Fintech CEO Credits Partnership With Biz Students in Creating Multi-Billion-Dollar Business
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (October 31, 2018) -- Scott Riley, founder and CEO of Fintech, was doing just fine handling the transactions between alcohol makers and retailers, through a system to regularly pay the bills for package stores, restaurants and bars and collect a fee for the service.
But along the way, the USF alumnus found that he also was collecting a lot of data. He saw what kinds of alcohol spiked in the summer or around the holidays. He knew when sales of wine dipped and when beer consumption peaked. He had all that data at his fingertips, data he realized could help his customers and open up new streams of revenue for his company.
College students have long had a reputation of a spirited involvement with alcoholic beverages. But Riley’s idea was to have students get involved in alcoholic beverage data analysis.
So, in 2013, Riley called upon his alma mater, asking professors and students in the Information Systems and Decision Sciences Practice Center, which offers students practical experience working on local business projects, to take a look at his system and see how that raw information could be made into other sources of revenue.
“Our customers were asking us how they can utilize all this data. And I said let’s put a team together,” Riley said. “So we thought of USF students who could go over the data and come up with ways to benefit both the customers and Fintech.
“I didn’t want volunteers,” he said, “I wanted to pay them, so we created a handful of paid internships.”
The students "scrubbed the data," and turned the numbers and product codes into useful information that would eventually help Fintech more thoroughly track alcohol sales, information that proved valuable to both wholesalers and retailers in the company’s customer base.
“And it was so much cheaper than outsourcing this,” he said. “That would have cost between $5 million and $6 million.”
The idea and the company hit the motherlode. And now, as Riley, who serves on the Executive Advisory Council for the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, begins the process of stepping away from his role as CEO of the company, Fintech makes payments for customers to the tune of $40 billion a year.
He credits the company’s immense success to the partnership between Fintech and those group of business students who introduced new revenue streams that propelled the company into the stratosphere.
Since then, there’s been nothing but growth. It seems sales of beer, wine and spirits weathers all sorts of economic storms, from depressions and recessions right into periods of recovery and prosperity. Fintech’s staff grew from two when it started to nearly 100 now. Among the new staff: Joe Kwo, chief information officer, who was one of those students who helped crack the data codes half-a-decade ago.
Riley urged other businesses, no matter how big or small, to call on the Muma College of Business resources to help them become more efficient and bump their profit margins.
“The business community around here really doesn’t know that USF can do this kind of research for them,” Riley said. “About 95 percent of businesses around here still don’t understand that USF can conduct relevant research ranging from marketing data to IT security,” he said. “For us, the proof is in the pudding. We went from $5 million a year in sales to nearly $40 billion.”
Since the Fintech/USF collaboration five years ago, Fintech established itself as a potent force in the marketplace and continues to blaze a trail through the emerging world of electronic payments and data processing. The technology developed by Fintech helps companies ranging from grocery stores to upscale restaurants to neighborhood taverns pay their alcohol bills on time.
Businesses not only can benefit from such a partnership by introducing cutting edge technology and data analytics into their systems, but they also may find a pool of talented future employees. The university benefits from the exposure of its programs and an influx of new and relevant material to present in the classroom. Students benefit by working on a real-world business project and at the same time, increasing their job-market marketability upon graduation. And, the community is that much a better place when these high-achieving graduates stay in the Tampa Bay region.
“The goal here is to keep our intellectual capital here in Tampa,” Riley said. “Local businesses tied together with university is a perfect model.”
The ISDS project wasn’t the first time Riley became involved with USF resources.
His work with USF students started in 2008 through the USF Center for Entrepreneurship. Intrigued by the graduate program that focuses on entrepreneurship and applied technologies, and the center's national ranking, Riley began sponsorship of a business plan competition to encourage students to pursue viable business ideas. Winners take home a cash prize of $15,000 to jump-start their businesses. To this day, the annual competition remains one of the center’s hallmarks and continues to draw budding entrepreneurs from across the USF campus.
Riley, a University of South Florida alumnus with a degree in mass communications and organizational psychology, tinkered with the idea of entrepreneurship his whole life, beginning by selling sand dollars to tourists along Indian Rocks Beach.
He attended Largo High School, where he played football, ran track and met his future wife, Mary Jo. He went to the University of Tampa on a football scholarship, joined the U.S. Air Force for three years during the Vietnam conflict and returned to Tampa to attend USF.
He has been named Florida’s Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young and Outstanding Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He was recognized by ITFlorida as a finalist for IT Leader of the Year and has been a guest speaker at numerous national retail vendor seminars.
Besides serving on the Executive Advisory Council, he also is a member of the advisory board of USF’s Center for Entrepreneurship, the Council of Governors of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Executive Committee of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem has known and worked with Riley for several years.
“I consider Scott a great friend, board member and business partner,” Limayem said. “He is a visionary, smart and an amazing member of our community. As an entrepreneur, Scott has been a pioneer in leveraging on the talent we have at the Muma College of Business, from our faculty to our students.
“This partnership has led the way to many more with other businesses,” he said. “We would not have been able to engage with outside businesses without Scott’s leadership. He has been a great advocate and ambassador for these types of partnerships.
“Scott is an exceptional human being, an extremely successful entrepreneur a true leader and terrific member of our community.”