by Tyler Hale
Collins Andrews is preparing entrepreneurs for the long haul. The longtime information technology management executive has become a key player in Arkansas’ burgeoning startup scene, particularly in its accelerator space.
Since 2016, Andrews has served as the Executive in Residence for the FIS FinTech Accelerator at the Venture Center. Now, he is stepping into a new role in which he will help guide the development of entrepreneurial programming in Arkansas.
Andrews was recently elected to the Venture Center board of directors. Along with eight other directors, he will provide oversight and guidance for the Venture Center’s mission – to foster education, collaboration and acceleration for entrepreneurs. The Venture Center’s other eight members include James Hendren, who serves as the board chairman; Ray Dillon, philanthropist and retired CEO of Deltic Timber Corp.; Chris Cline, senior vice president of FIS; Millie Ward, Stone Ward president; Jay Chesshir, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO; Jim Womble, Privacy Star executive vice president of business development; and John Haley, Circumference Group president and co-chief investment officer.
According to Venture Center Executive Director Wayne Miller, Andrews’ new role will be an extension and expansion of his current support role at the Venture Center. Miller sees Andrews as an integral part of the organization’s continued growth.
“We never stop needing mentors, and I’m fortunate to count Collins Andrews as one of mine,” Miller said in a statement. “At The Venture Center, we’ve experienced tremendous growth in the past year and as we continue to expand Collins Andrews’ support and guidance will continue to help us achieve our goals. We’re grateful for his willingness to serve in this capacity.”
The opportunity to aid the Venture Center in its endeavors came at an interesting stage for Andrews, who says he was mostly retired at the time. For more than 20 years, Andrews was an executive with Systematics and Alltel Information Services, eventually becoming president of the company’s financial services division and operations division. In addition, Andrews began a consultant, working with companies on strategy, but his work with the Venture Center began when FIS Global approached him about serving as a representative for its new fintech accelerator.
FIS Global, the successor to Systematics, tapped Andrews as its on-the-ground executive-in-residence, providing mentorship to the members of each accelerator cohort. With a wide-ranging career in technical, management and executive roles, Andrews is able to provide a vast array of knowledge and experience to the participants.
“When that accelerator started, I started working as an FIS representative. So, for the last four years, I’ve had the chance to essentially be embedded in the Venture Center but work for FIS, evaluating and working with entrepreneurs that come through with the accelerators,” he says. “It’s been a delightful experience – these kind of people are fun to be around. They are inspiring, and I have been able to help some of them, and that’s really enjoyable.”
It’s his experiences at companies like Systematics and Alltel Information Services that inform how he approaches the startup founders in the accelerator as well as other entrepreneurs. Creating a company, he says, is more than profit margins and driving revenue. It’s about creating lasting value in one’s community
“Systematics was a remarkable company. It was very well-managed, and it had a focus that was directed toward the long-term. And so for me, that’s the way I think about business. What can you do to make this thing permanent? What can you do to make it a long-time employer for more people? For me, that’s what I want it to be. I’m not particularly interested in the efforts to make a lot of money in a short period of time,” he says.
“I remember hearing the [Systematics] leaders say, ‘I can’t believe how many families are represented here.’ It was a thinking that there is more than the work that we’re doing. We’re the livelihood of a lot of people.”
Now, he will be bringing his experience to bear on a “broader cross-section of dreamers and entrepreneurs.” Before, he was principally concerned with companies that had relatively mature products and were looking to growth an established business. “To use the current language, it helps them scale or get bigger and sell. That’s a different challenge than the person who has an idea and would like to turn that into some business,” Andrews says.
During his time at the Venture Center, Andrews has witnessed firsthand the work the staff, headed by Miller, has done toward providing in-depth programming, featuring established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, sourced locally and from around the state. Stepping up into a board position, he says, will allow him to have a bigger impact on these local entrepreneurs working to transform a seed of an idea into reality.
“By being inside the Venture Center, I’ve also seen what the group does other than the fairly big-time accelerators. They provide an opportunity for people who are like those entrepreneurs who want to turn their dreams into reality,” he says. “If I have the chance to continue to help the Venture Center, whether they are working on accelerators or not, I think it’s important. I think that’s important, and it’s fun for me.”
For Andrews, increased programming like the Venture Center’s is a sign that entrepreneurship is getting more attention from leadership around the state. The push to emphasize entrepreneurship is a nationwide trend, but one that is steadily picking up in Arkansas.
“Certainly we’re doing a better job today than we were five or six years ago,” he says. “I think other states are similar – that is probably a fair answer. We’re recognizing that value more and putting more effort into it.”
It’s a dramatic contrast from his own startup experience – he created a startup manufacturing business. At the time, he says, the resources for aspiring entrepreneurs were much more limited.
“I got out of grad school, and I was very intent on starting a small business. I’m not exactly sure why, but it seemed like the thing to do. After a few years, I had a chance to do that. That was in 1973, and the kind of support that you have now through groups like this…is so helpful, so remarkable compared to what was available back then.”
Andrews says the Venture Center leadership is a major part of what has driven the success of its programming. Its leaders and employees have worked to build a high-quality product and continue to work towards building the value of it.
“I think the leadership team that has been put together – not just the employment team but the board – this is a high quality group. They certainly understand the value of what can be built,” he says.
With Andrews helping to guide the organization, entrepreneurship in Arkansas will only continue to thrive.