Global financial services technology provider FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, and the Venture Center of Little Rock on Wednesday named the 10 startup companies selected from a pool of 295 applicants for the second FinTech Accelerator.
The companies are:
- Alpharank of San Francisco, a data modeling company that processes purchase data for its clients to help them identify their most important customers.
- Alto IRA of Nashville, Tennessee, which aims to help its customers establish a self-directed IRA more quickly than if they were to do so through a big bank.
- Bond.ai of New York City, a conversational AI platform that understands financial goals and enables users to meet those goals in the shortest possible time.
eGiftify of Little Rock, a company that enables people to send and received gifts instantly sent via email, text message, Facebook or print.
- Hedge Hog of Detroit, a high return lending platform secured by borrower collateral.
- Plinqit of Ann Arbor, Michigan. HTC Mobile Apps of Austin, Texas, is its parent company.
- Omnetrium of Chicago, a technology platform built to help U.S. retail banks drive new account growth and stable core deposits to fund asset growth.
- Quotanda of Mexico City, which offers a lending as a service platform to enable universities and lenders to set up student financing programs that could make education more affordable.
- WalletFi of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which helps its customers manage recurring payments from one card to another.
- Xplanr of New York City, which aims to enhance organizations' ability to show that they are in control of regulatory compliance programs.
Through the 12-week program, each will receive mentoring and training from FIS and the Venture Center as well as an initial $50,000 investment. The companies may also be eligible for $100,000-$300,000 when the accelerator ends.
The Venture Center is a tenant of the Little Rock Technology Park, and the program will be held there.
The Venture Center said the number of applicants doubled from last year's inaugural program. The accelerator, extended until 2018 to the tune of $2 million, is being funded with $500,000 each from FIS and Arkansas discretionary funds.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson; U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.; FIS President and CEO Gary Norcross; and Venture Center President and CEO Lee Watson attended a kickoff event at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
At the event, Hutchinson told the accelerator participants, "We have an investor community that is increasingly sophisticated and interested in technology companies, and it's that investment community that is key to any startup company. You'll have your opportunity to pitch to that down the road. You're going to have a receptive audience, and we want to partner with you for the future."
Rob Lee, executive vice president and chief product officer for FIS, and Jack Novielli, executive vice president with strategic product integration for FIS, were also in town for the festivities.
Lee told Arkansas Business that FIS is sponsoring the accelerator because it's good for the company and its clients — banks — to be exposed to new disruptive technologies. He said the accelerator provides opportunities for FIS to partner with early-stage companies. Without it, the startups and the global company would struggle to connect, Lee said.
FIS has invested in some of the companies that graduated from the first accelerator, but he said the company isn't disclosing more about those investments right now.
He also said a lesson learned from last year is that participants shouldn't be left adrift once the program ends. So FIS has launched an effort to keep it in touch with early stage companies and provide startups with further mentoring.
FIS in Arkansas
Lee said FIS employs about 1,700 people at its Little Rock campus on North Rodney Parham Road. He said a lot of the company's technology solutions are built here.
The company was built through acquisitions, Lee explained, and it began as Systematics of Little Rock. So FIS has "deep roots" here, he said.
Lee said Systematics built the underlying system that supports mobile banking for many financial institutions, and that technology continues to be improved at the FIS campus in Little Rock.
Lee said the idea to host a first-of-its-kind accelerator here spawned from talks in 2015 between Norcross, a native Arkansan, and Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber.
Lee's role has included vetting applications for the accelerator; Novielli advises the program's participants on how to market their products to clients and how to tweak the products to meet client needs.
"It's great that you built something, but then selling to a bank is a fundamentally different thing," Lee said. "How to get through compliance and why would we buy it" are questions Novielli helps the startups answer.
The biggest challenge is convincing companies to move to Little Rock for 12 weeks, they said. But the accelerator fights any preconceived notions with informational marketing. That's also easier to do now, Lee said, because he can direct companies to others who have completed the program.
The 2017 accelerator will culminate with a demo day on July 26 at the Clinton Presidential Library. The companies will show their products to potential investors, regional and local leaders and entrepreneurs.
Following last year's program, two participating companies moved to Little Rock, and one is considering moving to Fayetteville, Lee said. Both of the startups that relocated are tenants of the Little Rock Technology Park.
FIS is not involved in accelerators in other states, but it does host labs that test technologies and brainstorm how to address specific industry challenges. Those labs are in India, New York and San Francisco, Lee said.