Accelerators / Entrepreneurs / Guest posts / Municipal government

How Little Rock is returning to its fintech roots

A new accelerator is looking to leverage Arkansas' surprising strengths in fintech and Big Data. Will it work?

The Little Rock skyline. (Blue hour in Little Rock, Arkansas by Henryk Sadura via Shutterstock)
This is a guest post by The Venture Center's Steve Rice.
When you think of Arkansas, what comes to mind?

The birthplace of President Bill Clinton? The home of Walmart, the world’s largest company?

It may shock you to learn that Arkansas, the birthplace of well-known giants (see also: Tyson Foods and shipping company J.B. Hunt) is a major exporter in the aerospace industry. And recently the entrepreneurial community of Central Arkansas has begun a stage of rapid growth.

A few years ago, key stakeholders in the community sat down and looked at the history of innovation in the state and asked a powerful question: How can we leverage the we experienced in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s to power the next generation of tech entrepreneurs in our state?

Over the past five decades, Little Rock served as the launching pad of global players in fintech and Big Data. Acxiom, ABC Financial, Arkansas Systems (now Euronet Worldwide), Mainstream Technologies, Systematics (now FIS) and others were founded and grew into key industry leaders in Central Arkansas.

Today, there is a new generation of innovators developing in the golden heart of Arkansas. Tech innovators are building new companies to challenge the status quo and push the limits of their respective industries, proving that “Arkansas is tech.” Several startup incubators and makerspaces have emerged to help these fledgling companies achieve success.

The Venture Center in downtown Little Rock, an organization that, full disclosure, I work for, has developed a systematic method for business acceleration that shrinks the time it takes for an idea to reach the market (previously 2-5 years in Arkansas) to 12-18 months. This approach was developed from an analysis of the top incubator/accelerator programs in the country and is based on strong, guided mentorship and focused, hands-on curriculum.

As part of the next phase of this process, The Venture Center recently announced The VC FinTech Accelerator, a collaboration with FIS, a global leader in fintech. FIS powers 53 percent of the world’s banks and provides financial technology services solutions serving more than 750 million end users in over 100 countries and is the world’s largest financial technology services company.

This program will draw fintech innovators from across the country and around the globe to Little Rock for a 15-week intensive acceleration program. This accelerator is the only one in the world to offer founders access to the executive suite of a fintech leader (FIS) and access to its global business network.

“There exists no other place on earth where a founding team can gain unparalleled access to leaders within the largest financial software company in the world,” said Lee Watson, president and CEO of The Venture Center.

By collaborating with leaders in the industry verticals that already exist and have already built the foundation of the city’s economy, The Venture Center looks to create a stream of scalable, investable businesses growing and thriving in the heart of Arkansas.

This stream of strong, growing businesses will continue to draw even more innovators, top talent and key investors to the community. With a low cost of living and a high quality of life, Arkansas, as touted by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is poised to be the next “tech hub” in the center of the country.

“If we can’t produce those (technology) workers, we’re not going to be able to attract and keep the industry we want,” Hutchinson said in a story reported by Wired early last year. Recognizing the importance of building a strong tech workforce, the Arkansas legislature and the Hutchinson administration have made Arkansas first in the nation to pass a comprehensive computer science education initiative. All K-12 students in Arkansas now receive computer science training.

With plans to build additional accelerator programs in key, industry-leading verticals, this is just the start for Little Rock as it works to foster a leading community of innovator and technologists and position itself as a center for future tech innovation.


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