Global financial services company FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, and Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday that they will continue to sponsor the VC FinTech Accelerator for another year.
The 12-week startup program, hosted by the Venture Center of Little Rock, began in 2016. It was co-sponsored by the company and state in 2017 and 2018, to the tune of $500,000 each for both years — a total of $2 million. The state's portion of the accelerator's budget has come from discretionary funds.
Hutchinson and FIS CEO Gary Norcross spoke Wednesday at the program's third annual demo day, attended by about 450 people.
Norcross told the crowd that people ask him all the time why the company chose to hold the accelerator in Little Rock.
"It's certainly not lost on any of us that, 50 years ago, there was a small fintech startup [called Systematics] in Little Rock, Arkansas, and that company is now FIS," he said. "It just made sense to come home."
Startups from more than 40 countries applied for the accelerator, the CEO said, and those chosen to participate have been "blown away" by the state's hospitality and all it has to offer.
"I had an opportunity to talk to the governor yesterday and he said, 'Gary, this cohort feels like a better group, feels like the bar continues to get raised,'" Norcross said. "I thought about that for a minute and I said, 'I think it really is a direct reflection on the accelerator becoming known throughout the world.'"
The governor noted Arkansas' banking industry, which includes fast-growing public companies like Bank OZK of Little Rock and Home BancShares Inc. of Conway.
"Our banking sector is significant," the governor said. "One banking operation, OZK of Arkansas, makes more construction loans than any other bank in the United States of America. Right out of here, in Arkansas. And so we are a banking center for regional banks."
Hutchinson also touted state investments in technology.
"Our goal is to have a micro-hub of technology companies right here in Arkansas ... Whether we talk about coding, or whether we talk about blockchain, or whether you talk about cybersecurity, Arkansans want to be innovators," he said. "We want to be on the cutting edge of this and want to be investing in it."
The demo day included the 10 startups selected for this year's accelerator pitching their ideas to investors.