The Technology Association of Georgia’s (TAG’s) 2019 Fintech Innovation Challenge is in full stride. The month-long competition showcases some of Georgia’s newest companies and innovators in the FinTech space, offering the resources and opportunity to grow these startups into larger businesses.

Atlanta-based Porter Keadle Moore (PKM), an accounting and advisory firm, has been involved with the program since its inception, with several team members serving as mentors to companies selected to participate. These mentors work behind the scenes, lending their advice and expertise as well as guiding the companies through the process leading up to the Pitch Night competition – and a chance to present to an audience of over 1,400 from the Mercedes Benz Stadium field at FinTech South on Tuesday, April 23.

As part of the program, teams of mentors pair off with participating start-ups helping them hone their pitches and overall message so that they can clearly articulate their business model and its contribution to the FinTech market.

In a recent Q&A, four members of the PKM team who participated in past years’ challenges shared their thoughts and insights on what it was like to serve as mentors and why it is so important for the future of the ecosystem.

Q: How long have you been mentoring for the TAG Innovation Award and what made you decide to be a mentor?

Terry Ammons, Systems Partner: I’ve mentored for two years so far, and plan on continuing annually. What really sold me on mentoring for the competition was the opportunity that it gives to learn more about developing a startup as well as the chance to meet the innovative minds who come up with these ideas. The enthusiasm for their companies and ideas is also a bonus to mentoring – it’s contagious!

Andrew Belz, Audit Manager: I’ve always been interested in the FinTech industry as well as startups in general, and I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to combine these two interests. This is my first year in the role!

Q: Describe a “day in the life” as a mentor for the Innovation Award competition.

Matt Shoemaker, Audit Manager: For four weeks, we would meet every Thursday night with the competing companies as well as other mentors. There would be an hour presentation each session covering topics to aid these startups in their growth, such as how to design a pitch and how to hone in the central idea of their company to best present for pitch night. Next, we moved on to an hour long mentor session with our mentee company to go over their pitch as well as discuss various other topics for their companies. Lastly, after the sessions the mentors and companies left to get beers, socialize and network!

Q: What has been your favorite experience during the mentoring process?

Mike Morris, Systems Partner: I enjoy the process of helping our assigned companies hone their pitch week by week and really making sure it appropriately describes their vision for Pitch Night.

Andrew: My favorite part was getting to learn about each individual company and what they wanted of their startup – as well as how they wanted to operate within the market. It is absolutely incredible seeing how massive the FinTech industry in Atlanta has become, and having the chance to build relationships with these new and innovative minds is a major bonus. Plus, the after meeting beers and networking is always fun!

Q: If you had to choose one word to describe the most successful companies in this competition, what would it be and why?

Matt: It may seem like a simple answer, but I’d say ‘innovative.’ The ideas that are the most outside the box are the ones that typically end up finalists and winners since they are paving their own path within the market, improving an existing market, or even creating an entirely new market in which to place their product! In addition, innovations focusing on improvement of the consumer experience seem to do rather well in this competition.

Terry: Two words specifically come to mind. The top would probably be ‘passionate’, since those who are enthusiastic and thrilled with their idea tend to take it as far as necessary – plus some. Though, a close second would be ‘knowledgeable’. Those that are truly prepared for this competition are ready for any questions thrown at them about their startup and understand the subject matter.

Q: Are there any other characteristics in the successful startups who enter the competition?

Mike: From what I’ve seen in my four years of mentoring, those who have a high energy that exudes their confidence in their ideas are the ones who succeed and go far during and after the competition.

Matt: These successful startups have a mixture of different characteristics that improve their chances and success. A mix of intelligence, innovative thinking, teamwork, good idea, charisma, and pitch skills all contribute to their success. In addition, those with the ability to connect with people – networking and timing – are the most successful.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for those thinking about entering?

Terry: Thoroughly think through your idea and all possible holes within your plan. Go through the process of ensuring your product is viable and that you and your team has answers to any objections you may encounter.

Andrew: Just think to yourself – ‘why not?’ At the end of the day, whether you have a refined pitch or you don’t, it is great practice for you and your team and will get eyes and ears on the idea. At the end of the day, you don’t have to win the entire competition to receive success by entering. You and your team will meet a lot of smart people as well as new mentors to add to your network.

Q: Has mentoring helped your career or personal development in any way?

Matt: I’ve had many mentors during my career that have helped me develop skills and become more successful within our industry. It has been a great experience to be on the mentor side and give back lessons my mentors have taught me. Hopefully our experience with the competition will allow us to continue to be a good resource to the companies competing. Additionally the relationships we build with everyone involved in the process is rewarding. I truly enjoy having the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs within the Atlanta FinTech community.

Andrew: Definitely, not only do you get to see the process but also really work on networking and forging new business – and social – relationships. I worked with Mike during the process, and he really showed me the ins and outs of mentoring these individuals and putting their pitch together.

Q: What has been your most rewarding experience as a mentor?

Terry: Luckily enough, both groups I mentored actually made it through the first cut into the final round of the competition – where they were able to present their pitch on stage at FinTech South. It was great to see all the hard work we did be put to use in front of such a large crowd of people!

Q: Anything else to add?

Matt: This has been one of my favorite experiences thus far into my career. It’s given me another opportunity to meet bright people as well as to work directly with experts in the FinTech industry. The competition is incredible – TAG has a great team, the entire process is well run, and FinTech South is the perfect capstone. The experience is beneficial to all companies who enter – even if they don’t end up winning the overall competition.

Terry: There may be many of competitors in the startup status of the FinTech space, but going through competitions such as this one allows you to be exposed to a lot of people who could become future investors or mentors for your business. If you are considering entering next year – go for it! The competition keeps getting better and better.

Once again, several PKM team members are serving as mentors to these newest members of Georgia’s FinTech ecosystem as they share their ideas and compete for a $50,000 cash award, at FinTech South 2019 in April. You’ll see presentations from the three finalists and vote on the ultimate winner – as well as have a chance to speak with each of the competitors – at FinTech South at Mercedes Benz Stadium on Tuesday April 23.

We encourage everyone to support these innovators and look forward to the continued growth of our FinTech community.