Arkansas Inc. Podcast - Why The Venture Center has become a FinTech hub

 October 08, 2019

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. podcast, host Clark Cogbill talks with Executive Director, Wayne Miller, and Managing Director of Accelerator Programs, Brian Bauer, from The Venture Center about Arkansas' fintech industry. They discuss The Venture Center's ongoing programs that support entrepreneurship in the state, including the successful accelerator programs geared towards fintech startups.


Listen on Apple Podcast

Introduction: Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, where we discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development with subject matter experts and influencers from across the nation and around the world.

Clark Cogbill: Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. My name is Clark Cogbill. I'm Director of Digital Marketing with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Today we're going to be talking to a couple of really interesting gentlemen from The Venture Center.

Clark Cogbill: Entrepreneurship is really at the heart of our economy and it's a huge economic driver for the state of Arkansas, and the Venture Center is all about driving that entrepreneurship and fostering that entrepreneurship.

Clark Cogbill: My guests today are Wayne Miller, who is Executive Director of the Venture Center, and Brian Bauer, who is Managing Director of Accelerator Programs at the Venture Center.

Clark Cogbill: Based in Little Rock, the Venture Center is the place where technology and entrepreneurial communities come together to learn and connect, empowering each other to take the leap into the startup journey. Their mission is to inspire social and economic change in Arkansas, and they're doing that. They run the FIS FinTech accelerator, the ICBA ThinkTech accelerator, and multiple programs that support entrepreneurs and early stage businesses.

Clark Cogbill: Wayne just returned from New York where the Venture Center was recognized as one of six FinTech accelerator programs contending for the Best FinTech Accelerator Incubator Award at Finovate. Brian just returned from Tel Aviv where he was representing the Venture Center at the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Conference.

Clark Cogbill: Wayne, Brian, welcome back from New York and Tel Aviv. Congratulations on all the well-deserved recognitions and welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

Wayne Miller: Thank you, Clark.

Brian Bauer: Thanks, Clark. Good to be here.

Clark Cogbill: Let's start with talking about the Venture Center. We're going to talk a lot about FinTech and the incredible award winning FinTech programs. But let me ask you, and we'll start with Wayne, just give us a basic overview of what happens at The Venture Center.

Wayne Miller: Well, Clark, thanks. First of all, thanks for having us. The AEDC has played a very important role as a stakeholder in our efforts at the Venture Center. And frankly, without the support of the AEDC, the governor, and the great folks in your office, we just couldn't be as successful as we have. And we hope you guys feel the same way.

Wayne Miller: The Venture Center's really been built on three pillars and that is about education, collaboration, and acceleration. Let me cover the first two and I'll let Brian take the last piece on acceleration.

Wayne Miller: Being an entrepreneur is a courageous task in undertaking. What we've tried to do is to create a place for people to start. If I have a great idea as an entrepreneur or just an individual and I still have a day job, and I want to take a business and turn it into something, or I have this idea, what's the path that I take today?

Wayne Miller: Years ago we would write a 50 page business plan, which of course nobody read. But today we have methodologies like lean canvas and that sort of thing that we can produce and help with. That help folks, again, give them direction that is better than the way it used to be.

Wayne Miller: We develop a series of programs at the Venture Center that really help to support our community. We've got a great team at the Venture Center. Ashley Jones runs our community programming and we do things like Pitch and Pint. Pitch and Pint creates a forum, for example, that allows people to pitch their ideas for a little bit of seed capital. That's a competitive event that we do.

Wayne Miller: Things like Lift the Rock that we do. Lift the Rock, I like to suggest is both instructional and inspirational. Typically, what we try to do in a Lift the Rock Event, which occurs once a month, we actually serve a little lunch along with that, it's free and open to the public, but we'll usually have someone who's talking about issues related to economic development within our city and within our state, and also to have a person who has started a business within our community, within our state, to help inspire others to take that journey and to take that risk. To demonstrate the tenacity and risk that's associated with doing that.

