Charlotte has joined a list of major US cities who recently placed a formal bid to designate the Queen City as a nationally recognized regional tech hub.

The bid was placed under the US Economic Development Administration (EDA)’s Tech Hubs program, which is an economic development initiative designed to drive regional technology- and innovation-centric growth by strengthening a region’s capacity to manufacture, commercialize, and deploy critical technologies.

Carolina FinTech Hub, the main driver behind the bid, announced the submission in a press release. The initiative is known as the Meta Lab Tech Hub (MLTH), a consortium of various stakeholding companies, organizations, and other partners dedicated to advancing Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) innovation. Consortium partners include Ally Financial, Atrium Health, Bank of America, Carolina FinTech Hub, LendingTree, North Tryon Tech Hub, PlayVS, Stiegler EdTech, the City of Charlotte, UNC Charlotte, US Bank, Varo Bank, and Wells Fargo.

“Charlotte is globally competitive today in fintech [financial technology] as the nation’s second-largest banking hub, and healthtech as home to the third-largest nonprofit health system in the US as well as the $1.5B medical university and innovation district in development,” said Charlotte City Councilman and Carolina FinTech Hub Founder Tariq Bokhari in the press release. “With over 10 months of work on this project, our consortium is positioned to advance our region’s yet unfulfilled market opportunity and build upon these existing strengths by creating a joint venture of collaboration around artificial intelligence. In my mind, this consortium has the potential to become the AI-equivalent of the Zelle joint venture.”

In discussing how the Charlotte region would be best suited for national recognition as a regional Tech Hub, Carolina Journal spoke with Pasha Maher, who serves as a founding partner and chief advancement officer of the Charlotte-based company Steigler EdTech.

“I don’t think it’s too ridiculous to say that we [Charlotte] have been, for a long time, a national leader in Fintech,” he said. “I think the data is representative of that. We have more Fintech unicorns here than any city other than San Francisco. The amount of funding we’ve had around FinTech companies and emerging tech has been very competitive, even more so than other cities in the south east and the east coast in general.”

Adding support to the bid is the knowledge that Charlotte’s metropolitan area has consistently been rated as one of the top global regions for Fintech, Edtech, and Healthtech companies and programs, ranking ninth in the world according to various metrics such as talent, startup experience, funding ecosystem, and knowledge.

“It’s a compelling argument when you think about Charlotte specifically. We are one of the top premier cities when you think about investing in your region from a federal level,” said Maher.

University involvement

CJ spoke with Dr. Bojan Cukic, professor and dean in the College of Computing and Informatics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, about the school’s role in the initiative.

“The Charlotte region has strengths in the financial industry,” he said. “This is also one of the largest hubs for the healthcare industry. Many industries are going ahead and modernizing through the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It was only natural to consider how an initiative could come together to play on the existing strengths while also envisioning the future in which artificial intelligence provides a central role in further modernizing the processes and business cases that would not only strengthen the Fintech and Healthtech industries, but also provide qualitative improvements in the lives of the people in this region, new employment opportunities, improved education opportunities, and overall improved wealth of the region.”

Charlotte’s bid is more attractive than the other cities because of its well-established strengths as a tech hub, according to Cukic.

“What sets Charlotte apart is that we have industry strengths that we have to play on,” said Cukic. “I think it is the collaboration of people who are leading these companies together with the city and county leadership along with the research university in town. We all see each other in a very similar light. We all want to collaborate with each other and we all want to contribute to the future of this region. I think it is this cohesive approach where we really see eye to eye and align the strategic goals of our organizations with the strategic goals of the region that sets us apart and gives us an advantage in the competition.”

He said a crucial part of UNC-Charlotte’s involvement with the initiative is the university’s computer science program.

“We are providing a competitive edge to the proposal for the tech hub recognition too because UNC-Charlotte is seventh in the nation in computer science graduates,” Cukic explained. “Most undergraduate students stay in the region and 84% of our graduates stay in North Carolina, so we are a massive contributor to the technology of the future and the knowledge economy of the future.”

The EDA will announce the bid selection sometime this fall.