It is a real honor to have the greatest financial institutions in this industry as our customers, and we don’t take it lightly because we know without those customers we wouldn’t be where we are today,” he said.
DIGITAL ‘INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION’
Norcross ended his remarks by telling the crowd that the financial technology and banking sectors are going through a digital transformation that is turning the entire industry on its head. He then offered key details of FIS’ recently announced $43 billion deal to purchase Cincinnati-based Worldpay Inc., a global leader in ecommerce and financial payment systems.
“We all know what’s going on in the industry. Frankly, we are all right in the middle of an industrial revolution where everything is being digitized. Artificial intelligence is coming on fast, machine learning is coming on fast, and all of us are faced with either being disrupted or disrupting ourselves.”
“So, whether it is our clients or whether it is FIS, we are all focused on the same thing: How do we quickly accelerate to the future?” said the Arkansas native.
Norcross added that the recent deal with Worldpay, first announced on March 18, will allow FIS to enhance its acquiring and payment offerings and significantly increase its former rival’s distribution footprint into new geographies.
Upon the expected closing of the acquisition in the second half of 2019, the combined company will retain the FIS name and be headquartered in Jacksonville. The new company will have more than $12 billion in annual revenue and expects to see annual organic growth jump 9% through 2021.
“What will come out of that is that we will become the largest merchant acquirer in the world after we close on that business, focused on very high ecommerce,” Norcross said. “This naturally extends us into the ‘high growth’ payments world.”
Besides acquisitions, Norcross said FIS will also continue growing through capital investments internally. He said the financial technology giant plans to spend $1.2 billion in 2019 on internal investments, focusing on research and development at its technology centers. Still, he said the company will also look to fintech startup firms to partner with to spur innovation.
“We also know we can’t buy everything, we can’t build everything, (so) we also have to look 5 to 10 years down the road. And this is where this (Fintech) Accelerator is so important,” he said.
In an interview with Talk Business & Politics, FIS Senior VP Chris Cline furthered explained why the financial technology giant remained involved with the local accelerator program, highlighting fintech firms that FIS has invested in as well as hiring participants from the program.
“With this program, we can actually take it a step further and get to those early stage technology companies before those VC firms start to invest in them,” said Cline. “In business, if you have a good thing going, you always continue.”
At the beginning of the evening event, Venture Center Executive Director Wayne Miller kicked off the festive two-hour gala by noting that this year’s cohorts were selected from 225 applications from across the U.S. and 31 countries. Over the past three months, each company received in-depth mentoring and feedback from FIS’ executive leadership and local business mentors, along with a monetary investment.
Those 10 portfolio startups ended their Little Rock stay by showcasing their innovations to potential investors, venture capital groups, community leaders, banking executives, FIS clients and successful entrepreneurs. They included:
Digital Onboarding, Boston, MA
Gremlin Social, St. Louis, MO
Sendmi, Lehi, UT
ChangeEd, Chicago, IL
Voleo, Vancouver, Canada
Neener Analytics, Sunnyvale, CA
Genivity, Chicago, IL
Curu, Charlotte, NC
Highside, Bethesda, MD
Mimble, Portland, OR