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Fintech partnerships benefit students, company

Tampa, FL (April 5, 2013) — A longtime businessman and serial entrepreneur, Scott Riley used to think of internships as students answering phones or getting coffee over their summer break.

Fintech competition winners & judges

That changed when he worked with a team of students from the Information Systems Decision Sciences Practice Center. The ISDS practice center allows students to gain practical experience working on a project with a local company, and gives the local company low-cost technical assistance. Riley's company, Fintech, already the leading automatic electronic system that alcohol vendors and retailers use to pay bills, needed people to help "scrub data" – to turn numbers and product codes into useful information that could help both retailers and distributors track alcohol sales.

Because the students were able to clean up the numbers, an opportunity opened up for Fintech: the ability to create a new product to track alcohol sales. The new database can tell Grey Goose which of its products are selling best, and where. Riley was so impressed that he hired one of the students to work full-time. He said his experience with the students from the practice center was a far cry from the old days of interns taking coffee orders.

Through this and other partnership opportunities at USF, Riley has gained skilled employees and given many students internships and mentoring opportunities that allow them to succeed at other businesses. That's a message Riley hopes to help the Muma College of Business spread to the wider business community: the USF Muma College of Business trains students to be able to contribute in the business world from the minute they step out of the classroom.

"The old days of internships where you sat around and answered phones over spring break, we don't do that," Riley said. "This way, we get a shot at seeing if that individual is going to fit into our culture," he said. "It helps us, it helps the University of South Florida, and it helps the students."

"Most businesspeople like myself look at the university as, 'what can they really do for me?'" Riley said. "I can tell them one thing: I can tell them how successful our program was."

Riley's work with USF students started five years ago through the USF Center for Entrepreneurship. Intrigued by the graduate program that focuses on entrepreneurship and applied technologies, and the center's national ranking, he decided to sponsor a business plan competition to encourage students to pursue viable business ideas.

"I've just been impressed by the quality of the students that were involved in the program," Riley said. "The Center for Entrepreneurship teaches them to think like a manager, not an employee."

Now in its fifth year, the Fintech Business Plan Competition offers USF student-owned companies a chance at $15,000 to jump-start their businesses. Participants present their business plans to a panel of judges, who then choose the best plan for the top prize. Runner-ups don't go home empty-handed: they're also given access to in-kind services, such as tax and legal advice. Riley has helped recruit the companies that provide those services, as well. As a former entrepreneur, he knows the pitfalls of starting a company and what advice can help startups beat the odds.

Riley has added to the value of the entrepreneurship program, said Michael Fountain, the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.

"Scott has personally assisted a number of entrepreneurship students in launching their businesses," Fountain said. "We provide Fintech with the best and brightest of our graduate students, and Scott provides them with the business acumen to go out and start businesses that stay in the community."

Kaushal Chari, chair of the ISDS department, said the partnership with Fintech has also been invaluable to the students in his department.

"The Fintech project allowed our students to hone their practice skills, as well as understand how Fintech worked and what the work culture was," he said.

The partnerships have benefited Fintech as well. Riley points to his Chief Information Officer Joe Kwo, a 2010 USF Executive MBA graduate, as the type of employee he's looked for USF to provide: someone skilled in IT who also has the mind of a businessperson. Now Kwo, who supervised the ISDS students on their Fintech data project, is helping find people to join the company and says the analytical thinking skills USF instills in its students is a valuable asset.

"We need people with detail-oriented minds who can also think outside of the box," Kwo said.

Riley attributes Fintech's success to having good employees, including Kwo and others from USF.

"No matter what you do, whether you're building an Apple, or starting an IT company, or creating a liquor payment system, it's about the people," Riley said. "If USF students can supply us quality help, we'll hire them every time."