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For the Venture Center in Little Rock, COVID-19, it turns out, was an opportunity.
“We’ve had such a big year in 2020,” said Chief Strategy Officer Mimi San Pedro. “So COVID-19 did not slow us down. As a matter of fact, because we went virtual, we opened up and offered our programs to so much more people that have access because they can actually access it online, instead of having to attend in person.
“Moving forward, we’re probably going to have a hybrid of, combination of, in-person and virtual. We’re going to try to figure out what that means and how we’re going to do that.”
The nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization’s programs — workshops, speaker series, roundtable discussions and lunch-and-learns — nearly doubled to about 90 in 2020 from approximately 54 in 2019, she said. The number of participants also increased, to 4,500 from 3,000.
In addition, the Venture Center took home the top prize last year in the Best Fintech Accelerator/Incubator category at the second annual Finovate Awards, an international competition. It has hosted the FIS Fintech Accelerator — sponsored by financial technology giant FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, and the state of Arkansas — since 2016.
Launched in May 2014, the center has nine employees. Since then, it’s gained a focus on convincing established companies of their need to innovate and gained recognition in the fintech space, San Pedro said. It’s now looked at to guide banks and others in a “complete digital transformation,” she said.
Fintech will continue to be the center’s focus during the next five years as well. It wants to host a “South by Southwest version of the fintech summit here in Arkansas,” San Pedro said. “If we can keep the birthplace of fintech alive and well and flourishing here in Little Rock, Arkansas, we would like to do that. And then we would also like to make sure that people in different industries, like our focus of ag right here in the state of Arkansas, understand that fintech is not just for financial institutions.”