By Kevin Tweddle
With a literal “Main Street” address in Little Rock, Ark., it’s as though The Venture Center was destined to partner with ICBA.
“Little Rock is representative of a number of cities across the country, and from a community bank standpoint, Little Rock reflects their communities,” said Brian Bauer, managing director of fintech accelerators at The Venture Center. “Here at The Venture Center, the fit with ICBA is strategically aligned.”
Unlike many accelerator and incubation programs where the goal is to increase funding for companies, The Venture Center focuses on helping position entrepreneurs for long-term success by focusing on existing market challenges and how to address them. This approach made The Venture Center an ideal host for the inaugural ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator and again for the upcoming ThinkTECH Accelerator 2.0, launching in January 2020. The 2.0 iteration builds upon the success and momentum of the 2019 program, which advanced several award-winning fintech companies.
One such company is the Springdale, Ark.-based Teslar, an alumnus of ICBA’s initial accelerator program. Following banker feedback, company executives went back to the drawing board, retooling their automated workflow and portfolio management tool to incorporate a mobile interface. In an example of quick-to-market work, Teslar demonstrated this new mobile functionality less than 12 weeks later at our national convention, ICBA LIVE®. For its efforts, the fintech received the Banker’s Choice Award and continues to receive support from the ICBA to grow its business.
“Teslar’s experience provides a great example where a company came through the program, got helpful feedback, then pivoted and adjusted the solution to meet the needs of what they heard from bankers,” explained Wayne Miller, executive director at The Venture Center. “They went on to make those changes, and now business is growing at a rate three times greater than was expected as a result of this program. To me, that’s a pretty good story.”
The unique environment provided by The Venture Center fuels these accomplishments. “We’re problem-focused and solution-driven,” said Miller. “Being able to identify problems upfront and then leveraging our relationships with ICBA and their membership to validate those problems, and weigh in on whether solutions are relevant, is a big part of why we get results.”
Bauer concurs. “If you’re a fintech, you don’t need to be in love with the solution you’ve created," he says. "You need to be in love with solving the problem for the community banker and going after that problem.”
With a community-centered focus at its core, The Venture Center’s work extends beyond accelerator programs into education and networking opportunities. These initiatives help entrepreneurs build the skills and relationships they need to be successful. For example, The Venture Center offers workshops and seminars to allow professionals, founders and those with new business ideas to build skills according to their unique focus—a model that mirrors the outreach work supported by community banks nationwide.
Across its diverse offerings, The Venture Center reflects the ideals inherent to community banks.
“What I love about community bankers is their passion for community, and how they are such a great part of that community fabric,” Miller says. "To the extent that we can help community bankers better foster community relationships in a new or digital way, that’s where we want to be.”
Kevin Tweddle is chief operating officer of the ICBA Services Network.