Exclusive Interview: A Look at the Venture Center & FIS’ Accelerator – Year 2

This article was written by Patrick Rivenbark and originally appeared in Let's Talk Payments.

Let's Talk Payments recently caught up with the managing team at the Venture Center to see how the second year of their FinTech Accelerator is progressing towards their upcoming Demo Day. The VC FinTech Accelerator is empowered by FIS Global, the core banking provider, which gives the companies in the accelerator unique, direct access to a major financial services provider.

We spoke with Lee Watson, CEO and President of the Venture Center, Brian Bauer, Program Manager, and Wayne Miller, Managing Director. Enjoy!

Patrick: Tell us about VC FinTech  what’s the history and what’s your focus in the industry?

Wayne Miller: The Venture Center’s FinTech Accelerator – Empowered by FIS, seeks early-stage financial technology companies that have developed solutions to enable financial institutions in retail banking and wealth management. Though VC FinTech is The Venture Center’s flagship program, we also address and cultivate local entrepreneurship across other technology-focused industries.

Patrick: What have you learned in year two that has made the program better?

Brian Bauer: We continue to learn every day and strive to continually improve our process for all of our stakeholders. One of the most rewarding challenges in creating a program like this is bridging the divide between large corporations, startups, and financial institutions — they all operate at different speeds and with different processes. In fact, we think that’s what keeps many similar programs from being as successful as they could be. I think it also speaks to the dedication from FIS to the program — we couldn’t do this without their buy-in and participation at all levels within the company.

Patrick: What are the benefits come with working directly with FIS?

Wayne Miller: Our partnership with FIS allows VC FinTech company founders to access individuals who are developing, operating and selling technology solutions to 53% of the world’s financial institutions. That’s a deep well of domain expertise to have available. For most early-stage companies, that isn’t something you can gain access to. And, of course, being exposed to decision makers inside FIS is also a huge benefit.

Patrick: What does VC FinTech offer aside from collaboration with FIS – that makes the experience in Little Rock unique?

Brian Bauer: The Venture Center has a network of more than 70 mentors who participate in helping founders with various aspects of their businesses, including financial modeling, B2B marketing strategy, and sales. Though it may be a smaller metro area, Little Rock has a dense pool of financial technology and data science expertise, both of which are important in today’s economy. Little Rock has an almost 50-year history with financial technology innovation, going back to the founding of Systematics in 1968 and has a source of data science experts due to AdTech companies like Acxiom and others that were founded here.

Patrick: How do you view innovation, particularly in FinTech, outside of places like Silicon Valley and New York?

Lee Watson: Gaining traction in larger markets can be a definite challenge, so we consider the smaller size of our hub to be an asset. Because Little Rock is truly a community, the work we do here resonates. We receive a huge amount of support from state and local leaders including our governor, mayor, congressmen, and CEOs of several major companies.

Additionally, early-stage companies need a runway to prove their thesis and cash burn in this market is significantly less compared to others. In fact, several founders have opted to relocate their companies here since participating in the program, and we expect that trend to continue.

Patrick: What are the disadvantages to being outside a major FinTech Hub? How do you address them in the program?

Brian Bauer: Our program is firmly focused on ‘go-to-market.’ When early-stage companies build products that solve customers’ pain points and focus on sales, they will close more deals and gain better investment opportunities. Banking executives who are looking at innovation to drive growth fly into Little Rock from all over the country. So, although we may be outside what is traditionally considered a “financial center,” we don’t lack access to them. Besides, most financial institutions don’t actually reside in those ‘centers’ anyway. There are a lot of banks interested in innovation across the country.

We provide bank engagement opportunities with 20-30 financial institutions each cycle, from community banks to global institutions from money centers around the country. Our curriculum dives deeply into the go-to-market aspect of early-stage company challenges. We think this adds extraordinary value to the program and, between the FIS relationship and engagement with decision makers at financial institutions directly, we can deliver critical insights to shape products and opportunities to drive early sales.

Patrick: Tell us about the upcoming Demo Day and why folks should attend?

Wayne Miller: The VC FinTech Accelerator Demo Day is as focused on go-to-market as it is on raising capital. Financial institutions that attend will have an opportunity to see vetted companies with innovative solutions that can help them advance their businesses and compete. Many investors are looking more and more to quality FinTech companies that are working with financial institutions, and we have those. Between our selection process, accelerator program and the diligent efforts of the companies presenting, we can confidently say Demo Day is a showcase of innovation that should not be missed.

Patrick: Thanks for joining us, guys! Happy Demo Day and good luck to all the companies.