Community bankers, startup supporters and investors, and governmental leaders at all levels attended the kickoff of a new round of financial technology startups at downtown Little Rock’s Venture Center on Wednesday evening (Jan. 8).
The second cohort of the Independent Community Bankers of America fintech accelerator program officially launched during a happy hour reception that later drew comments from Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston and ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey.
Ten companies will participate in the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator 2.0, a 12-week business incubator program aimed at developing financial products and services for community banks across America. During the program, the startup companies will focus on areas such as regulatory concerns, marketing, and how their products may be utilized by community banks and their customers.
Local bankers as well as bankers and investors from the across the country will mentor and provide feedback to the new businesses in an effort to vet their concepts and improve their viability in the marketplace.
The Venture Center of Little Rock is home to the ICBA program, which includes additional in-depth mentorship and training and an initial monetary investment. This year, the 10 participating companies were chosen from hundreds of global applicants.
This year’s companies include:
· Finscend, Tel Aviv, Israel
· Fintel Connect, Vancouver, B.C.
· Finzly, Charlotte, N.C.
· FI Works, Little Rock, Ark.
· Fraud.net, New York, N.Y.
· Griffin Technologies, Kansas City, Kan.
· Hexanika, New York, NY and Pune, India
· Lendsmart, Hoboken, N.J.
· Pay It Better, Sacramento, Calif.
· Wallit, Portland, Maine
“The ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator helps community banks and early-stage fintechs effectively collaborate to meet market challenges by delivering cutting-edge solutions with real-world relevance,” Venture Center executive director Wayne Miller said. “We are grateful to play a meaningful role in helping ICBA accomplish its mission of creating and promoting an environment where community banks flourish.”
The companies will demonstrate their fintech solutions before an audience of community bankers at ICBA LIVE 2020 in Orlando, Fla. on March 9 and will provide similar demonstrations for community bank leaders, potential investors and entrepreneurs at ICBA ThinkTECH Demo Day on March 25 at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.
ARKANSAS, THE FINTECH STATE
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. asked the fintech participants to consider staying in Little Rock after their 12-week mentorship ends, but during their time here, he said he hopes they’ll see all the city has to offer.
“For all 10 companies that are out here, we want to say thank you for being a part of this process. We want you to know how welcome you are in our city and that we appreciate you,” Scott said. “We want to spend time helping you understand why we love Little Rock and why you should love Little Rock.”
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said he wanted the group to expand their horizons across Arkansas, and if they don’t remain here after the program, he asked them to promote the Natural State as they travel the world.
“This gives us an opportunity to showcase the economic prowess we have in central Arkansas. People don’t realize the banking community, the financial services community that we have. It’s really incredible, and hopefully over the course of the next couple of months, you’re going to realize that and you’re going to tell all those people in whatever city or whatever country you came from what a great place this is,” Preston said.
Rebeca Romero Rainey, president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said it was a no-brainer to return to Little Rock for another round of fintech acceleration. She sees more creativity in this year’s cohort.
“It’s creating the playbook in terms of how community banks and fintechs can work together,” she said. “As we are identifying these fintechs, especially in the early stage, it’s an opportunity for them to focus the development of their products specifically to the community bank needs. And if not for this accelerator, that isn’t happening.”
She said lessons learned from the first cohort to this second one include doubling the number of community bank leaders to the program for exposure and bringing in regulatory awareness earlier in the development process.
Romero Rainey said it was imperative for community banks to embrace the change that is coming. She describes the forthcoming wave of technology as “innovation” not “disruption.”
“Continued innovation is the way I like to talk about it. What I continue to see is a pace of change that continues to quicken over time. That is what is so powerful about what we’re doing here in this partnership,” Romero Rainey said.
The Venture Center also leads a fintech accelerator program sponsored by global financial services provider FIS, which has roots in Arkansas. The FIS fintech accelerator is also a 12-week intensive incubator program that offers a broad range of potential financial development products for the sector that includes banking, investments and personal finance.