A Canadian financial technology company will join nine other start-ups from across the U.S. in the Little Rock Venture Center's third annual community-banking accelerator program, which began Wednesday with hundreds of virtual participants joining through videostreaming.
It's the first year an Arkansas company was not selected for the 12-week program, which is sponsored by the Independent Community Bankers of America association.
The Independent Community Bankers of America ThinkTech Accelerator program selected the 2021 cohort from hundreds of applicants. The companies offer a range of products that include cybersecurity, lending, customer engagement and financial literacy. Products are dedicated to supporting community-banking efforts.
Multiple bankers work directly with the fintech participants in the accelerator, offering mentoring services and real-time feedback on their products so the offerings can be honed to meet existing and future customer needs.
Community banks benefit from the innovative products and services that are offered by the fintechs participating in the ThinkTech program, according to Independent Community Bankers of America President and Chief Executive Officer Rebeca Romero Rainey, who noted the initiative has become even more important during the pandemic.
"While community bankers have always been nimble innovators and creative problem solvers, covid-19 forced many community banks to put their innovation strategy into overdrive," she said.
Rainey noted that community bankers were responsible for giving out nearly $335 billion in small business loans, making up 57% of lending activity in the federal Paycheck Protection Program that was established to provide a financial buffer against the pandemic.
"Community banks led the way in supporting underrepresented small businesses, diverse communities and critical areas of the economy," Rainey said.
Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston, who participated in Wednesday's announcement, emphasized that the accelerator is an example of how economic development efforts can continue despite the pandemic.
"This gives us hope and promise that while we're going through this pandemic we can still create jobs, we can create businesses, we can grow businesses," Preston said.
For the first time, this year's participants completed an incubator to prepare them for the 12-week accelerator boot camp.
"Because of the popularity and high demand for the accelerator from bankers, we implemented an additional four-week incubation phase to better prepare the cohort for their community bankers' meetings," said Wayne Miller, executive director of the Venture Center. "Now they are prepared to hit the ground running on day one."
This also will be the first year the program adjusts to offering the entire program in a virtual format. Last year's program switched to a virtual format after the initial stages to adjust for the covid-19 outbreak.
Arkansas has contributed $250,000 each year to support the accelerator initiative and is finalizing its contribution for 2021, the Venture Center said. Independent Community Bankers of America also contributes $250,000 toward the program and also makes a $75,000 investment in each of the fintechs.
Participating fintechs and their services include:
• Agent IQ of San Francisco uses technology that allows banks to build personal relationships with customers.
• Artis Technologies of Atlanta offers consumer financing and real-time lending opportunities to help banks drive business demand.
• Beauceron Security of New Brunswick, Canada, provides cybersecurity services to reduce risk for organizations.
• Finosec of Alpharetta, Ga., also is a cybersecurity firm focused on governance services for banks.
• Harness of Tampa, Fla., connects financial institutions and their cardholders to non-profits through fundraising campaigns.
• Hurdlr of Washington provides support that enhances the ability to serve customers too small for commercial banks.
• Shastic of Berkeley, Calif., uses robotic automation to shorten lending cycles.
• Upswot of Charlotte, N.C, increases banking revenue by providing risk, marketing and business insights collected from business apps.
• Zogo of Durham, N.C., promotes gaming to boost financial literacy for Generation Z customers.
• ZSuite Technologies of Burlington, Mass., which offers services solutions for landlords and property managers.