Wayne Miller: Coming up very soon as our Jolt Cyber Event. This is really a workforce development program. It's a cyber-challenge. We assemble a group of very, very smart guys who are able to create a challenging event. It's capture the flag kind of an approach. We'll get anywhere from 60 to 80 teams involved in this event that goes on over a weekend. It's a real grind, lots of pizza and Red Bull get consumed, as you can imagine. And teaching our workforce to be able to deal with one of the most significant concerns that we have today in business, which is dealing with cyber issues and what have you.

Wayne Miller: Things like Fireside Chat. We get some of the best leaders from our environment, folks like Charles Morgan, Millie Ward, etcetera, to sit down and talk with us about their journey to creating great businesses, to talk about the pitfalls and for people to learn and so forth.

Wayne Miller: The other thing that's great about Little Rock and great about Arkansas is this extraordinary access that we have to people. We've got about 80 to 100 mentors that are some more active than others as it relates to the Venture Center. But we try to be great at facilitation, we know our business, but we also want to be able to give access to people, to be able to learn from others who have walked in those moccasins, if you will.

Wayne Miller: And then lastly is the ability to get things done in this state. We have great access to folks like you and the governor's role and so forth, and people like Mike who care about what we're doing and recognize that the future of Arkansas is very much about not only new technology companies but good new businesses that we can be supportive to throughout the state. Really that's the educational piece, I think, in a nutshell.

Wayne Miller: On the collaborative piece. Today's a great example. Earlier today we launched a program for entrepreneurship with the University of Arkansas Pulaski Tech College. Being able to expose people through their entrepreneurship program to a different level of information, mentors, and programming that they can't get going through the regular college system. So helping to exploit the things that we do to help them become better entrepreneurs and help them grow those businesses.

Wayne Miller: We work with a number of other institutions. Obviously the Chamber here in town is a great partner of ours. We also work with the other entrepreneurial service organizations within the state.

Wayne Miller: The objective there really is to try to lift all boats. If we can help people start great business... Small business is very much the backbone of our country. Also we're hoping that some unicorns will come from this as well. We want to give them a place to start, the resources that they need to be successful, the encouragement, the education, and the collaboration that helps make that happen.

Clark Cogbill: And then there's Spark. We were just at the Venture Center a few days ago when you kicked off the Spark Program. So tell us a little bit about what that's all about.

Wayne Miller: Spark is a new program for us that is really helping us build on what we refer to as a pre-accelerator program, but the focus with Spark is really about existing companies that are within the Arkansas landscape who are looking to scale their businesses to the next level.

Wayne Miller: We're certainly beyond the idea stage. These folks have customers that are generating some revenue and building a company from one to two people is one thing, but from two to 10 and growing that economic underpinnings to that, becoming profitable, knowing how to accelerate that to market, is really what Spark is all about.

Wayne Miller: What's great about this program is we are doing this in conjunction with our partner at the chamber. We're providing workspace for these folks over the next 14 to 16 weeks.

Clark Cogbill: Free rent, right?

Wayne Miller: You bet you it is absolutely free rent, but also there are great things that happen here. They're going to be exposed to a lot of subject matter expertise once a week. They're not required to be there all the time, but we do like them there for certain events that are occurring, and they're required to do that.

Wayne Miller: But the other thing that's terrific, and we've learned this through all of our accelerator programs, is the great things that happen, those wonderful collisions that occur from being around other entrepreneurs. You might be really great at pitches, and someone like Brian might be really good at economics, and I might be really good at sales, whatever the case may be. So the ability to cross pollinate those skill sets is one of the great things that happen.

Wayne Miller: But we're excited about Spark. It's our first year doing this and really is, again, approaching those entrepreneurs with early stage businesses that are beyond that startup phase to really help them scale and become a significant force in the state of Arkansas.

Clark Cogbill: That's fantastic. I remember one gentleman who got up and he was a bit nervous. You had asked everybody to give an overview of what their business was, and you also asked them, tell us what you expect to get out of the Spark Program. Once he started talking and explaining what his business model was, it was brilliant. But then he got around to what do I really want to get out of the Spark Program, and he said, "I really want to get better at speaking in front of people." And so I thought, well that's something that I'm sure they can help you with.

Wayne Miller: If you're trying to start a business, first of all, people have to buy what you're selling and ultimately you have to find a path to profits, so those things are important. But being able to compel people to buy your product... A founder of an early stage company, I always say has to raise three things. They have to raise money and they have to raise customers. The other thing, of course, they have to do is raise people.

