University of Utah President Taylor Randall announced today the launch of a yet another entrepreneur initiative designed to boost student entrepreneurial activity and bolster Utah’s already enviable reputation for entrepreneurship and financial technology innovation and education.

In partnership with the Stena Foundation whose founders are Steve and Jana Smith, the University of Utah will create the Stena Center for Financial Technology, thanks to a commitment of up to $65 million over the next ten years by the Stena Foundation.

The new center will include industry-sponsored labs, a start-up incubator, venture funds and fintech-focused degrees and certificates. Reinvestments from the venture funds are ultimately expected to fund the center in perpetuity.  

Randall says pairing education with fintech is like putting chocolate with peanut butter—magic.

“The Stena Center for Financial Technology provides the ability to accelerate and incubate important advances in financial technology innovation and businesses that will continue to propel the fintech industry forward and cement Utah as a center of  excellence,” says Randall. “This world-class center will leverage our unparalleled research and education with resources that provide critical hands-on experiences for students.” 

The center will collaborate with academic units on campus to develop programs and degrees, including 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. As part of the new financial technology center program, the university recently began offering a minor emphasis in fintech. Over the next four years, the U will also begin offering undergraduate and master’s degrees in fintech.

Randall continued, “We provide exceptional foundations in education, humanities, science, social and health sciences. The chance to put your ideas and knowledge to work in the real world, is the next step.” 

Center initiatives will launch with an incubator—the fintechXstudio—and venture capital funds will be made available to qualifying student founders working in the field of financial technology.

With six research-focused labs, industry-sponsored projects, an innovation hub and student-focused investment funds, the center aims to unite education and industry to accelerate financial innovation and inclusion in Utah and beyond. The center will be led by executive director Ryan Christiansen.  

“The Stena Foundation is delighted to partner with the University of Utah and other leading financial technology organizations in the creation of the Stena Center for Financial Technology,” said Steve Smith, chairman of the Stena Foundation. “This progressive center, in alignment with its strategic partners, will build on the success of the fintech community in Utah and will become a major hub for ongoing financial technology innovation and real economic impact.” 

Smith is the former chairman, CEO and co-founder of Finicity, a Salt Lake City-based fintech firm founded in 2000 that was acquired by Mastercard for nearly $1 billion in 2020. He is a founding member and current co-chair of the Financial Data Exchange (FDX). He and his wife Jana founded the Salt Lake City-based Stena Foundation as a way to strengthen economic prosperity through the fundamental building blocks of increased financial inclusion and access to quality education.

The fintechXstudio will start with an annual cohort of ten student entrepreneurs and businesses working on financial technology innovation. Students will have access to expert faculty, office space, industry mentors, technology solutions partners, curated courses, prototyping tools and technology, venture capital and the university’s global  education programs. Each year, the venture fund will invest a total of at least $1 million in ten or more student-led fintech companies. A large portion of the carry earnings from those investments will be reinvested into the center. 

“The Stena Center will blend Utah’s broad fintech industry experience with U students’ energy and creativity,” said Ryan Christiansen, executive director. “This unique partnership will connect financial technology leaders’ workforce skills and experience with students’ passion and ideas—accelerating innovation to place Utah at the forefront  of global fintech excellence.” 

The center will also host an annual symposium—the fintechXchange at the University of Utah. The first symposium convenes on a year from now, January 29-31, 2023.

Speakers will include: 

  • Utah Gov. Spencer Cox 
  • President Taylor Randall
  • Finicity founder Steve Smith 
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall 
  • Jack Henry CTO Ben Metz 
  • Galileo CEO Derek White 
  • Tomo Credit CEO Kristy Kim 

Speakers and sessions will focus on: 

  • The future of banking—how fintech is influencing and changing the banking sector 
  • Regulatory overview—a wide-ranging view of the various existing and  developing regulations that impact the fintech sector 
  • Financial inclusion—what the fintech industry is doing to expand financial services to the under and unserved 
  • University research—presenting groundbreaking research on fintech  

The Stena Center builds on existing entrepreneurial experiences already active on campus—including the 20-year-old Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, the Sorensen Impact Center, Doman Innovation Studio, and the Kahlert Initiative on Technology.  

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