Episode 40: Wayne Miller
Wayne Miller is the Executive Director at the Venture Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wayne has experience in Health Care, IT, Professional Services, Retail, Transportation, and Fintech. Wayne is passionate about driving corporate innovation and is dedicated to creating collaborative working environments for both teams and individuals to excel.
00:05 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today. Today, I have with me, Wayne Miller, the Executive Director of the Venture Center in Little Rock. Thank you so much for joining me today.
00:37 Wayne Miller: Matt, thank you for allowing me to participate. Honored to join you today.
00:41 Matt Waller: Would you mind, before we get into FinTech and the FinTech Accelerator, just tell me a little bit about the Venture Center.
00:48 Wayne Miller: Absolutely, so the Venture Center is... We're a not-for-profit organization. And our mission is really three-fold, is to educate, to collaborate and to also to accelerate. We're really interested in helping people with early stage ideas, sort of, "I still have my full-time job but I've got this idea on the back of a napkin, where do I go from there?" We provide other community programming that helps with workforce development here in town. On the collaborate side, we're working very closely to really try to help lift the state if you're working with the other ESOs, with Startup Junkie, with Conductor, with Innovate Arkansas. We're all kind of after the same effort here in terms of trying to... How does the tide lift all boats here in terms of making Arkansas better recognized for really what is a storied history of entrepreneurship when you look at companies like FIS, look at companies like obviously, Walmart and JB hunt and Tyson and so forth. My gosh, look, it's really quite remarkable what's come from Arkansas.
01:49 Wayne Miller: The world doesn't know a whole lot about that, but we're all working to try to help with that. And then lastly, on the Accelerate side is we've really built... We've built a couple of great accelerators, but to me, those are really innovation programs that are helping large companies innovate at the level of granularity that's very difficult for them to do. It's hard for an organization the size of FIS at 9 billion to work with two founders who have an MVP and a patented algorithm and help them bring that to market and have an impact in terms of FinTech.
2:20 Matt Waller: The CEO and President of FIS, Gary Norcross, is an alumnus of the Walton College and he's on my advisory board. And I've always been very impressed with him and FIS and just the fact that they have this kind of an accelerator. And that's one thing I'd like to talk to you a little bit about today. And a lot of the people listening to this really aren't familiar with the accelerator concept. Would you mind just going over that at a high level and then we can get into some of the FIS?
2:53 Wayne Miller: Sure, absolutely. Well, I think the fact that Gary is an Arkansan, and that FIS was really founded here if you look at the Systematics relationship from 1968, we look at that history as the foundation of why it made a lot of sense. People often say, "Well, why are you doing this in Little Rock Wayne, for God's sakes. Where is that, by the way?" I think it really does relate back to that. When we look at even obviously, FIS, which was Systematics in 1968 which was founded here, became Alltel and is now a $9 billion concern. I think there are 23,000 banks globally, 53,000 people, so we're fortunate to have them as a client, and I think we've been very helpful. We're entering our fourth year with FIS as far as the accelerator is concerned. And this year, we had a second accelerator working with the ICBA and that is the Independent Community Bankers of America. They represent 4,700 community banks across this nation. It's 99 1/2% of the banks in this country.
3:53 Matt Waller: It's pretty impressive that the Venture Center's accelerators have such a strong emphasis on banking and finance. It's impressive.
4:03 Wayne Miller: Yeah, accelerators have been around for a while. And I like to think of this again as an innovation program to which the accelerator is a tool in that toolbox of innovation. It is not that, this 12-week program that I'll speak to a little bit for you, it doesn't begin and end there. In fact, I think it really begins when it ends. Now you've worked with this company, you've helped shore them up, you've made them better, helped to accelerate some of their processes, validated their solution against real problems, working directly with FIS clients or banks as a whole. How do we continue to help bolster our alumni beyond the accelerator and working with FIS?
4:43 Wayne Miller: We had two companies in the last cohort, one that came from Zurich, another that came from Poland. The Polish company was a blockchain solution called Billon, and the company out of Zurich is a company called Sonect who is turning merchant cash registers into ATM machines. We're looking for ways to help the banks make money and save money and improve, really, the customer journey in their experience. And 80% of millennials are sleeping with their phones today, so that's where that begins. The selection process takes us roughly about 100-120 days. We do a high level of due diligence, about three levels of interviewing. And I like to use the expression, "There's a lot of pretty horses out there, you gotta find the right jockeys." We work very, very hard to help identify that. Once we make that selection, FIS then makes a $75,000 investment in each of these companies. It's a seed investment that they make and we do that through a safe agreement.
05:40 Matt Waller: How many companies?
05:41 Wayne Miller: 10 is what we select. We select 10. We then have them on-premise in Little Rock for the 12 weeks. And kind of three key reasons for that. One is the state plays a role in helping to fund, so they're a stakeholder. We've had 30 companies come through in the last... Total of the last three cohorts and seven of those 10 companies have decided to make Arkansas their home. We've had some success in moving companies here to headquarter. From a standpoint...
06:08 Matt Waller: Seven, that's pretty impressive.
06:09 Wayne Miller: Yeah, out of 30. We're pretty happy with that and that's more than we expected. We expect maybe one or two. And we're clear about this coming in. We don't try to throw a dark hood over them and throw them in a van and brainwash them about Arkansas, but we do try to let them see the value of Arkansas. One obviously, it's a great state from the standpoint of outdoor activity and all that sort of thing, but...
