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$65 million gift from Steve and Jana Smith to University of Utah
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$65 million gift from Steve and Jana Smith to University of Utah

University of Utah President Taylor Randall announced a new donor initiative meant to supercharge the student entrepreneurial experience and Utah’s reputation for financial technology innovation and education.

The university, in partnership with the Stena Foundation and founders Steve and Jana Smith, will create the Stena Center for Financial Technology. The foundation has orchestrated total funds of up to $65 million over the next 10 years to support the center, including 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,” Randall said. “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 significantly 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, and 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 10 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 10 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.”

Photo: University of Utah president Taylor Randall and Steve Smith

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