by Tyler Hale | Photography By Jamison Mosley
Startup companies have a myriad of issues to deal with from creating and launching a product or service to keeping the business funded and moving toward profitability. Getting noticed in the financial and technology worlds can be difficult for new businesses. It’s even more so in the financial technology (FinTech) industry. But the Little Rock-based Venture Center and FIS, the world’s largest global provider dedicated to banking and payments technologies, have collaborated to make it easier for startups to connect with mentors and industry experts to move their business toward success.
The FIS FinTech Accelerator is a 12-week, on-site program designed to accelerate the growth of financial technology companies that are creating innovations in core banking services, wealth management, back office, regulatory and compliance issues, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, payments, digital automation, automated marketing, gamification, privacy/data permission and enterprise blockchain.
Hundreds of relevant companies with solutions in financial services are encouraged to apply, however, only 10 companies that are poised to challenge the status quo in the financial sector are selected. Here are the companies chosen to participate in a 12-week on-site program, complete with a curriculum that will help them plan strategically, address business and finance challenges and provide rigorous mentorship from successful FinTech and entrepreneurial experts.
Coming to Arkansas from Sunnyvale, Calif., Neener Analytics has already established a presence in 11 countries around the world.
Neener works with banks, lenders, insurance companies and real estate companies to automate their risk decision making. With only a click of a consumer’s social media profile or a three-minute talk with ARIA, or Autonomous Risk Information Assistant, the world’s first augmented AI chat-based risk decision-making tool, Neener can provide a custom risk assessment.
According to founder and CEO Jeff LoCastro, Neener will help the 56 percent of U.S.-based consumers who are “thin-file, no-file and credit-challenged,” who are not being served by the financial industry due to current risk assessment methods. The technology will help banks and other financial institutions attract a new customer base.
“The opportunity to partner with FIS for 12 weeks is a gift from FinTech heaven,” LoCastro says. “We know our solution works, and to be able to demonstrate it to FIS and their vast network is unbelievable.”
Hailing from Boston, Digital Onboarding helps financial institutions increase customer engagement and profitability by helping to build personalized relationships on a large scale.
Using a SaaS (software as a service) automation platform, Digital Onboarding automates and optimizes communication with customers. Phone calls and paper-based mail are replaced with email and SMS campaigns to help customers get the most from the financial service products they use.
“Banks and credit unions spend over $300 to acquire a new checking account, but 25-40 percent of openers close their accounts within the first year and only 45 percent convert into fully engaged, profitable relationships,” Ted Brown, founder and CEO, says. “The Digital Onboarding platform makes it simple for customers and members to enroll in account-related services, like online and mobile banking, direct deposit and bill pay, and makes it easier for financial institutions to cross-sell additional products.”
Founded in July 2015, Digital Onboarding launched and landed its first financial institution in January 2018. It now serves 25 companies.
Brown previously led the sales team at Andera, a venture focused on opening deposit accounts online. Before being acquired by Bottomline in 2014, it had acquired more than 600 financial services clients.
ChangEd, based out of Chicago, is a mobile app that aims to help student loan borrowers get ahead of their payments and manage their debt.
The app helps student loan borrowers by taking small, incremental savings and using those savings as additional loan payments. ChangEd then uses the “repayment journey” to show borrowers how these small savings can impact their student loan payments.
Dan Stelmach graduated from college with $68,000 in debt and began making the minimum payments for three years. When he decided to buy a house, he walked away from a deal so that he would not sink further into debt.
Stelmach approached his brother, Nick Sky, about building a debt repayment tool. This led to the founding of ChangEd in 2016. So far, it has helped users make more than $4 million in additional payments. The founders pitched the company on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2018 and landed an investment of $250,000 with Mark Cuban.
Voleo, which is based in Vancouver, Canada, is a white-label investment firm that aims to break down barriers to investing and empower novice investors.
With its social trading app for investing, Voleo is preparing individuals for their financial future. At the same time, financial institutions are able to develop relationships with potential clients and acquire new customers through the social network of investors.
The app was designed to gamify the investing experience in order to appeal to members of Generation X, Y and Z.
“It’s gone well beyond that with users from 18-85 using our platform with friends, family and colleagues,” according to Voleo’s CEO Thomas Beattie.
“FIS is the largest FinTech solutions company on the planet, offering innovative solutions to some of the world’s best financial institutions,” Beattie says. “To have the opportunity to learn from them and their clients is a first-class opportunity, and we are delighted to be participating in the FIS Accelerator. The Venture Center does a terrific job at hosting startups and welcoming banks in Little Rock.”
Short for “credit gurus,” Curu works with consumers to overcome financial obstacles to establish credit and boost credit scores.
Using custom algorithms and real-time recommendations, Curu helps customers find the credit they need. The company has, so far, raised roughly $500,000 and signed 35 financial lenders.
Curu was founded in 2016 by two University of Maryland students, David Potter and Abb Kapoor. Potter serves as CEO, while Kapoor is the company’s COO.
Curu was founded as a result of their experiences at college. Both founders struggled to find off-campus living arrangements despite having all expenses paid, because they lacked established credit.
