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Latest from the lab at Wells

Bank's Startup Accelerator picks three new players

Latest from the lab at Wells

Sometimes it seems like working in a bank “lab” is the closest someone in finance can come to living in “Tommorrowland,” like the one envisioned in the Disney film opening Memorial Day Weekend.

Wells Fargo’s “Startup Accelerator,” launched last year, recently selected three young companies with these ideas to benefit from funding, lab space, and bank business line counsel:

• Software that turns gestures into texting for the hearing and speech impaired.

• Technology that creates a security “bubble” around private data that uses the public cloud.

• Anti-fraud software that applies common-sense logic to find out if financial transactions being attempted via mobile devices pass the “smell test.”

Coming under the Accelerator tent

Wells’ Startup Accelerator will bring in the three companies behind these developing ideas out of a competition that drew 300 entries.

Out of that broad sampling of innovation, “we tried to isolate the ones that make sense for us as a business,” says Braden More, senior vice-president and head of enterprise payment strategy at Wells.

To evaluate ideas beyond the simple “wow” factor, Wells’ employed banker screeners from company line of business experts who were looking for practical innovations with a good fit.

Even as this new group was picked, Wells has already opened the competition for the next round of hopefuls; the deadline for entries is June 20. (For the history of this outreach, read “Road to Well’s ‘Startup Accelerator’,” based on an interview with Steve Ellis, executive vice-president and head of wholesale services for Wells.)

Range of innovation

The company casts a wide net for innovative ideas, ranging from cyber security to big data to mobile finance to robotics. The net reaches for innovations in wearables, payments, and infrastructure, as well.

“We find that the best ideas come from the outside of the bank,” says More. “You have to roll out the red carpet and show them where the entrance is.”

Wells doesn’t put winners under an exclusivity arrangement, though it is possible that firms brought into the program will see the bank adopt their technology. The company can sell to other banks as well other types of companies, and part of the Wells program consists of aid in understanding potential markets.

On acceptance into the Accelerator entrants receive funding, too. Each can get as much as $500,000 in direct equity investments from Wells.

Graduates and freshmen

The first “class” of startups has already found some success:

EyeVerify, which would replace passwords with pictures of users’ eyes, is working on a pilot with Wells Fargo corporate customers. And it is involved in projects with seven of the world’s top ten smartphone manufacturers.

Zumigo, a mobile services developer, facilitates mobile commerce and marketing through location and mobile identity technology. Zumigo is now partnering with Wells Fargo’s Innovation Lab on applications to credit cards, ATMs, and other solutions.

Kasisto builds conversational artificial intelligence applications. The company is working with the Wells Innovation Lab to improve the mobile experience of Wells’ customers.

The three new companies include:

Bracket Computing, which harnesses the public cloud to run enterprise computing applications.

“This is very exciting to us,” says More. While the public cloud is attractive, it must be secure to carry banking data. This technology could redefine what a corporate data center looks like in the future.

MotionSavvy, which makes two-way communication software for the deaf, is building on the latest innovations in voice and gesture tech.

“This could help us serve people who come into our stores,” among other uses, says More. The founder of the firm himself uses sign language as his primary way of communicating in daily life.

Contest360 makes software that combines sensor data and machine learning algorithms to make it safer to allow legitimate users to transact with mobile devices—and to stop phonies.

This software could help flag fraud. For example, does it make sense that that particular user would be transacting with a mobile device for a payment at 2:30 a.m.? Or, does it necessarily make sense that a mobile device’s financial app is being used in Chicago when there is no other sign that the owner should be in Chicago?

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Time/Date: June 16, 2021 2:00 p.m. ET

The U.S. has come a long way in its journey to real-time payments, with TCH and Zelle in market and FedNow just around the corner. COVID-19 has accelerated that demand to move to real-time. Yet many financial institutions remain unconvinced of the need to move, with less than 3% of financial institutions signed up today.

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