Wayne Miller: You've got to be able to attract people to what you're doing to get them to believe in it. You got to make sure customers really want to buy and love what you're doing. And obviously you want to be able to attract investors. Being able to convey that in a compelling fashion and being able to do that quickly is an important skillset.

Clark Cogbill: Wayne, if I've got an early stage business, what is the first step that I should take with the Venture Center?

Wayne Miller: Yeah, that's a great question, Clark. I think there are a number of opportunities for someone with a startup idea, and I think a lot of that starts with attending some of our programs. There are things like our workshops, which are terrific for helping people, whether they're trying to develop a website, or they want to learn more about economics, or they want to learn about intellectual property. The workshops are pretty consistent, and they really should pay attention to that to be able to check off the boxes with some of the things that the workshops provide.

Wayne Miller: Obviously we want them to come and see us to talk about other things that we do. Maybe put them on the path towards a lean canvas. Ultimately get them aligned with some of our mentors. Get that business to a point where perhaps it can participate in something like Pitch and Pint where they can put up their idea and pitch for a little bit of seed money to help them evolve this.

Wayne Miller: Things like Lift the Rock they should come to for some instruction and inspiration. They can participate in things like Jolt. All of our programs, to some degree, if properly curated on their behalf and we can help them with that, can help them evolve that company and again, we want to be that place where they start.

Clark Cogbill: Again, today we're talking with Wayne Miller, Executive Director of the Venture Center, and Brian Bauer, who's Managing Director of Accelerator Programs at the Venture Center. Now let's shift gears a little bit and talk about FinTech. It seems like we're hearing more and more, Little Rock is one of the worldwide hubs for FinTech programs. I want to get into this, and it all comes down to the Venture Center's FinTech programs, the FIS FinTech accelerator, and now the ICBA ThinkTech accelerator.

Clark Cogbill: Let's talk a little bit about the history of how the FIS FinTech accelerator started. You guys have just finished up the fourth cohort of the FIS FinTech accelerator. We're looking forward to the fifth cohort. So tell us, how did the FIS FinTech accelerator get started?

Brian Bauer: Well, you know, Clark, the story actually goes back a pretty long way, actually back to 1968 when this little company got formed here in central Arkansas called Systematics. That company today is FIS. It is the largest FinTech in the world. They touch 53% of the world's banks and have over 500 products. They're a fortune 500 company today, and so we like to say we hope that lightning can strike twice in the same place.

Brain Bauer: This is FIS paying it forward and doubling down on the talent that's here in central Arkansas. They employ 1,300 people here. There have been all types of other companies that have spun out of FIS’s presence here that are doing things in FinTech. We really leverage that community here in central Arkansas, really where it all began in 1968.

Brain Bauer: We've been, like you said, running the FIS FinTech accelerator now for four iterations. Now with an eye towards 2020, we're doing it a fifth time with FIS.

Brain Bauer: It's really been a great program, not only for central Arkansas but also for FIS because they've got to look a little bit farther downmarket than they typically look for companies that they could potentially partner with and take to market, and things that they can deliver to their clients that help keep their clients competitive in this rapidly shifting landscape. That's what really the accelerator has evolved to become for FIS.

Clark Cogbill: Now, I don't know how many applicants you had in year one, but in year four and now going into year five, I'm told hundreds of applicants to try to get 10 spots in this accelerator program, correct?

Brian Bauer: Yeah, that's correct. It's become globally recognized. We just got back from New York, where we were a finalist for the Finovate Awards. It's great to get that industry recognition and we can certainly see that in the quality of companies that apply to the program.

Brain Bauer: Year one when we did this, we were having to talk an awful lot about why Arkansas, why FIS, why Little Rock, why the Venture Center? We're having that conversation a lot less and a lot more conversations about the value propositions of the companies and really digging down into their business models. So it's something we have to sell quite a bit less.

Brian Bauer: And then of course ICBA ThinkTech, which we're recruiting for right now, as a matter of fact, applications close in just a couple of weeks, we're seeing the quality of the pipeline I've got to say is actually pretty remarkable when you look at when we started doing this five years ago to where we are today.

