Venture Connect’s Day Three Highlights

Clockwise from top left, panelists Pat Scheper, Bernard Worthy, Joe Maxwell and Lisa Shields in a Q&A session on the the future of fintech and digital lending.

Yesterday marked the last day of CED’s Venture Connect summit. 2021 was the second year that the event was done entirely virtually, but this time around CED had a full year to plan ways to take advantage of the digital format. The result was a platform on which startup founders and investors could easily schedule virtual meetings, and participants could attend a bevy of speaker events and panel sessions to hear insight from experienced business leaders in various fields. 

Some of Thursday’s Day Three events included a Q&A on “FinTech: Digital Solutions and Financial Institutions,” and panels on “Moving to North Carolina to Build Your Company“ and “The Journey to Being Customer-Led.” Here are some of the highlights:

Moving to North Carolina to Build Your Company

Silvia Aguirre, the General Manager of Certificate Management at Avalara and Co-Founder of Avalara CertCapture, led a discussion with panelists Ernest Rolfson, the CEO and Founder of Finexio, and Jordan Schindler, the CEO of Nufrabrx. The main topic: what motivated them to move to North Carolina after founding their companies. 

After doing a little bit of research, Schindler said it quickly became obvious to him that NC was the best place to locate the headquarters for his advanced textile manufacturing company. 

“Our business wouldn’t be what it is without North Carolina,” Schindler said. “We have really enjoyed being near other companies in textiles, and lots of synergistic opportunities have come to us just by being in the same building.

Schindler, though, said he received lower valuations from angel investors in NC than Seattle, so one thing he would like to see improve in the state’s startup ecosystem is the fundraising culture. Rolfson also acknowledged the differences in investors vary across the country.

This state has a big history in biotechnology, and software is newer,” Rolfson said. “But fintech is the white-hot investing space and we need more big exits in software to have that path going forward.”

The Journey to Being Customer-Led

Ryan Henley, the Chief Customer Officer for Bandwidth, led the panel on “The Journey to Being Customer-Led.” The three other panelists were Mike Connors, the Director of Customer Success at Asheville’s Ecobot; Courtney Tellefsen, the Founder and CEO of Raleigh-based The Produce Box; and Laurel Bandiero, The Produce Box’s Director of Membership and Marketing.

The panelists agreed that pursuing a customer-centric model often means that there needs to be sacrifices, or as Henley put it, “the hardest thing for a company to do is to decide what to suck at.”

Tellefsen noted the trade-off inherent in a customer-focused model: “What’s right for our customers isn’t always what’s right for our employees or our farmers.”

The Produce Box’s distribution strategy relies on several stay-at-home parents who deliver customer orders locally. The company’s transition to a customer-centric model came as the job descriptions of the user ambassadors were redefined to include more specialized roles. 

Connors said that Ecobot, as a B2B startup selling software as a service, relies on maintaining a constant dialogue with their clients. That is partly done through a customer advisory board that gives clients from different backgrounds a way to give feedback on the product. 

FinTech: Digital Solutions and Financial Institutions

Pat Scheper, head of Venture Banking at Wilmington-based Live Oak Bank, led the panel on “FinTech: Digital Solutions and Financial Institutions.”

Joe Maxwell, Managing Partner at Nashville-based FINTOP Capital, said that from an investor standpoint, he looks for experts in their field who found a “must-have” solution that uses software as a service. Companies need to make sure they are creating a must-have solution and not just a toy that will be thrown away, Maxwell said. 

Lisa Shields, Founder and CEO of Canada-based FISPAN, envisions that the future of closing equity gaps in the banking space will rely on banks partnering with fintech providers such as Durham-based Loanwell. Loanwell’s Co-Founder and CEO, Bernard Worthy, was also one of the session’s panelists.

Worthy said that a diverse array of banking clients means that closing the equity gap will rely on fintech providers working together to create a marketplace that provides options to banks based on their specific clients. 

“The model for a white-owned CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) will look very different from an Hispanic-owned CDFI,” Worthy said.