06:29 Matt Waller: I mean you're averaging more than two per cohort. That's pretty remarkable, compared to other accelerators I'm familiar with.
06:41 Wayne Miller: Well, you know, I think a couple of reasons for that. One is, and you know this is... And I've learned, if you don't know someone in Arkansas, you can turn to the person next to you and ask them. And chances are, they do.
06:51 Matt Waller: That is true.
06:52 Wayne Miller: So access to people here to get things done is just different than it does in other parts of the world. Secondly, the state incentives for early-stage companies are really quite meaningful. And I think that we encourage them to learn and listen and understand those. But you don't think about being five people and trying to start up an organization with little seed funding. Hey, maybe I can get some extra help from the AEDC or something like that, from an economic development arm of the state government. We work very closely with AEDC and we're grateful to them 'cause the governor and the AEDC, Mike Preston and Tom Chilton help support our program through the Innovation Grant that's in the legislation. They helped fund this, so obviously, we look to them as a stakeholder. I think trips to Northwest Arkansas and Petit Jean and Hot Springs and so forth, people begin to see, "Hey, the folks are nice here. I got great access. Cost of living is great. Quality of life here is nice. The pace is nice and great restaurants, so it's a... "
07:52 Wayne Miller: There are wonderful collisions that occur amongst the cohort when they visit. You have 10 companies, 10 founders. Usually, a couple per company that come for the 12 weeks, but each of them has a little different expertise. They're a little different trajectory. We've had companies that have been very far along and companies that are very, very early stage. There's a curriculum challenge there. How do you teach first graders and graduate students in the same classroom? We manage to do that with getting them baselined in the first week and making sure we get those gaps filled with the right SMEs and so forth. But, great stuff happens between them, and they help each other. And they develop life-long relationships.
08:26 Matt Waller: What percentage, roughly, just of the ones that are selected, have founders that came from the banking or finance industry?
08:37 Wayne Miller: I would suggest, if I reflect back, I think of right away, Kathleen from HTC mobile apps. Kathleen was a community banker. One woman founder, which is great. In our second core, we actually had three women founders. The FinTech industry is rife with a lot of white guys and not enough women and diversity. We're eager to see more of that, obviously, and support that. She was a community banker. We have seen, I think if we go and talk about UpperRoom. Matt was the CEO of that company, came from the bond business which is how we identified that. I'd say as a percentage, probably about 30% probably come from the industry.
09:17 Wayne Miller: But most of them... I told you about Sonic. Sandipan was actually a banker. So he's an example, but Sonic came... I love the stories, the stories of... Sometimes, to me, the most fascinating part is why they do it as opposed to how or what they do. He and his wife were bankers. They had children and they had a babysitter and lived in Bern. And of course, it snows a lot there. So she said, "Hey, make sure to pick up some cash at the ATM on your way home to pay the babysitter." Well, of course, he forgot. He gets home, looks at his app. The nearest ATM is about, as he said, about three-quarters of a click away. So he had about three quarters of a mile walk out in the snow. And as he's walking to the ATM machine, he looks in the window of a pizzeria and sees a proprietor making change out of the till, and said, "Well, why can't I have some of that cash? Why do I have to go all the way to this ATM machine? Can I help him by taking some of his cash? Make it more convenient?"
10:17 Wayne Miller: And that's how Sonic was founded. The idea was that every merchant, through an app would be able to... Really, they wanna get rid of cash. They don't wanna have a lot of cash around. Increase foot traffic, use the platform for advertising, create no cost convenience for the consumer. I can sit here at the venture center, look at Samantha's restaurant and say, "I need 40 bucks to go home and pay the babysitter." I get my 40 bucks. I walk in there, they scan my phone, it takes it from my account, they get rid of the 40 bucks, they get me. Maybe I'll buy a beer while I'm in there. And they could turn that on and off as they want.
10:48 Matt Waller: What a sleek idea.
10:49 Wayne Miller: Ain't it great? And they are actually on their way to being the largest ATM provider in Europe. We're working really hard to make them a part of the US market. And that is one of the wild cards, too, 'cause we didn't think about that as we weren't looking for that particular solution. But ATMs for banks are very expensive. You've gotta feed 'em and water them. They're at risk for being robbed. They're 30 to 50...
11:16 Matt Waller: You really don't need them.
11:17 Wayne Miller: They're never where I need them, right? And then when you do, they're three bucks to get money out, no matter...
11:22 Matt Waller: What a brilliant idea. Does that company have patents on this?
11:28 Wayne Miller: They do have some intellectual property on some of their codes and stuff like that but no particular patents.
11:31 Matt Waller: Yeah, I was thinking it might be hard to do that.
11:34 Wayne Miller: We do see... We had Arcanum which had a dynamic keyboard solution, which they just received their patents. We were glad to see this. They've got a patented technology. I mentioned UpperRoom once again. Matt and his father Jack have a patented algorithm. Patents are interesting. I have some. They're terrific if you can defend them. They're as good as your capacity to do that with them.
12:01 Matt Waller: They can also be good marketing.
12:02 Wayne Miller: Well, there's certainly intellectual properties. They had value to the company and do create a barrier, but if a big company gets a hold of, that's got a deeper pocket, the trail of litigation could not be real beneficial to the early stage company. It's important, but I don't think it's always necessarily a game changer, it certainly depends on the industry.
12:22 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching Be EPIC podcast, one word. That's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast. And now, be epic.