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Entrepreneur

Startup spirit guides fintech support group The Venture Center


The Little Rock Venture Center’s development, probably as it should be, tracks the entrepreneurial blueprint that diagrams the life of a startup business: there’s an idea, followed by research to assess its viability, development of a business plan, fundraising efforts, early struggles and, for the fortunate few, success and expanded growth.

The Venture Center has found that success and established an internationally recognized brand as an organization that elevates financial-technology companies in the early stages of development. Its work has drawn financial, programming and executive support from a global technology company and a national community banking group — and the accelerator programs they sponsor have drawn about 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 year’s best fintech accelerator.

This week the entrepreneurial support organization begins an effort to capitalize on its efforts with an inaugural fintech summit that will attract up to 400 bankers and startups.

It hasn’t always been like that. The initiative got little respect in the early days. An article depicting its struggles to land downtown on Main Street — its main offices today — noted the technology park where it was then housed was home to “startup companies with scant operations or revenue (that) are renting space.” There weren’t many reasons to pay attention in the early days. The Venture Center, in its first year, had no money, no staff and no offices. “The Venture Center itself is a great example of the entrepreneur journey,” Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Jay Chesshir recalls. “We were bootstrapping it just like an entrepreneur would bootstrap a company.” Th e Ve n t u re Ce n te r traces its roots back to 2005 when the chamber began to drum 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.

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

The Venture Center’s unassuming beginnings turned around when FIS Inc., Fidelity National Information Services, jumped in with financial support in 2016 after an initial effort to entice another local company failed. Gary Norcross, chief executive officer of FIS, which started in 1968 as Systematics Inc. in Little Rock, is a University of Arkansas grad who began work with the company as a management trainee.

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

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

Similarly, the Independent Community Bankers of America forged a partnership with the Venture Center in 2020 to create the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, which brings in startups to pitch and hone 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 that is limited to area startups.

BANKING BOOST

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

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

Second-quarter profits at both Home BancShares Inc. of Conway and Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff were zapped by expenses related to acquisitions each made in Texas.

Stephens has lifted the price target for Home’s stock to $26 from $25. Likewise, Simmons’ price target went up 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 just off West Markham Street and near the Interstate-430 and I-630 exchange. Titan plans to occupy part of the building and continue leasing to Simmons Bank, Southeast Transit and others.

“This property is perfectly positioned near the I-430/I-630 interchange and near several major west Little Rock arteries, making it a highly desirable corporate office facility,” 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 lease rates we’re experiencing in these current market conditions.” The seller, Irico Realty, was represented by Mark Bentley, also of Colliers.

APPLY FOR GOVERNOR’S AWARD

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

The award recognizes the exporting success of small, medium and large Arkansas companies and also includes those companies that have a strategy to maintain or increase sales and workforce through exporting. Awards will be handed out Oct. 5 at the Governor’s Mansion.

Companies can self-nominate and economic development organizations are encouraged to nominate Arkansas-based manufacturing or agriculture companies actively selling in international markets. The council considers key factors such as ability to overcome trade barriers, regional export expansions, development of innovative promotions 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 pursuing? Contact me at [email protected] or at 501-378-3567.



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