10 star­tups woo po­ten­tial clients

Com­pa­nies show­case busi­nesses for ex­ec­u­tives in LR

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - DAVID SMITH

Ex­ec­u­tives with the 10 startup com­pa­nies in Lit­tle Rock’s fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram pre­sented their busi­nesses Wed­nes­day to a stand­ing-room only crowd of about 350 fi­nance ex­ec­u­tives, busi­ness lead­ers and in­vestors.

The pre­sen­ta­tions at the Clin­ton Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter con­cluded the sec­ond year for the 12-week pro­gram that eval­u­ated and re­fined fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy busi­ness plans.

Fidelity Na­tional In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices Inc., bet­ter known as FIS Global, spon­sored the ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram with The Ven­ture Cen­ter in down­town Lit­tle Rock. The Ven­ture Cen­ter served as the pro­gram’s train­ing site.

FIS is based in Jack­sonville, Fla., but has about 1,200 em­ploy­ees in Lit­tle Rock. It has more than 57,000 em­ploy­ees world­wide, about 23,000 fi­nan­cial clients and more than $9 bil­lion in an­nual rev­enue. Its clients in­clude about half of the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in the world.

Ex­ec­u­tives rep­re­sent­ing 16 banks vis­ited the ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram this year, said Rob Lee, FIS’ chief prod­uct of­fi­cer. Four banks are prospects to im­ple­ment prod­ucts from the startup com­pa­nies.

More than 50 FIS em­ploy­ees men­tored the 10 startup com­pa­nies, Lee said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

The 10 com­pa­nies are eGiftify of Lon­don and Lit­tle Rock; Al­pha­rank of San Fran­cisco; Alto IRA of Nashville, Tenn.; Bond.AI of New York; Hedge­hog of De­troit; Om­netrium of Chicago; Plin­qit of Ann Ar­bor, Mich.; Quotanda of Mex­ico City; Wal­letFi of Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Xplanr An­a­lyt­ics of New York.

Lee; An­thony Jab­bour, FIS’ chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer; and Jack Novielli, an ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent with FIS, dis­cussed the suc­cess of the 2017 ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram.

This year’s pro­gram went smoother than last year’s, sim­ply be­cause of the ex­pe­ri­ence gained last year, Lee said.

Dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion — an idea or prod­uct that shakes up an ex­ist­ing mar­ket or in­dus­try — is crit­i­cal for FIS’ fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion clients, Jab­bour said.

“FIS is re­ally an ex­ten­sion of our bankers’ teams,” Jab­bour said. “We do a lot for them.

This [ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram] is re­ally a crit­i­cal as­pect of [how we help our clients].”

Some of the FIS bank­ing clients who sent rep­re­sen­ta­tives to Lit­tle Rock to par­tic­i­pate in the ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram were from Arkansas, in­clud­ing Bear State Bank of Lit­tle Rock. Also par­tic­i­pat­ing were PNC Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Group of Pitts­burgh, Fifth Third Ban­corp of Cincin­nati and Royal Bank of Canada in Mon­treal, Lee said.

Some of the clients were par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in Bond.AI, Wal­letFi and Al­pha­rank, the three FIS ex­ec­u­tives said.

Bond.AI has de­vel­oped an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence plat­form that al­lows users to meet their fi­nan­cial goals in the short­est time. If needed, Bond.AI’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence plat­form in­ter­acts with any other ar­ti­fi­cial

in­tel­li­gence, whether it’s a voice tech­nol­ogy from Ap­ple or Google or Ama­zon.

“Bond.AI is in­ter­est­ing be­cause it deals with the prob­lems of be­ing a con­sumer in the 21st cen­tury,” Lee said. “How do you deal with your fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion? Young peo­ple use their phone pri­mar­ily and many do not even have a com­puter. They have stu­dent loans, credit card loans. It grew out of [founder Uday Akkaraju’s] per­sonal quest to sim­plify his fi­nan­cial life. Banks want to be rel­e­vant with that age range of cus­tomers.”

Wal­letFi is de­signed to eas­ily man­age re­cur­ring pay­ments from one credit or debit card to an­other.

For many peo­ple, when they have a credit card or debit card stolen or reis­sued, it is dif­fi­cult to get sub­scrip­tions and re­cur­ring pay­ments switched to a new ac­count.

“The av­er­age con­sumer has an av­er­age of 15 re­cur­ring charges on their credit cards,”

Lee said. “I may have a subscription that I keep pay­ing that I re­ally don’t use any­more. Wal­letFi has a real in­ter­est­ing so­lu­tion that helps the con­sumer deal with that.”

Novielli said Al­pha­rank has de­vel­oped soft­ware that helps banks un­der­stand how so­cial net­works drive con­sumers to make fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions.

“The con­cept is to help banks un­der­stand who are the driv­ers, who are the in­flu­encers, why peo­ple choose [a bank],” Novielli said. “As banks be­come more pointed in their mar­ket­ing, who do they best mar­ket to? How does the bank spend its mar­ket­ing dol­lar wiser?”

The startup com­pa­nies in this year’s ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram will change a num­ber of times over the years, Jab­bour said.

“So a key as­pect of their suc­cess will come from how ag­ile they are and how long can they pivot,” Jab­bour said. “The abil­ity for them to pivot and move as the op­por­tu­nity is

more clar­i­fied will be a crit­i­cal as­pect for them.”

FIS said Wed­nes­day that it has en­tered into part­ner­ships with two startup com­pa­nies from last year’s ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram — Con­necti­cut-based Fund­seeder, a risk man­age­ment and trad­ing ver­i­fi­ca­tion plat­form for traders, and Hex­anika of New York, soft­ware that brings costs sav­ings of up to 40 per­cent to the reg­u­la­tory re­port­ing process.

Six of last year’s com­pa­nies were se­lected to be part of an FIS High Po­ten­tial Net­work — Ak­ouba, Bleu, Flut­ter­wave, Fund­seeder, Hex­anika and Lu­moXchange. Some of this year’s star­tups will also be added to the net­work, Lee said, but it may be a month or so be­fore those are se­lected.

Ap­pli­ca­tions for next year’s ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram will open on Sept. 20. The Ven­ture Cen­ter re­ceived 295 ap­pli­ca­tions this year, about dou­ble the num­ber that ap­plied in the first year of the pro­gram.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

Brian Ley, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Al­pha­rank, pitches his busi­ness Wed­nes­day to a crowd of po­ten­tial in­vestors dur­ing the VC Fin­Tech Demo Day at the Clin­ton Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock.

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