Brian Bauer: We're getting outstanding applicants and we're really excited. We don't know which 10 they're going to be yet. As a matter of fact, I think our challenge is going to be filtering down which 10 because there's so many opportunities inside the batch. But it's a challenge that we look forward to contending with it. These are good problems to have.

Clark Cogbill: And I want to circle back to ICBA in just a minute, but let's talk more about FIS FinTech accelerator. That program. Give us an overview of what happens during the 12-week program.

Brian Bauer: Yeah. After we select the companies, make the offers, negotiate the deals, et cetera, they make the trip down here to Little Rock to stay. It's an on premise program for the 12 weeks while they're here. And it really is highly focused around accessing customers.

Brian Bauer: We're always talking, asking entrepreneurs, well what problem do you solve? Why? I like to talk about the problem that we solve for them and why they should come and participate in the FIS FinTech accelerator. And that is that the barrier to entry in this industry when it comes to sales is extremely high. Average sales cycles are eight to 18 months in the industry. If you have a startup and you want to access a banker, he or she is busy running their financial institution, it's a lot of work to do that, and so you can't just go around knocking on doors, usually, and say, "Hey, I've got a good startup. You want to partner with me? Or would you like to hear about it?" The answer's probably going to be no.

Brian Bauer: This last year we brought around 60 financial institutions through to sit down with these entrepreneurs one-on-one and they're coming in from all over the country. There's community banks, there's medium sized banks, there are some of the largest financial institutions in the country that are actually making the trip to Little Rock to participate and really get hands on with innovation.

Brian Bauer: They're looking for new innovations to deliver to market. These entrepreneurs are looking to deliver their innovations to market. And so both sides of the table get to benefit from this type of engagement.

Brian Bauer: We do some other things around the program. We bring in subject matter experts. We bring in folks with great marketing expertise in the industry. We bring in some top law firms from around the country that are actually making the trip.

Brian Bauer: We engage law firms here locally, like Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, who have great expertise in technology. So we're doing all these things with subject matter experts. This is not entrepreneurship 101. We do week one, week two return and give a look back to what lean methodology is because we're about to give them a great opportunity for discovering customer validation over the next 12 weeks. So we like to reorient ourselves to how important that is around product development because they're about to get this steady stream of access to these financial institutions for 12 weeks that are really going to help them look at the fit, the form, the features, the pricing around their solution, so that that way they can shape the solution to become what the industry really needs.

Brian Bauer: They're not building the solution they love; they're solving the problem they're solving. I like to say that you need to be in love with the problem you're solving, not the thing you're building, so that way it's not... Sometimes you can find folks who just like their product and that can be a barrier to feedback. You're telling them that their baby's ugly, and they need to listen to really what the market says.

Brian Bauer: This gives a forum really for them to gain that access, get rapid product validation, and shape that product. Really do about 18 months’ worth of product development in 12 weeks.

Brian Bauer: If you're that company that's minimum viable product and you're looking to do your first proof of concept with a financial institution, we can help you do that here. If you're that company that's got already has $1 million worth of revenue, guess what, we're about to introduce you to 60 financial institutions and then let you get up on stage at Demo Day and pitch it. So we're working with everything from true startup to early stage in that batch. We think we found a framework that delivers a lot of value to both of those categories there.

Clark Cogbill: That's great. And Demo Day is really the culmination of that 12 week program, right?

Brian Bauer: Yeah.

Clark Cogbill: I've sat in the audience during Demo Day and I got to tell you, it is fascinating to hear what these companies are doing. Not only the tech, but the creativity of what they've come up with.

Clark Cogbill: All of us, just even as a casual consumer, you can see banking and our financial institutions, you can see the digital evolution, but at the Venture Center, you're literally on the cutting edge of it. And so I'm just going to throw this question out. What are one or two companies that come to mind when I ask you, share with us some of the companies that have come through the FIS FinTech accelerator program? Just give us a few examples of some of these businesses.

Brian Bauer: Yeah, I'll start with one just that's top of mind right now because we just got back from Finovate. We got to watch Robert Johnston from Ad Lumen pitch his company. This was actually an ICBA ThinkTech accelerator alumni, but I think it's a really good example.

