The development of the Little Rock Venture Center, probably as it should be, follows the entrepreneurial blueprint that maps the life of a start-up company: there is an idea, followed by research to assess its viability, the development of a business plan, fundraising efforts, early struggles and, for the lucky few, success and expanded growth.
The Venture Center found this success and established an internationally recognized brand as an organization that elevates fintech companies in the early stages of development. Her work has attracted financial, programmatic and executive support from a global technology company and a national community banking group – and the accelerator programs they sponsor have attracted approximately 280 applicants from 40 countries.
In 2020, Finovate, a global leader in the fintech industry, named the Venture Center’s FIS Fin-tech Accelerator program as the best fintech accelerator of the year.
This week, the entrepreneur support organization is beginning an effort to capitalize on its efforts with an inaugural fintech summit that will attract up to 400 bankers and startups.
It has not always been so. The initiative had little respect in the early days. An article illustrating its struggles to land downtown on Main Street – its main offices today – noted that the tech park where it was then housed housed “start-up companies with few operations or revenues (who) rent space. There wasn’t much reason to pay attention to it at first. 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 entrepreneurial journey,” recalls Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We were starting it like an entrepreneur would start a business.” The Ventu re Ce n te r has its roots in 2005 when the chamber began to mobilize support to create a research and technology park, which is now the Little Rock Technology Park, a 38,000 square foot space on Main Street. which houses the operations of the Venture Center.
Legislation to create the technology 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 humble beginnings were reversed when FIS Inc., Fidelity National Information Services, stepped in with financial backing in 2016 after an initial effort to attract another local company failed. Gary Norcross, chief executive of FIS, which began in 1968 as Systematics Inc. in Little Rock, is a University of Arkansas graduate who began working with the company as a management trainee .
“We have such a proud heritage of being part of Little Rock and Arkansas, and it’s something we don’t take lightly,” Nor-cross said in 2015 when he was a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the chamber.
The company’s support has led to the development of the FIS Fintech Accelerator, a 12-week bootcamp where bankers and financial services executives participate in hands-on sessions that help refine the products and services fintech startups develop.
Similarly, the Independent Community Bankers of America forged a partnership with the Venture Center in 2020 to create the ICBA ThinkTech Accelerator, which engages startups to showcase and perfect products specifically for the community banking industry.
The center has branched out to offer local programs and events to the central Arkansas community, including a chamber-partnered accelerator that is limited to area startups.
Stephens Inc.’s banking team raised price targets for all three Arkansas-listed banks following the announcement of their second-quarter results earlier this month. All three reported lower earnings while still beating consensus projections from Wall Street analysts.
At Bank OZK in Little Rock, profits fell as the company increased its provision for credit losses. Stephens noted that the bank has seen solid growth in net interest income and has an active share buyback program. OZK’s stock price target was raised to $45 from $42.
Second-quarter earnings from Conway’s Home BancShares Inc. and Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff were wiped out by spending on the acquisitions each in Texas.
Stephens raised Home’s stock price target to $26 from $25. Similarly, Simmons’ price target increased by one 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 close to the Interstate-430 and I-630 interchange. Titan plans to occupy part of the building and continue to lease to Simmons Bank, Southeast Transit and others.
“This property is perfectly located near the I-430/I-630 interchange and several major thoroughfares in western Little Rock, making it a highly desirable corporate location,” said Bill Pendergist, who represented purchasers on behalf of Colliers of Arkansas. “Additionally, we are noticing a trend in our market towards more owner-occupied buildings to alleviate the stress of rising rental rates that we are experiencing in current market conditions.” The seller, Irico Realty, was represented by Mark Bentley, also of Colliers.
REQUEST THE GOVERNOR’S AWARD
The Arkansas District Export Council is accepting nominations through Friday for the 2022 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Global Trade.
The award recognizes the export success of Arkansas small, medium and large businesses and also includes companies that have a strategy to maintain or increase sales and workforce through exporting. The awards will be presented on October 5 at the Governor’s Mansion.
Businesses can nominate their own, and economic development organizations are encouraged to nominate Arkansas-based manufacturing or agricultural businesses that actively sell in international markets. The advice takes into account key factors such as the ability to overcome trade barriers, regional export expansion, 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.
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