Software provider FI Works of Little Rock is gaining access to prospective customers and feedback from its participation in the second annual ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator now underway.
The 12-week program is sponsored by the state and the Independent Community Bankers of America, and it’s hosted by the Venture Center at the Little Rock Technology Park.
FI Works is not just the only Arkansas company selected for this year’s accelerator; it’s also the most established of the bunch, CEO and founder Keith Henkel said.
He said the company aims to leverage its newfound relationship with the ICBA to expand by hiring more technical and sales talent. It has five employees now.
FI Works’ sales and marketing software is designed to help community banks find new customers, retain established customers and grow their relationships over time, Henkel said.
He balked at the “startup” label applied to many of the companies chosen for accelerator programs.
FI Works was a startup a decade ago, Henkel said. That label is misleading now because it evokes a company with a new or immature product and no customers, he said.
FI Works has three bank customers, including a bank that has been using its product for 12 years. His company has revenue and is profitable, Henkel said, though he declined to disclose its annual revenue.
The accelerator companies received a $75,000 initial investment, but his company raised $3.5 million in capital from friends and family before that, Henkel said.
He started working on FI Works’ software in 2006. Henkel previously worked for Systematics Inc. and Alltel Information Services (now FIS) for more than 10 years and for Acxiom Corp. (now LiveRamp Holdings Inc.) for nearly five years.
“A lot of [what they did] was targeted at big banks. And so what I decided to do is to see if I couldn’t take some of this great technology that the big banks use and bring it down to a business model that the small banks could actually leverage,” Henkel said. “So the people that have our technology can be as sophisticated, or even more sophisticated than, a big bank” in their marketing.
Knows the Market
Daniel Schutte, the Venture Center’s program manager for fintech accelerators, said Henkel’s company was chosen for the accelerator because his background sets FI Works apart from other companies with similar products. “[Henkel has] been in financial services as long as financial services existed as we know it,” he said.
In addition, what FI Works does is needed, Schutte said.
“Marketing automation is something that is very important for community banks, and, often, they don’t have the budget that larger institutions have, but the problems are just as real for them,” he said. “Keith had purpose-built, with his current banking client roster, the software for the financial services industry. So he’d solved this problem over the course of several years and really dialed into this particular market. He knows it as well as anybody.”
“After screening hundreds of companies for this accelerator, FI Works was determined to be in the top tier of a global field,” the Venture Center said in an emailed statement. “FI Works being from Arkansas is a testament to the depth of expertise we have here in the state, and shows that Arkansas is a global player in fintech.”
Henkel applied for the accelerator after a customer suggested he speak to the Venture Center.
The program is giving his company the opportunity to meet 40-45 banks and to pitch its product at the national ICBA LIVE 2020 conference in Orlando on March 9, as well as at a demo day on March 25 at the Clinton Library in Little Rock.
Both events are the culmination of the accelerator.
“It’s hard for any business to get that many people to look at your product,” Henkel said. “So having that many people come through means that we expect to generate some really quality leads and new relationships with bankers in the community banking space.”
He said that he’d received more feedback on FI Works’ software, mostly positive, in just a few weeks than he’d received in the past three years.