Brian Bauer: This is the guy who solved the DNC hack for CrowdStrike. If you think back a couple of years, he's the one that told Donna Brazil and Hillary Clinton, they got your information, they hacked it, and here's what they got. You now see him on MSNBC a lot talking about cybersecurity and that type of thing, but this is perfect example of an investible founder who has built this cybersecurity solution that's helping protect a critical infrastructure for America, which is the cybersecurity threats against financial institutions. So this is not only helping financial institutions, but it's actually, it's helping the country. It's helping the people who bank with those institutions as well.

Brian Bauer: Another company, Bond AI, who's now an Arkansas company, leading the way when it comes to interaction on voice with financial institutions. I think where we are today when it comes to voice is where we were in 2007 when it came to the iPhone or smartphones. You haven't quite hit the critical mass yet of services that are available via voice. So when I say voice, I can understand a lot of people are like, well, we don't really use that.

Brian Bauer: Well, somebody like Uday at Bond AI has identified the fact that this is a growing trend. In 10 or 15 years it's going to be very normal for you to do all sorts of transactions via a voice channel while you're sitting in your probably self-driving car that’s taking you to work.

Brian Bauer: That's how you really get out ahead of the curve, deliver innovation, and really intercept the market that's going to be there in five years or 10 years. And so it's exciting that we're getting to participate with a great entrepreneur like Uday building that solution and doing so right here in central Arkansas

Clark Cogbill: In that business, I might add just to recap, Bond.AI was one of six finalists in the Best Artificial Intelligence Machine Learning Category at Finovate.

Wayne Miller: That's correct. Yeah, we had Bond and also Neener who were both part of that, and Neener Analytics out of San Francisco did win and that was for financial inclusion. And they're using alternative methods to determine people's ability to pay back loans and giving access to people who typically may not have a FICO score, but are active on things like Facebook or LinkedIn, et cetera. So looking at alternative methods and alternative data to create opportunities for people that frankly just would not have existed before those technologies were made available.

Clark Cogbill: So let me circle back to ICBA and let's just define for the audience ICBA think tank accelerator and how that one's different from the FIS FinTech accelerator.

Brian Bauer: The ICBA is the Independent Community Bankers of America. We're really, with that program, hyper focused around delivering innovation to these smaller institutions under $10 billion. Whereas FIS services a lot of institution types, they're in payments, they're in wealth, they're in capital markets, and also traditional, what we call core banking, normal transactions that you would have with your financial institution.

Brian Bauer: ICBA is really hyper focused on delivering cutting edge innovation to these smaller institutions that are really critical to society in the United States. We have a very unique banking system here in the US. You go to other countries, you don't find 5,000 financial institutions. You do find that when you come here, and 99 and a half percent of those are community banks. They're important because they make 60% of small business loans and over 80% of agricultural loans are made through these community banks.

Brian Bauer: It's important when you look at communities and thriving communities, these are the traditional access points for local communities, rural communities, smaller communities. Without community banks, you would not have these access points. You would not have access to capital. Where do you go to get a loan? Where do you go to store your funds and to make a deposit?

Brian Bauer: I think when you look at what ICBA's mission is, which is to help community banks flourish, when you look at what the Venture Center's doing in FinTech, we're combining those two things together. How do we help them flourish, but also deliver the technology that is scaled for their use? That is available on a software as a service type plan between these institutions and these FinTechs.

Brian Bauer: Their challenge when it comes to technology, there's a lot of companies out there, I think, that are looking to access these community banks, and so working with the Venture Center, really helping them shape that value proposition, help them get that customer discovery and validation done, and then leveraging in a strategic partner like the ICBA, we're able to really rapidly iterate on those solutions and then get them to market quickly. Because they need to address cybersecurity, they need to address deposit growth, they need to reduce the friction between them and their customers. They need all of these technologies and innovations.

Brian Bauer: We like to say where high tech meets high touch in community banking because that is also traditionally something that concept that is around community banking, which is that high touch. There's somebody that you can go access down the street. It's not just a chat bot that exists on the internet and you never interact with somebody, or it's just a call center that you call into. Those aren't the interactions that community banks are traditionally having with their customers. There's a lot of face to face in there as well.

