by Dustin Jayroe // Photo by Jamison Mosley
Ten financial technology startups from across the world have wrapped up a boot camp at the Venture Center in Little Rock, part of the first iteration of the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) ThinkTECH Accelerator.
The accelerator is a financial technology (fintech) program with a focus on community banking product development. It is a first-of-its-kind initiative with the goal of jumpstarting early-stage fintech ventures – not only through the mentoring and training of the actual boot camp but also with the opportunity of exposure to thousands of community banks with which to potentially partner.
“The big banks are really challenging community banks,” Wayne Miller, executive director of the Venture Center, says. “Working closely with the ICBA, we made an effort to create a community-bank-focused accelerator that was concentrated on solving problems specifically for community banks and the challenges they were facing.”
The 10 early-stage fintech companies chosen to participate in the accelerator were among a vast range of applicants from all over the world. In all, there were 190 applications from the United States and 39 other countries.
The ICBA provided an initial investment of $75,000 to all the early-stage ventures selected to participate. The 12-week program began in January and wrapped in March and featured two scheduled “demo-days” – one in Nashville and one in Little Rock – to display their technology.
The ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator joins another fintech accelerator of the Venture Center’s production, the FIS FinTech Accelerator, which will begin in May. Both programs are bringing worldwide exposure to the state of Arkansas.
“We are really working hard at this, and I think that what we are doing here is a little better and very different,” Miller says. “We have worked very hard to help these people go to market, to help them raise customers.”
Miller adds that they also get better every time.
“From my standpoint, it’s all about a healthy ecosystem that allows startups not just to survive, but thrive,” Tracy Fox, the director of business development and sales for ThinkTECH participant Botdoc, says about accelerator programs. “Just like a recipe while cooking, accelerator programs need to have the proper measure of ‘ingredients’ to produce a successful outcome. The Venture Center has created an environment that has allowed the ICBA ThinkTECH accelerator to mix the proper measure of knowledge, wisdom, deal flow, investments, etc. – creating amazing outcomes for startups.”
Miller says the Venture Center’s goal is always to be ready to adapt and make the necessary changes to improve while also making accelerators better with each iteration. “The world does move at internet speed today, and so we have to have that same capacity.”
The following 10 companies have spent three months in Little Rock as participants of the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator.
Coming to Arkansas from Brisbane, Australia, CRiskCo already has more than $1 billion worth of invoices to date.
The company uses an artificial intelligence loan origination platform to help community banks improve small to medium enterprise onboarding and underwriting processes. CRiskCo also boasts an enhancement of the experience for the customer and an overall reduction of costs to the bank.
CRiskCo is led by CEO Erez Saf, a native of Israel. Previously, Saf was the CIO at eloan.co.il, the first peer-to-peer lending startup in Israel, before relocating to Australia in 2016. Saf also served as the development manager for SAP Labs in Israel and China.
“Coming from Israel,” Saf says. “It is a privilege to participate in the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator and have the unique opportunity to address genuine challenges facing community banks. The Venture Center and the ICBA leadership have generously devoted their time and expertise to help guide our team as we expand in serving community banks in America.”
Hailing from New York City, Agora is a financial technology company that helps banks enhance their legacy payment platforms for improved user experience.
The real-time banking that Agora provides includes features such as mobile accounts, shared accounts, children and parent designation accounts and real-time card controls.
Another feature Agora can provide banking customers are the tools to assist with budgeting, saving and pooling money.
And they can make all of these upgrades to community banks systems without having to replace their core platforms, which can be a nightmare.
Agora was founded by Arcady Lapiro, who also serves as the fintech company’s CEO. Lapiro previously served as an executive at the French-based Fortuneo Bank, one of Europe’s largest online banks.
The company with the shortest distance to travel, Teslar by 3E, came to Little Rock from Fayetteville.
Teslar specializes in creating highly efficient banks. They can do this by empowering bankers, integrating multiple systems, streamlining processes and making it scalable to any sized bank.
Teslar is a portfolio management system that is robust and aggregates and automates loan and deposit processes into one system.
Their 3E software was created in 2008, and Teslar came shortly after that.
Teslar is run by Joe Ehrhardt, who serves as chairman and CEO of 3E Software, Inc. Ehrhardt started his banking career as a teller and worked his way up the ladder to eventually start 3E and Teslar.
