SXSW Embraces Fintech With A New Accelerator

Financial technology is all grown up, at least in the eyes of SXSW Interactive, the popular tech conference that for the first time ever will host a fintech panel this year. And one New York City company made the cut to be part of the fintech focus in Austin, Texas.

“Even though fintech has been on the rise,” said Chris Valentine, SXSW Accelerator competition director, during a phone conversation Wednesday. “I didn’t feel like until this year that it was in a place where we could showcase enough quality companies at the event.”

Among the factors that led to SXSW determining fintech was mature enough for its own accelerator, Valentine listed: Millennials embracing the technology; Internet-of-things companies and consumers adopting mobile and frictionless transactions; governments looking at what their roll is; and innovators working to increase financial inclusion on a global level.

Of the eight finalists selected in the newly formed payments and fintech category, the only N.Y.C company represented is crnsy(pronounced “currency”). The company is a foreign exchange shopper still in beta that lets travelers find the best rate for their money.

Valentine, who says he takes between 15 trips and 20 trips per year around the world, called the service crnsy provides — which claims to be able to save users between 20 percent and 40 percent on exchange rates — his “favorite” among the finalists.

“As I go on these trips all over the world I’m seeing this pain point, and in my mind,” he said, “That’s where startups really start to change the way that we look at the world.”

Fintech isn’t the only new accelerator category debuting at SXSW this year. The other focuses on virtual reality technologies. In the other four established accelerators, two companies come from New York: Kinetic, building a wearable device designed to make industrial laborers more safe; and Dropel Fabrics, a creator of hydrophobic fabrics.

Finalists for all six accelerators were selected from 470 applicants, and will be able to pitch their ideas on March 12-13 at the Hilton Austin Downtown. The winners will be recognized at the SXSW Accelerator Awards.

Though SXSW doesn’t release expected attendance figures, last year’s event hosted 30,000 people, according to a representative of the company. Tickets cost $1,095, though prices are set to rise Friday.

Source: Upstart Business Journal, New York Business Journal, Michael del Castillo
Photo: Attendees walk through the halls of the Austin Convention Center at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, U.S., on Monday, March 10, 2014. (David Paul Morris, Bloomberg)

Michael del Castillo covers fintech, bitcoin, manufacturing and Silicon Alley technology startups for the New York Business Journal. He also contributes to the Upstart Business Journal.