Clark Cogbill: There's more automation, there's more artificial intelligence, but we still have our community banks and they're not going anywhere.

Brian Bauer: No, that's correct. But they do need some innovations delivered into this segment of banking. I think what we're doing together along with the state of Arkansas and the ICBA is really helping deliver this. Community banks, and I got this from the Arkansas Community Bankers, employees around 22,000 people in the state of Arkansas. There's 93 or 94 financial institutions here. Most of those are community banks.

Brian Bauer: I think it's important to the state of Arkansas as well, that these community banks continue to thrive and it's important to the nation as a whole.

Clark Cogbill: Absolutely. So the ICBA ThinkTech accelerator is getting ready to start its second cohort.

Brian Bauer: Yeah, that's correct. We're recruiting for that now. The applications are due here in just a couple of weeks. And the way we do selection is we work very closely with our partners. In this case the ICBA has formed a selection committee that's made up of some of their executives, like Kevin Tweddle and Tina Giorgio. Kevin is their COO and then Tina runs ICBA Bancard.

Brian Bauer: And then also a selection committee of community bankers that really represents a cross section of community banks in this country. You have some that are a little more progressive on innovation and some that more representative of probably your late adopters in the industry as well.

Brian Bauer:  We get that relevance. You know, Wayne and I like to say we're problem focused, solution driven, and these folks really help us. The selection committee helps us stay problem focused. What are problems that are relevant to solve for us? They're able to validate that on the front side, so that way we select companies that are highly relevant to solving problems that are important to community banks.

Clark Cogbill: In a previous episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, we did talk to Uday Akkaraju with Bond.AI. What Uday has said to us before is we need three things, talking about his business, access to capital, access to talent resources, and a cost effective environment so you can grow. He said, "In cities like New York and San Francisco, you may get one or two of those things, but very difficult to get all three." In Little Rock, he found all three.

Clark Cogbill: I think when he completed the FIS FinTech accelerator, he went back to New York. That was his intention. And then he found that just too financially volatile for a startup business and stopped and said, "I've got what I need in Little Rock."

Clark Cogbill: So we came back here, he's still here, and it made good business sense for him. I think also the quality of life is something that he and his family enjoy. Can you talk a little bit about that? We know that San Francisco, New York, the coasts, Boston, are huge cities for startup, a lot of venture capital, but are you seeing some of that? Are you seeing that trend happen where startups find that it makes good business sense to be in Arkansas?

Wayne Miller: You bet. It's a great question. I think Uday hit on those three pieces. I mentioned earlier about the great access that we have here in the state of Arkansas. Being able to get to people at the highest levels within the state for incentives to access to capital through the AEDC and the good work that you guys are doing there, I think played an important role for Uday.

Wayne Miller:  But I reflect back on one of our participants in a couple of cohorts back, Andrew Bertolina who came from San Francisco and was growing his company there, and he said, "I think what I love about Arkansas" is what he referred to as anti-dilutive qualities. And I said, "Well, expand on that." He says, "Well, trying to start a business in San Francisco is just so much more expensive."

Wayne Miller: There is more capital out there, there's more people, more angel capital, those things, because there's been more exits out there. But the fact of the matter is you're sitting in a car for two hours a day. If you raise capital and you need office space, you're going to probably pay two or three X what we're going to pay here, et cetera. Talent, of course, as a result, is more expensive, because cost of living is more expensive and there's just this complete trickledown effect in the economics.

Wayne Miller: I think if you're starting a business and you're raising capital with some frequency, his point was that "If I raised $100,000 I'm just going to burn it up twice as fast in San Francisco than I am in Arkansas. And every time I'm raising capital as a founder, or as the owner of my company, I'm likely diluting myself in some fashion. I'm losing stock. I'm losing my position. I'm giving more of my company away." Arkansas provides the opportunity to not have to give away as much of your company.

Wayne Miller: Capital's accessible here. Sure, it's more challenging here, but we're, I think with programs like we've built with the accelerators, we're getting the attention and we're seeing the inbound calls now from investors, not only around the country but around the globe.

Wayne Miller: That's exciting, because I think it will also buoy up the capacity for people who want to invest in Arkansas. We've built funds for each of our accelerators, they've been successful, and they're doing well.

