Global financial services company FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, and the state will continue to sponsor the Fintech Accelerator next year.
Next year, the Venture Center will again host the 12-week program. Going into its fifth year, the accelerator will be funded with $250,000 each from FIS and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Business & Technology Accelerator Grant program. In addition, FIS will contribute another $750,000 for initial investments in the startups chosen for the program.
The announcement was made Wednesday evening at the 2019 FIS Fintech Accelerator Demo Day, the culminating event for this year’s program.
The 10 startups graduating from the program pitched their product or service to a packed house at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
ChangeEd of Chicago, which offers an app that automatically collects spare change and uses it to help pay off the user’s student loans, was the “executive choice” winner of the pitch competition. Audience members at the demo day voted for the winner via their cellphones.
Other speakers at the event were FIS CEO Gary Norcross and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
“Why are we all here? … We’re all right in the middle of another industrial revolution, where everything is being digitized,” said Norcross. “Artificial intelligence is coming up fast. Machine learning is coming on very fast, and all of us are faced with either being disrupted or [to] disrupt ourselves. Whether it’s our clients or it’s FIS, we’re all focused on the same thing: how do we quickly accelerate to the future?”
He also mentioned that the company will close on its $43 billion acquisition of Worldpay of London in a few days and is spending $1.2 billion this year on internal research and development.
But FIS must look five to 10 years into the future, Norcross said, and this accelerator helps it do that. He added that FIS’ clients have been impressed by participation in the program’s demo days and said, “I see a lot of accelerators operating around the world, I would argue this is one of if not the most successful accelerators that exist today.”
He thanked all those involved, including the 56 banks that are FIS clients who met with the startups throughout the program.
Gov. Hutchinson said the state invests in the accelerator because it wants FIS, a homegrown company that still has roots in Arkansas, to continue as a global leader. “We also invest because we want a return on the investment, by building the technology sector here in this state,” he said.
Hutchinson also touted that Arkansas, five years ago, mandated that coding be taught in its high schools. At first, 1,000 students were enrolled in coding classes. This year, that number has grown to 8,000.
Another demo day speaker, FIS Enterprise Product Officer Spencer Jones, spoke to Arkansas Business earlier in the day.
“At the end of the day, one of the things that the accelerator does is it creates a bit of a nexus of the flow of ideas, and innovation is a result of a flow of ideas,” said Jones. “You want to be in that flow.
“From my vantage point, I look at it as an exciting opportunity to work with startups that have all kinds of different ideas, some good, some bad, but you want all different kinds of ideas to look at how you approach the marketplace because it’s full of disruption.”
This year’s startups were a broad mix that included disruptors in the wealth space; cross border payments; remittance and digital engagement, experience and growth; and risk assessment.
Jones said e-commerce is also a major trend that impacts what banks are doing.
On how the accelerator helps FIS, he explained, “We want to make sure we’re driving the innovation cycle … as opposed to being driven by it.”
Jones said he would be the FIS sponsor, or liaison, with the accelerator going forward. As such, he wants to play a bigger role in selecting accelerator participants that are a good fit for FIS and its clients’ need. The program has become more selective as its received more applicants, 200-plus this year, and that will continue, Jones said.
He also said the accelerator is following the same path as other accelerators in that FIS clients who met the startups in prior years weren’t sure what to ask before. Now they are more “savvy” and “engaged,” even asking how they can get a stake in startups.
The city has learned more too, with demo day participation continuing to grow, Jones said