Startup spirit guides fintech support group The Venture Center

Startup spirit guides fintech support group The Venture Center
Startup spirit guides fintech support group The Venture Center

The Little Rock Venture Center’s evolution, probably as it should be, traces the entrepreneurial recipe that charts the life of a startup: there’s an idea, followed by research to assess its viability, development of a business plan, fundraising efforts, early battles and, for the lucky few, success and extended growth.

The Venture Center has found this success and established an internationally recognized brand as an organization that elevates financial technology companies in the early stages of development. The effort has drawn financial, programming and leadership support from a global technology company and a national banking group – and the accelerator programs they sponsor have drawn some 280 applicants from 40 countries.

In 2020, Finovate, a globally renowned fintech industry leader, named the FIS Fin-tech Accelerator program at the Venture Center the best fintech accelerator of the year.

This week, the entrepreneur support organization is launching a bid to capitalize on its efforts with an inaugural fintech summit that will attract up to 400 bankers and startups.

It hasn’t always been that way. The initiative received little respect in the first days. An article chronicling their struggles to land downtown on Main Street—the headquarters today—noted that the technology park where it was then located was home to “start-ups with little business or revenue (that) rent space.” There weren’t many reasons to pay attention in the early days. In its first year, the Venture Center had no money, no employees and no offices. “The Venture Center itself is a great example of the entrepreneurial journey,” recalls Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jay Chesshir. “We started it the same way an entrepreneur would start a company.” The venture center traces its roots back to 2005 when the chamber began drumming up support to create a research and technology park, which today is the Little Rock Technology Park, a 38,000-square-foot space on Main Street that houses the Venture Center’s operations.

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Legislation to create the technology park was passed in 2007, and in 2011 Little Rock voters helped fund it with $22 million from sales tax.

The Venture Center’s unassuming beginnings turned around when FIS Inc., Fidelity National Information Services, jumped in with financial backing in 2016 after an initial effort to lure another local company failed. Gary Norcross, CEO of FIS, which started in 1968 as Systematics Inc. in Little Rock, is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and began working with the company as a management trainee.

“We have such a proud heritage of being a part of Little Rock and a part of Arkansas, and that’s something we don’t take lightly,” Nor-cross said in 2015 when he was the keynote speaker at the chamber’s annual meeting.

The company’s support led to the development of the FIS Fintech Accelerator, a 12-week bootcamp where bankers and financial services executives participate in hands-on sessions that help refine the products and services fintech startups develop.

Similarly, the Independent Community Bankers of America partnered with the Venture Center in 2020 to create the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, which brings in startups to pitch and refine products specifically for the community banking sector.

The center has branched out to offer local programs and events to the Central Arkansas community, including an accelerator in partnership with the chamber limited to area startups.

BANK BRUSH

The banking team at Stephens Inc. has raised price targets for Arkansas’ three publicly traded banks following their second-quarter earnings announcements earlier this month. All three reported a decline in profits while still beating consensus forecasts from Wall Street analysts.

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At Bank OZK in Little Rock, profits fell as the company increased its provision for credit losses. Stephens noted that the bank delivered robust growth in net interest income and has an active share buyback program. OZK’s target share price was increased to $45 from $42.

Second-quarter earnings at both Home BancShares Inc. of Conway and Simmons First National Corp. in Pine Bluff was drained by expenses related to acquisitions made in Texas.

Stephens has raised the price target for Home’s stock to $26 from $25. Likewise, Simmons’ price target rose a dollar to $25.

WEST LITTLE ROCK BUILDING SOLD

Titan General Contractors of Benton has purchased a 19,726-square-foot office building in west Little Rock.

The facility, at 11 Corporate Hill Drive, is located just off West Markham Street and near Interstate-430 and I-630 Central. Titan plans to occupy a portion of the building and continue to lease to Simmons Bank, Southeast Transit and others.

“This property is perfectly located near the I-430/I-630 interchange and near several major west Little Rock arteries, making it a highly desirable office space,” said Bill Pendergist, who represented the buyers on behalf of Colliers of Arkansas. “In addition, we are noticing a trend in our market of more owner-occupied buildings to alleviate the stress of the rising rents we are experiencing in these current market conditions.” The seller, Irico Realty, was represented by Mark Bentley, also of Colliers.

APPLY FOR THE GOVERNOR’S AWARD

The Arkansas District Export Council is accepting applications through Friday for the 2022 Governor’s Award for Excellence in global trade.

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The award recognizes the export success of small, medium and large Arkansas companies and also includes those companies that have a strategy to maintain or increase their sales and workforce through exports. Awards will be presented on October 5 at the Governor’s Mansion.

Businesses can self-nominate and economic development organizations are encouraged to nominate Arkansas-based manufacturing or agricultural companies that actively sell in international markets. The council considers key factors such as ability to overcome trade barriers, regional export expansion, development of innovative campaigns to promote exports and a demonstration of international business growth over the past 3-5 years.

More information is available at https://exportarkansas.org/export-awards.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need to be pursued? Contact me at [email protected] or at 501-378-3567.

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