Wayne Miller:  But the other thing too is when you talk about talent, yeah, there's a lot of talent on the coast. There's no two ways about it. But I really do believe that when you look at where we sit as a country today, as it relates to unemployment, the great thing about it is when you get a person onboard here in Arkansas, they're going to stick with you, because Google and Facebook and Amazon aren't going to snatch him away for a ridiculous salary. They'll buy companies just to get people, that's sort of the deal. I think we find that the ability to develop those relationships, keep folks, and retain them here is better.

Wayne Miller: And it's the pace of life. Just coming back from New York, I love that city, it's great fun, I've had family there and been there most of my life in many different ways, but man, it was a delight to get back to Little Rock and walk 80 steps to the car from the airport.

Wayne Miller:  We think we have traffic here. It's nothing compared to that. But city's got great energy. But it is a quality of life issue here. The other thing too is, folks are awful nice here in the South and that makes it enjoyable too.

Wayne Miller:  I think the access to capital is here, you got to work a little harder for it. I think the people that once you find them here, they're terrific. And I think again, the cost and quality of life here is... The cost of living is better and the quality of life is as well.

Wayne Miller:  There's also just saw some of the statistics on visitor's income and tourism to the state. Take some time. We really try to do a good job when the accelerators here. One is because the state is obviously a stakeholder in what we do, but really try to show them Arkansas.

Wayne Miller:  It's the same old story every time. Everybody is just amazed and surprised at what exists in this state in terms of its beauty, the access to the lakes, the Ozarks, the fun that we can have in Little Rock, the great food, the wonderful people. This environment for us has been so useful because there are fewer distractions here than trying to run a program or programs like this in a place like New York or San Francisco.

Wayne Miller:  They can lodge here very easily for the 12 weeks. They can walk to the office, they have access to bicycles, scooters, cars as they need them, et cetera. So it's really a perfect mix and perfect set of ingredients, which I think is ultimately why Uday made the decision to move here.

Wayne Miller:  And by the way, we should mention also that Uday, he has also helped the economy by having a child since he's been here. So we're growing the workforce.

Clark Cogbill: Congratulations to Uday and his wife. That's fantastic. So much happening at the Venture Center, so much happening with FinTech. What's next?

Wayne Miller: Yeah, great question, Clark. One of the things that we've really recognized over the course of building these programs, and this is a very iterative process, we work really, really hard at doing this better and better each year with our partners, with you folks, obviously with FIS, ICBA, and even with our community.

Wayne Miller: I like to say it's like farming. You've to milk the cow every day, and we want to make sure that we're really delivering value to all the stakeholders that are involved. One of the things that we've recognized as we look at the things that we've learned about our industry that we focused on, which has been FinTech, is its implications in other industries. Agriculture is so important to the state of Arkansas. Healthcare is so important to the state of Arkansas. We've been really looking at those industries for some time as a potential for additional accelerator programs.

Wayne Miller: What we recognize is within those industries, financial technology plays a very, very significant role in many of the companies that we've been able to coach and bring through and foster through our accelerators, have solutions that have applicability to those industries as well.

Wayne Miller: When we think about the fact that every industry has a transaction, data and analytics, the utilization of things like artificial intelligence and machine learning, how we deal with PII, personal information, security, those sorts of things. We've kicked off some efforts with some of the local hospitals here to start looking at this and to look at that applicability. We're hopeful that we can, instead of drilling vertically, we're going to drill horizontally with our FinTech relationships, the skills, the access that we have there in these great companies to help improve those aspects of both healthcare and agriculture as well. We're excited to start down that path and we're making some good headway there.

Clark Cogbill: Exciting times, for sure. Well, I want to thank our guests today, Wayne Miller, Executive Director with The Venture Center, and Brian Bauer, who's Managing Director of Accelerator Programs at The Venture Center, based here in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Clark Cogbill: If you want to find out more about The Venture Center and all that's going on there, go to VentureCenter.co, and to find out more about Arkansas Economic Development Commission, be sure to visit ArkansasEDC.com.

Clark Cogbill: My name is Clark Cogbill. I'm Director of Digital Marketing with Arkansas Economic Development Commission. You've been listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. Thanks for listening.