As we have previously reported on LTP, there are a number of accelerators in the FinTech space. However, we might have found a “diamond in the rough” with an accelerator in Arkansas. The VC FinTech Accelerator is a collaboration between FIS (the world’s largest financial services technology company) and The Venture Center.
While Arkansas is the only state in America where you can actually dig for real diamonds, there is something special going on in Little Rock.
The following is an interview with Lee Watson, the President & CEO of The Venture Center regarding the VC FinTech Accelerator which is now accepting applications for startups for its summer program. Up to ten companies will participate in the program for $50,000 each and access up to $300,000 toward the end of the program.
How would you describe the Little Rock FinTech ecosystem? What is unique and interesting about it for those who might not be familiar with it?
Little Rock is the birthplace of the FinTech industry with the establishment of Systematics back in 1968. The Systematics platform, which today is part of FIS, continues to power a large number of global financial institutions. In addition, one of the largest payment processors in the world was started here and continues to operate as part of Euronet. The largest off Wall Street brokerage firm, Stephens Inc, is based in Little Rock. Another important slice section of the tech industry is Big Data represented by Acxiom which started in central Arkansas. Between these entities and many smaller ones, we have a nice cross section of financial, business intelligence and technology companies to fuel FinTech growth.
What are some characteristics of the talent pool in Little Rock? How would you compare it with other well-known FinTech hubs?
One key difference for Little Rock is the quality of life and the absence of “noise”. By noise, we are talking about competing for attention: for talent, media, capital and so forth. In many markets, there is so much noise that it is hard for startups to get noticed. Not so in Little Rock! Here you can be a big fish in a small pond with access not only to the executive suite of the world’s largest financial services company, but also to a number of serial entrepreneurs, investors, local executives, mentors and key leaders in our community and the state. Central Arkansas is big enough to have exciting opportunities but small enough for you to stand out. Frankly, it is just an easier way to get things done.
What are your expectations for the partnership with FIS on the accelerator program?
Top of mind at this stage for the Fintech Accelerator is getting the right initial class of cohorts in our program. We have received a lot of interesting applications and we have about a week left before we close the process (March 31). If you are a startup, it’s not too late - please apply now at www.vcfintech.co.
Success for us is finding a few startups that are on the consumer side of things (disruption); several on the back-end (process/operational efficiency) and some coming in from an entirely different angle. In addition we are looking at the above group and possibly others that can connect to APIs to help launch the next generation of financial solutions.
As mentioned before, our program allows for ten startups. We recognize the active participation by FIS (its executives, go-to-market and subject matter experts) makes this a unique program. As such we are looking at ways to leverage this access for later stage startups that are past Series A and ready for scale. We haven’t given this program an official name yet, but we already have several companies willing to participate during the same time as our Accelerator program.
What is the value you can provide to enrolled startups that they will not be able to receive in other places or other programs?
We are not some VC with huge access to money and no FinTech expertise. We are not a one-bank accelerator either.
Rather, we are the ONLY accelerator with a commitment and an open door to the executive suite of the global FinTech leader and access to 20,000 customers across 130 countries. To help break that number down, FIS does business with 75% of all credit unions in the U.S., nine of the global top ten banks, and 18 of the top 25 U.S. retailers. Access to this customer base is second to none, but just as importantly is access to all the expertise of working with these customers and understanding their core issues to create a “whole” or complete product that can make the difference for success of any company.
And, Little Rock is vibrant and growing, a fun place to work and an even better place to live. There’s a reason why they call Arkansas the Natural State.
Who are some of the institutional partners that will be able to provide a superior experience to startups during the accelerator program? How will they contribute?
As mentioned above, we will be leveraging the FIS relationship to bring a lot of their industry experts from all parts of the company. We have some key executives from their organization who will be involved throughout the accelerator and beyond. We also have a commitment from FIS to bring in go-to-market and subject matter experts on an as-needed basis, depending on the specific requirements of the program and the startup(s). This is a tailored experience that you won’t find anywhere else. In addition, our managing director has founded or held leadership roles in six startups; the last one, a leading mobile banking provider, sold for close to $200 million. He has since been a partner in a management consulting firm and has experience at the executive level in a Fortune 20 company.
Outside of that relationship, we have a core group of mentors who are seasoned entrepreneurs - many with real and extensive FinTech and data management backgrounds - which should be appealing to entrepreneurs in this space.
Startups in which stage and with what kind of products/solutions have a higher chance of success with the VC FinTech accelerator? What are some minimum requirements and expectations from applicants?
That’s a pretty broad question. When we look at the market we try to put things in buckets such as payments, trading/brokerage, core banking services, cash management, risk/security, engagement channels and so forth. We expect to see more applicants in the payment space as it gets a ton of media attention. However, we are just as excited to see applicants building efficiency-focused products in ‘non-hip’ verticals like back office automation and process improvement.
What are some of the milestones you have for the accelerator and plans for future startup batches and partnerships? Are you looking to expand the program to other locations?
The Venture Center has accelerator programs that leverage other unique capabilities of our community/region. From a Fintech standpoint, we are just getting started and we plan to be running accelerators for the long-term with FIS. Little Rock is the startup collaboration center for the company.