Out of Alexandria, Va., Adlumin has created a cloud-native security incident and event management (SIEM) solution that is cost efficient, easy to use and simple to integrate.
Adlumin boasts that its SIEM is the most cost-efficient in the world, which makes it a feasible solution for any sized operation.
“Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Adlumin has built a SIEM platform that writes its own rules,” according to the company’s website. “Customers don’t need to struggle to write magical queries or SIEM rules to get the technology to work for them. Using advanced data science models, Adlumin provides a hands-free SIEM platform, no Ph.D. required.”
Adlumin was founded in 2016 and is led by co-founder and CEO Robert Johnston, who previously worked as a consultant for Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity technology company based in California.
KapitalWise, out of New York City, offers an artificial intelligence platform which allows financial institutions to interact with their customers at scale.
Using A.I., KapitalWise employs a machine learning technique that helps institutions predict when a customer is a good candidate for a product, as well as when they should be advised to save, invest or pay down a loan.
All of these features help banks better understand each of their customer’s financial situations. That not only provides them with more personalized service, but also increases their financial well-being.
KapitalWise was founded in 2017 by Sajil Koroth, who currently serves as its CEO. Koroth is no stranger to the fintech startup community, as he previously served as the vice president of engineering for IHS Markit and lead an engineering team for LearnVest.
Botdoc is a secure file transfer service out of Monument, Colo. They are the first ever remote, real-time, digital, secure file transfer that works through text message and e-mail, with encryption at all stages.
The company provides its clients the ability to collect documents over a mobile phone, without having to download additional apps.
Included with this increase in efficiency is the reduction of employee and call center touch points and the lowering of the average time an employee spends on one particular transaction. By doing so, Botdoc can increase convenience and security for customers while also reducing costs for financial institutions.
Botdoc was founded in 2016 by Karl Falk, who now serves as CEO of the company.
“To date, we have been a part of four accelerators, from the midwest to Silicon Valley, and each of them has provided our company a lot of support,” Falk says. “Some have been more on the internal business support side, and others more business development. Hands down, ThinkTECH and the Venture Center have done both aspects extremely well for us and others here regardless of the stage or size of the company.… I will look back on our time here in Arkansas with ThinkTECH, the ICBA and the Venture Center knowing it was the best decision we could have made for the future of our company.”
“We envision a world where the word savings account has been replaced by the word Sou Sou account,” says Fonta Gilliam, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Sou Sou.
Sou Sou is a deposit account that functions as a social networking marketing tool.
With Sou Sou, banks can license the account technology to attract low-cost deposits and credit-ready borrowers in a way that is secure and cost-efficient.
For customers, Sou Sou means more savings, the ability to build stronger credit lines and to invest with their peers and community banks.
This social banking platform that is Sou Sou was inspired by informal village saving and loan traditions that have existed for centuries.
Before Sou Sou, Gilliam served as a diplomat for the U. S. State Department. Under the Obama administration, Gilliam led White House Global Entrepreneurship Summits in Morocco and Kenya. Gilliam also designed and launched the United States’ first women’s entrepreneurship centers in Africa.
“The ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator program was brilliantly designed because it focuses on sales,” Gilliam says. “Revenue is king. ThinkTECH understands this and puts us directly in the room with bank CEOs in our target market who are actively seeking fintech solutions daily. Rarely do startups get this type of access. The candid feedback and insights that we have gained have been invaluable and a real growth opportunity for our business.”
San Diego-based MK Decision offers a “complete lending platform built for growth.”
The company digitalizes the customer journey with simple borrower experiences which are designed to optimize conversions. Their loan origination system features paperless processing with machine learning fraud prevention.
MK Decision is led by CEO Har Rai Khalsa, who also previously served as the company’s chief marketing officer.
“MK is honored to participate in the ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator,” Khalsa says. “MK’s mission is to make lending simple. To fulfill our mission, we are focused on stimulating local lending and borrowing to ensure community banks retain and acquire customers. MK’s partnership with ICBA and The Venture Center accelerates our ability to provide community banks with simple, beautiful borrower experiences and a better back-office loan origination system. We are thankful to be selected from over 190 applicants across 40 countries and are excited to work with ICBA, The Venture Center, and community banks to grow local borrowing.”