Venture Center leader sees growth in entrepreneurship from pandemic, touts upcoming fintech summit

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,725 views 

Wayne Miller, executive director of The Venture Center, said for all of the pandemic’s negatives, there was some inspiration.

“I think that the pandemic did inspire some entrepreneurship. You know people got stuck at home, and some folks decided to retire a little early. So I think we’ve seen certainly an uptake in folks’ interest to build and grow businesses,” he said.

Miller said the age range of those utilizing his group’s resources is skewing a little older and he thinks current economic conditions may also be contributing to entrepreneurial growth.

“The other thing is that there are some economic pressures right now that are being felt by entrepreneurs as we look at the valuations of companies, which have been highly discounted over these last few months, and there’s some opportunities out there,” he said.

While interest rates are rising and capital investment may cool some, Miller said there are still deals to be made for good, solid businesses.

The Venture Center, based in Little Rock, has survived and thrived during the pandemic and recovery. While its mission is to boost entrepreneurship, it has found a niche in the financial technology, or fintech, industry. Miller’s outfit boasts a very high percentage rate of business success, 94% over a seven-year period.

“If you look at typical incubation and acceleration programs, it tends to be reversed. So it tends to be about a 5% to 6% success rate, but just part of that’s our methodology, and how we work with our clients. But to us, that means that they are still in business, they’re active or have been acquired, so that is what the 94% reflects on from a metrics perspective,” he said.

Miller said excluding some of the larger success stories, the average capital investment for a company coming out of one of The Venture Center’s fintech programs is $8 million.

On Aug. 15-17, Little Rock will host the VenCent FinTech Summit. Miller said it’s another layer of fintech programming to cement the group’s bona fides in the fintech startup space. The summit will bring together hundreds of bankers, financiers, technologists, and entrepreneurs to discuss the future of banking.

“What we’ve been able to do is build a great deal of trust in an environment where both the fintechs and the banks can win. And they get a chance to sit down at the table, and collaborate effectively over the solution, the problem, and the companies that become more mature over time. What they really provide for the bankers coming today is they provide – we like to suggest your shovel ready, or bank ready solutions. They can deploy these solutions tomorrow in their institution, and what really matters to them is it’s helping them save money or make money, right? That’s kind of the key and the root of what we do,” he said.

The VenCent FinTech Summit will also include a conversation between Gov. Asa Hutchinson and FIS CEO Gary Norcross, a native of Tyronza, Arkansas. FIS, a Fortune 500 company that acquired Alltel Information Services, was the first sponsor of the first fintech incubator at The Venture Center.

You can watch Miller’s full interview in the video below.