“Participation in the FIS Accelerator meant collaborating with an audience open to innovative ideas and disruptive drive,” Potter says. “The experience has been unparalleled, the training and mentoring facilitated readiness and key introductions to leaders in the financial services industry catapulted Curu forward with a well-defined and compelling value proposition and a focused direction.”
Health care and elder care costs are major threats to financial security for retirees. However, Genivity is working to ensure that individuals do not run out of money due to these costs.
Using Genivity’s software platform, financial professionals can chart a path for their customers to prevent bankruptcy in their later years. Genivity’s software helps customers, and financial professionals have informed conversations about financial planning and longevity.
“To win in the financial services industry today you have to be thinking about the end-client experience, but there aren’t a lot of banks who do that well,” CEO Heather Holmes says. “Our product, Genivity HALO (Health Analysis & Longevity Optimizer), was built around that end-client from the ground up to create an engaging and educational client experience for financial advsiers.”
Holmes previously worked in the medical device industry at Medtronic and Abbott Vascular. Emily Chang is the company’s co-founder and scientific adviser. Holding a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, she previously worked at 23andMe.
“FIS and the Venture Center have created an incredibly valuable program for FinTech companies, as well as the FIS customers who come to Little Rock, to meet with us,” Holmes says. “We’ve learned a lot in a short period of time that we are applying to our product to make it even more helpful to financial advisers.”
Founded on the belief that the financial industry can do more to help people, Mimble is using digital technology to improve individuals’ financial wellness.
Mimble helps customers save through its stand-alone app that enables automatic deposits and allows individuals to set savings goals. Mimble also partners with brands that put approximately 10 percent of each purchase toward a discount when using the Mimble app.
Customers can also house and use gift cards on Mimble. The cashback can be used to earn deals from brands while growing savings.
Chad Huber leads the company as CEO and co-founder. Mimble is based in Portland, Oregon, and was founded in 2017.
“FIS is the biggest FinTech [company] on the planet. We couldn’t imagine a better partner to help us have the positive impact we want on the financial ecosystem,” Huber says. “The support from both the Arkansas community and FIS has been awesome. It’s been a true pleasure to be welcomed into both worlds with open arms.”
HighSide is a cybersecurity firm that is helping banks and financial institutions reduce the risk of cybercrime and data breaches.
Focusing on communications and file transfer security, HighSide has developed products that integrate into companies’ existing systems to stop cyber attacks and breaches before they happen. These products, which are invisible to the end-user, require no training on the part of the company.
“Hackers target an organization’s weakest and most vulnerable link: their communications layer, people and insecure work productivity tools, such as email, chat and file-sharing apps, etc.,” CEO and founder Brendan Diaz says.
Based in Bethesda, Md., HighSide works with multiple industries, including the military-defense sector, as well as the financial industry.
“In the military-defense space, we partner with relevant (generally extremely large, multi-billion dollar) defense contractors as integrators and channel partners for selling into the military. We wanted to recreate that in the financial/banking sector with FIS as our partner. There are a lot of synergies between what FIS is already offering customers and what we could do together, so FIS is the ideal partner for HighSide,” Diaz says.
Sendmi is tackling the problem of international money transfers for foreign employees through its custom mobile app, a “global flex-pay solution” that helps foreign employees working in the United States send money back home and pay international bills. The app integrates with the employer’s payroll system and any funds are deposited into a transfer savings plan. Individuals can then transfer the funds using the Sendmi app.
“Sendmi will bring banks into the cross-border payroll business and allow them to compete for this business without actually being in the same business. Sendmi is a market shifting play that reduces cost, increases transparency, increases speed and deepens relationships between employers and employees,” founder Paul Proctor says.
To date, the Lehi, Utah-based company has raised $2.1 million in capital with another round of funding to come.
“FIS has a brilliant reputation in technology services for banks. We see the FIS accelerator as a great opportunity to learn more about how we can best package our services for banks, and we hope that the interest that we are receiving from a number of FIS’ partner banks will assist us in formalizing a relationship with FIS to have them distribute our product to banks,” Proctor says.
Connecting with customers and engaging with them is a key part of creating trust between financial institutions and those they serve. Gremlin Social is helping these companies bridge the gap to build deeper relationships with their clients.
The St. Louis-based company provides an integrated solution that allows financial institutions to streamline their social media marketing while remaining compliant. Using one central dashboard, Gremlin Social enables banks to save time and money with content management on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, while also providing detailed analytics.
“Social media should be a core component of any financial institution’s advertising strategy. But it’s not enough to simply post on a brand page anymore,” CEO Doug Wilber says.
While Gremlin Social was founded in 2008, Wilber joined the company last year. In that time, he has helped it make the jump from a software company servicing small banks to being a solution provider for financial institutions of all sizes.
“Having the opportunity to share our capabilities with multiple banks each and every week has further validated our belief that banks can unlock tremendous value when they harness the collective horsepower of their employee’s reach on social media, humanize their brands and transform employees into social sellers,” Wilber says.