Wells Fargo today launched a business accelerator program to allow the San Francisco-based bank to make direct equity investments of $50,000 to $500,000 in selected start-ups.

In particular, the bank will fund new companies in payments, fraud and financial deposits for consumers. Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) will accept applications through Oct. 1 from incipient companies that want to participate in a semi-annual boot camp run by the bank.

[caption id="attachment_96968" align="alignright" width="163"] Wells Fargo CEO John Stump[/caption]

The program will last six months, and include training in business planning and management. The bank will select 10 to 20 companies a year to support, and will accept applications twice a year. A Wells Fargo investment committee will choose which start-ups to back.

"For Wells Fargo to work on big ideas and spark innovators inside our organization, we need to expand our access to new ideas at the edges of our industry," said Steve Ellis, executive vice president and head of Wholesale Services at Wells Fargo, in a statement released by the bank. Wells Fargo was an industry leader in giving customers free Internet access to their accounts, and provided mobile service for businesses in 2007, according to Ellis.

"The Start-up Accelerator adds a new cylinder to our corporate innovation engine," Mr. Ellis said. "We're taking a proven business model from the venture capital community and repurposing it as a strategy for connecting with start-ups whose ideas and growth prospects could add value to our business and our customers."

Mr. Ellis noted the bank's particular attraction to start-ups in data analytics, big data, mobile, security and infrastructure that could provide an edge to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo has a major presence in the North Bay, with more than 15 branches in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties. The bank helps to fund the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

North Bay companies interested in the Wells Fargo accelerator program can apply here:  https://accelerator.wellsfargo.com