The Independent Community Bankers of America announced Wednesday that it is partnering with The Venture Center in Little Rock to launch the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, a community bank-focused fintech accelerator program.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.; Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola; Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; Rebeca Romero Rainey, ICBA president and CEO; Kevin Tweddle, ICBA Group executive vice president of innovation and technology; and Venture Center Managing Director Wayne Miller spoke at the announcement held at The Venture Center in the Little Rock Technology Park.
"Ultimately, community banks are engines of economic development. They make their communities a better place for all those who call them home," Rainey said. "If you see a local small business on the street, chances are it was funded by a community bank. Community banks take on more than half of all small business loans in this country and more than 80 percent of all agriculture loans.
"And they're doing this during a time of great change. Community banks are nimble innovators and creative problem solvers. I see it every day ... Community banks want to innovate. They want to provide their customers with the best possible products and solutions and offer convenience while continuing that relationship-based lending model that has served them so well for many generations," she said.
Rainey said this partnership and program will bring everyone to the table to offer more opportunities for economic growth. It is also an investment in the future of community banking, she said.
Tweddle said the program is a win-win for all involved. He said it gives community banks direct access to innovative technologies while also exposing startups to community banking and its needs.
Preston said this program is an example of "facilitative growth, which is where a state or community has made a conscientious decision to invest" can accurately track the return on that investment. He said Arkansas is investing in entrepreneurs and hopes to receive sustainable economic growth in return.
Miller called the launch "the birth of [a] second child" for the Venture Center, which also hosts the FinTech Accelerator that is sponsored by the state and FIS of Jacksonville, Florida. He said that experience has prepared the nonprofit to host the new accelerator.
Miller said 75 companies have applied to participate. Each of the companies selected for the accelerator will receive a $75,000 investment in tranches from ICBA.
The 12-week accelerator is set for Jan. 7 through March 29. It will accept 10 companies per iteration.
The program will focus on next-generation lending; artificial intelligence and machine learning; blockchain; payments; advanced analytics and big data; regulatory compliance tools; cybersecurity; authentication; and streamlining customer experience.
A selection committee composed of ICBA staff and member bank executives will serve as mentors to the early-stage companies competing to participate in the program.
ICBA will also invest in each accelerator participant, and they will present their products or services to community banks at the ThinkTech showcase at ICBA LIVE 2019 convention that will be held March 18-22 in Nashville.