Venture Center, ICBA pick 10 startups for new ‘fintech’ program in Little Rock

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Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), the Little Rock Venture Center and a host of other city and state business and community leaders on Wednesday (Jan. 9) to announce the selection of 10 startup firms from across the globe to participate in a new “fintech” accelerator program to help smaller banks.

The first-of-its-kind program, called the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, will exclusively focus on helping develop early-stage companies that are working on new technology innovations and product development for smaller community banks. The program was first unveiled in late October when the Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents approximately 5,000 small and mid-sized banks and financial institutions joined with the Venture Center to launch the unique program.

According to organizers, the program received 190 applications from early-stage financial technology companies across the U.S. and 39 other countries from as close as Fayetteville and as far away as New York City and Brisbane, Australia. All 10 cohorts will receive an initial investment of $75,000 to participate in a 12-week residence and mentoring process for companies looking to partner with community banks.

A selection committee made up of ICBA and member bank executives will actively participate in the program, serving as mentors to early-stage companies vying for top spots in the selection process. Organizers said the new ThinkTech Accelerator will pursue companies exploring next-generation lending, artificial intelligence and machine learning, blockchain, payments, advanced analytics and big data, regulatory compliance tools, cybersecurity, authentication, and streamlining customer experience, among others.

“Arkansas is the birthplace of fintech, and the hub of a strong community bank presence. The state continues to make its mark on fintech through our accelerator programs,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at press conference at the Venture Center’s 6th-floor headquarters at the Little Rock Tech Park. “We are pleased to welcome these 10 startups to Little Rock and look forward to the impact they will have on community banks.”

Added ICBA Services Network COO Kevin Tweddle, “The ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator is focused on identifying and accelerating the development and growth of early-stage financial technology ventures that will spur the most innovative and beneficial community bank-fintech partnerships. The companies selected as finalists have all shown great possibility to fulfill current community banking needs while creating opportunities for the future. It’s all about creating that high-tech, high-touch future of community banking.”

The successful launch of the new fintech program comes nearly six months after the Venture Center completed its highly successful FIS FinTech Accelerator program that has brought global attention to Arkansas. That program, sponsored by the world’s largest financial technology services company, Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), is in its third iteration after the 2016 program attracted a pool of more than 100 applications from as far away as Africa, Switzerland and India.

In 2018, the program awarded $75,000 to each participant and received 295 applications from startup financial technology firms across the U.S. and 39 other countries. Afterwards, Gov. Hutchinson and FIS Chairman and CEO Gary Norcross announced a pact to extend the state’s partnership with the Fortune 500 company that has roots in Little Rock to highlight the city as a growing “microhub” for financial technology startups.

Wayne Miller, the Venture Center’s new executive director who took the reins of the downtown entrepreneurial service nonprofit in November, applauded the past participants of the earlier Fintech Accelerator programs in 2016 and 2017. Altogether, startups completing the program over the past three years raised approximately $57 million in capital and created 637 jobs in the state, he said.

Miller told Talk Business and Politics that he hopes the ICBA program will have a similar or greater impact. “We’re delighted that these companies have chosen to participate in this opportunity, and over the next 12 weeks, I’m confident that we will create some remarkable solutions to address genuine challenges that community banks are facing,” he said.

The 2019 program will culminate with a live demonstration to an audience of community bankers at “ICBA Live” event in Nashville on March 18. A similar event will be held locally at The Venture Center on March 27 for community banking leaders, potential investors and entrepreneurs.

As the largest trade group for Main Street America banks, ICBA members have more than 52,000 branches nationwide and make up 99% of all banks. Altogether, community banks employ more than 760,000 U.S. workers and are the only physical banking presence in one in five U.S. counties. Combined, those banks have $4.9 trillion in assets, $3.9 trillion in deposits, and $3.4 trillion in loans for consumers and businesses of all sizes.

The companies that will participate in the 2019 program include:

• Adlumin, Alexandria, Va.
• Agora, New York, N.Y.
• Botdoc, Monument, Colo.
• CRiskCo, Brisbane, Australia
• Gerald, New York, N.Y
• KapitalWise, New York, N.Y.
• MK Decision, San Diego, Calif.
• Sou Sou, Washington, D.C.
• Teslar by 3E, Fayetteville, Ark.
• Vetter, New York, N.Y.

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