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USF, Tampa Bay Wave’s inaugural fintech accelerator cohort announced

Mark Parker

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The University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus (pictured) recently received a $75,000 grant from Duke Energy to help establish the MESA program. Photo by Mark Parker.

St. Petersburg’s burgeoning financial technology scene continues to grow as Tampa Bay Wave and the University of South Florida have announced the inaugural cohort of startups for its much-anticipated Fintech|X Accelerator program.

Announced Monday, the accelerator’s first group features 16 fintech startups from across the country and globe, including Israel, England, Saudi Arabia and Germany. The diversity also extends beyond geography as three of the startups are led by women, and founders include military veterans, minorities and members of the LBGTQ community.

The 90-day accelerator, which began Monday, represents a multi-year partnership between Tampa Bay Wave, the USF Muma College of Business and the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation. The vast majority of programming and events will take place on the St. Petersburg campus, which recently created a new FinTech Center and now offers industry degrees through the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance. Tampa Bay Wave CEO Linda Olson said the accelerator program helps establish St. Pete and the Tampa Bay region as a national destination for fintech talent and innovation.

“To me, programs like this help emphasize that we’re ‘One Bay,’” she said. “But I’m also proud to see St. Petersburg feeling like they are getting their share of the attention as we grow our region’s tech ecosystem.”

Olson said Tampa Bay Wave’s national and international reputation enables it to bring exciting new fintech startups and entrepreneurs to the region. The organization has helped grow Tampa Bay’s tech industry since 2013 and modeled the new after its successful Cyber Tech|X Accelerator. Olson noted the awareness the programs bring to the area as cohort companies achieve milestones and strike investment deals.

Olson relayed that several founders from other cohorts have approached her to rave about what the courses and education meant for their companies, including several previously involved with other national programs like Microsoft’s Accelerator.

“And they said this is by far the one that they’ve gotten the most value out of,” she added.

The entrepreneurs receive individual mentoring and coaching through a collection of industry experts referred to as the Advisory Council. Olson called direct access to C-level executives from the region’s largest companies a “game-changer.” Representatives from Accenture, Raymond James Financial and JPMorgan Chase are some of the local industry leaders lending their expertise.

The entrepreneurs participate at no cost and do not relinquish any equity in their companies, which Olson said makes the program more attractive. However, unlike some other programs, Tampa Bay Wave offers no investment capital. Olson said that makes the accelerator a serious commitment, and founders typically research the program and talk to members of other cohorts before applying.

While most of the startups are currently raising seed funding, others are generating over $1 million in annual recurring revenue. The 16 companies have collectively raised over $15 million in early-stage financing.

“They might be generating a million or a million-plus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ready for a Fortune 500 success story,” she said. “There’s a long road ahead of them to get to that true high-scale growth, that unicorn status that they all want.

“So, we are providing what we think are the most critical resources to help put them on that path, and for some of them, it’s access to these people that give them either access to investment capital or customer capital.”

Following the three-month program, select participants will receive ongoing support through the Tampa Bay Wave’s virtual CORE membership, which provides continuous mentorship, introductions to investors and customers and other company development services. Tampa Bay Wave is the only Global Accelerator Network-accredited program in Florida, and select startups will also receive over $50,000 in discounts and other perks of that membership.

The accelerator’s companies focus on solving varying problems like student loan debt, expanding lending opportunities, accelerating the home buying process and centralizing cryptocurrency exchanges. At the conclusion of the program, on June 29, the companies will participate in Wave’s Demo Day, where founders pitch their startups to an audience of investors, venture capitalists and other fintech industry leaders.

The 16 startups comprising the 2022 FinTech|X Accelerator program include Aquablocks, CashQ, College Cash, DUKAPAQ, Element DeFi, FINBOA, Homey Technology Ltd, myEGO, OnlineApplication, Paperstack, Rabeh, RiskSmith, Sole Capital, SueApp and VIVA Finance.

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