The Right Mix: Selecting the Next ThinkTECH Accelerator Cohort


By Charles Potts

Suffice it to say that much has changed in community banking since we launched our second ThinkTECH Accelerator with The Venture Center in January 2020. I never would have imagined we’d be in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that would alter how we work, learn, and socialize.

And I certainly wouldn’t have predicted that so many of our cohort alumni would be mission ready to support community banks’ digital needs during COVID-19. But that’s exactly what happened and why we hosted two Tech Solution Sprints featuring previous Accelerator companies in May and June this year. The companies showcased their tech solutions built to address community bank PPP loan needs.  

Those experiences and our new digital normal have also impacted the lens with which we view potential fintechs vying for a spot for next year’s ThinkTECH Accelerator and our ultimate decision to make ThinkTECH 3.0 a virtual affair next year. We hope this will allow even more community bankers the opportunity to participate and share their expertise and insights in shaping the products and services of tomorrow.

"The focus in fintech was once purely on digital convenience," says Brian Otteman, chief experience officer at $247 million-asset High Plains Bank in Flager, Colo., and a member of the ThinkTECH Accelerator Selection Committee. “Today, we’re finding many fintech partners who recognize that the community banking model requires products to help build stronger banking relationships through technology.” In this next cohort, Otteman says he’s looking for fintech solutions that will help elevate the strengths of community banks.

For instance, many community banks were already exploring ways to digitize their lending process, but when PPP came to fruition, they went from discovery to development overnight. What they were able to build in just days was nothing short of miraculous and further cemented customer relationships, both new and old.

But in the wake of this rapid deployment, community bankers are now taking stock of the technology deployed, identifying where bankers and technologists can work together to enhance existing solutions , and determining how to address the cascading effects it has had on their businesses.

This means that the next ThinkTECH Accelerator cohort should be comprised of companies that also are considering those variables. Thankfully, our bankers’ active role selecting and refining solutions from the Accelerator means that emerging technologies speak directly to community bank needs.

“The early indications are that this next cohort will feature a lot of ideas motivated by the current climate, both macroeconomic and what’s happening with community banking digitization,” says Jesse Honigberg, technology chief of staff at the $2.5 billion-asset Cross River Bank in Fort Lee, N.J., and another member of this year’s Accelerator Selection Committee.

“In this environment, we have a tremendous opportunity to look at every challenge as a reason not to do something or a reason to do it even better. I expect that this cohort will support enhanced opportunities for expanded digitization of client experiences and bank operations. Fintechs are looking at this current climate as an opportunity to do great things, and we can help them to be a part of building a better tomorrow.”


Engaging with Stakeholders to Refine Offerings

Aligning bank teams around that tomorrow may involve more complex decisioning. As we saw with the all-hands-on-deck approach to PPP, digital solutions cross product lines, services, and offerings. Deployment of new fintech solutions impact multiple departments within the bank. Representatives from technology, innovation, lending, finance, operations, marketing, risk, compliance, and beyond need to be engaged from ideation to implementation to ensure a strategic, efficient, and timely rollout.

With this in mind, and as we finalize our due diligence and prepare to announce our next cohort in  the coming weeks, we will be reaching out to bankers with experience in technology, innovation, lending, finance, operations, marketing, risk, compliance, and beyond to help mentor these new companies. And together, with your mentorship, we will mold products to better serve the community banking industry.

Your participation is critical in shaping the products and services to meet the needs of customers. Join us at the virtual ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator this year, meet the world’s top fintech founders, and be part of creating fintech solutions for the future.   

More than ever, the next cohort is critical to shaping the future of community banking. Because while so much has changed, the core of what community banks do is the same—providing superior service to customers and communities. It just may be that in this new digital environment, the technological solutions offered by Accelerator companies provide the opportunity to do just that.  

Charles E. Potts is ICBA’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer.