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New fintech center launched at the U

Everything from the apps we use to do online banking on our smartphones to the algorithms that calculate credit scores uses financial technology (fintech). And Utah is developing a reputation as the epicenter of financial technology education and innovation.

Now, the University of Utah, in partnership with the Stena Foundation and founders Steve and Jana Smith, is leading out at the crossroads of fintech education with a new entrepreneurial laboratory—the Stena Center for Financial Technology.

Using $65 million in “orchestrated” funding assembled over the next 10 years, the center will include industry-sponsored labs, a start-up incubator, venture funds and fintech-focused degrees and certificates. Reinvestments from the venture funds ultimately are projected to fund the center in perpetuity.

President Taylor Randall says pairing fintech with education is like mixing chocolate and peanut butter—magic.

“There is no greater educational experience than starting a new business,” Randall said. “This new center will take an industry that is ripe for disruption and innovation, combine it with the research and passion of our faculty and students on campus, and create a whole new level of financial technology ecosystem in the state of Utah.”

Randall, Smith and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced the new center to an audience of fintech entrepreneurs and workers gathered at the inaugural fintechXchange symposium Jan. 30 at the Ken Garff Scholarship Club at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Read the press release.

Cox noted Utah’s below-the-radar but emerging status as a center of fintech industry. In January, WalletHub dubbed Utah the “Startup State.” Fintech companies have grown by 18 percent over the past two years, the governor said. Two-thirds of all U.S. industrial banks are located in Utah, and 93 percent of those banks’ assets are headquartered in the state. Since 2017, 4,100 new fintech jobs have been created. Also in January, Cox created a new fintech advisory council at the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

“I really feel like this is what we’ve been missing,” Cox added. “This is the piece we need to really anchor us as a center of excellence, as the state for fintech for many years to come. Our job is to make sure we’re supporting you in the right ways.”

Center initiatives will launch next fall with an incubator—the fintechXstudio—and venture capital funds will be made available to 10 to 12 qualifying student founders working in the field of financial technology. Each of their fledgling companies could receive as much as $100,000 in venture capital to get off the ground. Eventually, business income from those startups will be reinvested in the incubator, funding other students’ startups.

“We don’t want to write checks that are band-aids,” said Steve Smith, former chairman, CEO and co-founder of Finicity, and a founding member and current co-chair of the Financial Data Exchange (FDX). “We want to invest in an ecosystem—something that’s perpetuating and building on itself. We’ll be able to create a cohort annually of startups that are funded by industry. Then with all the resources that will be available to these startups, success will just beget success.”

The center will collaborate with academic units on campus to develop programs and degrees, housing faculty, classroom and lab spaces. The first three university colleges involved will be the David Eccles School of Business, the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering and the S.J. Quinney College of Law, as well as the President’s Office. The university already offers a minor emphasis in fintech. Over the next four years, the U will begin offering undergraduate and master’s degrees in fintech.

The Stena Foundation and university will announce the downtown location of the center in the next year. The center will be led by Executive Director Ryan Christiansen, a former Zions Bank and Finicity executive.

“I don’t think so much in terms of legacy. I think much more in terms of what’s the impact,” Smith said. “We’re here to create impact and if we can maximize and leverage the experience that we have, the resources that we have available to us, bringing people together in meaningful ways and creating a meaningful difference, then that’s the kind of objective all of us should try to achieve.”

Learn more about the Stena Center: