Archive | February, 2012

Introducing Sberbank

24 Feb

Thank you to Dr. Mircea Mihaescu, Director, Sberbank Technology Research Center for being a Global Sponsor of the 2012 Startup Challenge supporting a Moscow Regional Startup Challenge later this year.

1.       In a few words, describe how Sberbank approaches innovation and your role in the big picture.

The Sberbank Technology Research Center has been started in the summer of 2011, based on the principles that I have developed by being in the trenches of new technology development and adoption for many years:  experiment fast, think like a customer, try a lot of ideas, focus on process and not on a particular “killer idea”, get results and deliverables and demos. Our objective is to create a leading-edge emerging technology team, focused on identifying and piloting new ideas to support the bank’s strategic goals (i.e. technologies for banking and financial services) and accelerate its overall business process innovation (through internal social networking) and modernization objectives (modernization being the catch-all word for the collection of innovation initiatives that go beyond technology).

2.       In the context of financial services, what trends do you see start-ups focused on?

We see a lot of activity in the fields of mobile banking and mobile payments, personalized services for both online and mobile banking, and many experiments trying to benefit from the exponential growth in social and localization data.

3.       How do you see traditional financial institutions positioning themselves towards start-ups and the start-up ecosystem?

We believe in the concepts of open innovation, with financial services institutions interacting with the start-up ecosystem on many fronts – from seed funding the most promising ideas, to participating in venture funds focused on financial services technology, supporting the overall market all along the growth curve through continuous experimentation and possible adoption even in early stages. A second important point for us is to collaborate globally – actively working with start-ups from Moscow to Silicon Valley and Singapore.

4.       Considering that Innotribe focuses on collaborative innovation in financial services, what do you think we should pay attention to?

I like the Innotribe concept and strongly support its activities – as the saying goes “keep up the good work!”. We look forward to an even wider participation from the industry players, and we will help with the spreading of the open innovation and collaboration concepts with colleagues in our geographical area of interest – Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.

5.       Finally, are there any other things you think Innotribe readers need to know about your company or innovation activities?

We at the Sberbank Technology Research Centre are constantly looking for new technologies that have the potential to change financial services – new products, better products, better customer service, etc.  We work with companies from all over the world and there is no idea that is “too crazy” for us.


Introducing Invest in Northern Ireland

24 Feb

A guest blog post by Alastair Hamilton,  CEO of Invest Northern Ireland, Global Sponsor of the Innotribe Startup Challenge and regional host for the Belfast Startup Challenge.

1. In a few words, describe how Invest NI supports innovation and your role in the big picture.

As Northern Ireland’s main Government economic development agency our job is to increase the size, competitiveness and value of the local private sector. Innovation is of course vital to the success of any economy so supporting and stimulating it is a top priority for us.

We do this in a number of ways. For example we provide a range of programmes to help promising technology businesses start up and expand in Northern Ireland. These include interim management and business focused training programmes designed to help develop essential management, sales and technical skills.

We also offer companies R&D support as well as practical assistance with trade and export development for specific geographical markets. In the case of financial services these tend to be mainly London and New York and we help with activities such as design, marketing, legal and translation services.

At a higher level, an important aspect of our role is helping local universities develop and exploit their intellectual property to maximise their long-term gains. We are also working to stimulate the supply of private equity available to early stage companies. We participate at a number of levels in the funding spectrum including seed funding and co-investment as well as development and loan funding.

2. In the context of financial services, what trends do you see start-ups focused on?

In our experience, the two big drivers are technology convergence and innovation. In particular, we’re seeing interesting developments in areas such as mobile financial services, security and big data. The theme of big data has become especially topical given the enormous flows of data associated with the financial services industry. A major focus – particularly for start-ups – is creating the software needed to extract meaningful intelligence from this data in close to real time.

Interestingly, a growing number of firms are pushing the boundaries of predictive modelling and social media. This is enabling customer demands to be anticipated more effectively, for example, and is helping to reduce fraud and improve automated trading and risk management.

3. How do you see traditional financial institutions positioning themselves towards start-ups and the start-up ecosystem?

Traditional financial institutions know that start-ups are fertile ground for innovation which, in turn, is crucial to the future development of the sector.

For their part, well-established large enterprises have been exploring better ways to harness collaborative innovation and to bring start-ups into their eco-system. Nokia Innovation Mill, Alcatel Lucent’s boot camp, and most significantly Swift Innotribe are all powerful examples of this trend.

Combined with the traditional strategy of acquisition, this approach is creating a more dynamic environment for financial innovation.

In Northern Ireland we’ve seen a number of later stage start-up firms in the financial technology arena acquired and then expanded by larger financial institutions. From our point of view, such acquisitions are especially attractive because they can in turn spur more start-up activity as new entrepreneurs with new skills emerge from the cluster.

One of the best local examples is Wombat Financial Software – an innovative leader in market data management solutions – which set up in Belfast in 2004. In 2008 it was acquired by NYSE Euronext which has since made Belfast the core global engineering centre for its technology arm – NYSE Technologies. The firm specialises in trading systems, specialist R&D, market data solutions and connectivity.

4. Considering that Innotribe focuses on collaborative innovation in financial services, what do you think we should pay attention to?

Innotribe is proving to be an incredibly influential platform for financial innovation. I think the reasons for that are down to the unique eco-system it has created and its continued focus on the commercial opportunities arising from innovation. Innotribe has connected a diverse and globally dispersed community made up of financial technology players, financial institutions, private equity firms, start-ups and others who have a common interest in advancing innovation in the industry.

Most importantly Innotribe’s agenda helps to keep the focus on business delivery rather than pure research. So, I think it’s really about doing more of the same – promoting interaction among members of the community and continuing to offer an environment for commercialising innovation.

We at Invest NI, of course, have a special interest in promoting collaborative innovation. We’re fortunate that our financial community tends to work closely together. Perhaps that’s because we’re a small region with a population of fewer than 1.8 million people. Just last year, for example, five companies involved in capital markets technology joined with our two universities to create a jointly funded collaborative research network of PhDs looking at specific aspects of high performance computing and embedded systems. This venture is already leading to wider collaboration in areas such as R&D and skills development.

5. Finally, are there any other things you think Innotribe readers need to know about Invest NI or your innovation activities?

At Invest NI we’re committed to giving start ups the best possible chances of success by providing the best possible support.

That’s because Northern Ireland is a strongly pro-business region where small enterprise forms the bedrock of the local economy. Many of our most successful firms have grown from very small beginnings under the guidance of dynamic local entrepreneurs.

Examples include Andor Technology, a world leader in low-light scientific cameras and APT, now part of CSR, a specialist in high-quality audio compression systems for professional and consumer products. Within the capital markets sector, we have firms such as Singularity and First Derivatives.

In many cases the promoters of successful innovative companies have reinvested their talent and money in developing new business opportunities. Just one example is Wombat founder Danny Moore whose success inspired him to establish Loughshore, a dedicated Investment house for innovative start-ups.

Introducing Cisco

24 Feb

Thanks to Philip Farah, from Cisco for Regional Support for the New York Innotribe Startup Challenge.

1. In a few words, describe how Cisco approaches innovation and your role in the big picture.

Cisco balances internal and open Innovation. We constantly source ideas externally either through acquisitions (over 100 over the years) or idea sourcing challenges (eg. I-prize competition) open to the public. My team the Internet Business Solutions Group is focused on understanding the impact of technology on the future competitive dynamics of the Financial Services industry – both to help our clients anticipate the changes and improve their competitive position as well as boost Cisco’s relevance in the FS industry through the development/acquisition of the right enabling capabilities.

2. In the context of financial services, what trends do you see start-ups focused on?

There are several trends related to the FS industry, the overall economy and technology that are creating new opportunities to disrupt the existing value props. For instance,

  • The emergence of mobility and mobile payments coupled with pressure on interchange fees in the US and the opportunity of financially enabling the unbanked in the developing world is certainly one where we’re seeing a lot of activity from large players e.g., Mobile Telcos, Google as well as a number of startups (P2P cash and Snappay are 2 such examples who presented on Feb 8 at the NY Innotribe event).
  • The financial hardship that the economic climate has created for both individuals and SMBs coupled with the ability to provide automated advice digitally has created an opening for a number of PFM/OFM powered companies to help consumers get out of debt and reduce their cost of debt or businesses finance their operations or receivables
  • Social networking is creating opportunities to better understand customers based on their interactions in the social media world and use this info to better assess credit, enable social trading (Lenddo, Roboinvest)
  • Other emerging capabilities such as Machine to Machine communications are already generating new pockets of value and we will most likely see startups emerge to capture these new opportunities.

For more info, on the future of the FS industry, check our perspective on the:

3. How do you see traditional financial institutions positioning themselves towards start-ups and the start-up ecosystem?

Traditional FSIs are realizing that Innovation is now more than ever generated outside the walls of their institution and that this is a trend that is unlikely to revert. They are responding by:

  1. Adopting open Innovation models where they partner more closely with external innovators including large Cos such as Cisco, startups, universities, etc.
  2. Investing in Innovation Incubator functions that are ‘protected’ from existing BUs and from restrictive procedures, to enable them to pilot and course correct before bringing promising concepts back into the core business
  3. These Innovation Incubators are increasingly located in Silicon Valley vs. traditional financial centers because of the proximity of talent (tech DNA) in this area.
  4. They also often have an investment arm linked to them, so that they can invest or acquire promising startups that they identify

It is also interesting to note, that many of the FinTech startups have their business models or exit strategies dependant on traditional FSIs.

4. Considering that Innotribe focuses on collaborative innovation in financial services, what do you think we should pay attention to?

With Innovation happening outside their walls FSIs need a trusted idea exchange platform. Swift is already offering a global payments platform connecting thousands of FSIs around the world and is ideally positioned to enable the exchange of ideas.

The success of such a platform will depend of the quality of content provided, the relevance of participants and the energy that results from the dynamics within it – Innotribe will have to balance the appeal of a ‘by invitation only club’ with the critical mass needed to keep the creative energy flowing.

Another way to keep the platform energized is to favor quality blog contributions on the platform and to enable the community to exchange ideas virtually outside of physical meetings

At Cisco we use our collaboration capabilities including virtual collaboration rooms and our network of TelePresence video conferencing locations around the world to bring people together virtually ‘as if they were in person’ across time zones and continents … an option that I believe could be very valuable to Innotribe

5. Finally, are there any other things you think Innotribe readers need to know about your company or innovation activities?

Cisco is well known for its role in providing the infrastructure for digital connectivity and more recently the infrastructure for collaboration and communication (video, audio, and data) and our role in cloud and virtualization

Tomorrow’s world will be a hyper-connected one where a lot of the knowledge will reside outside of companies’ walls somewhere in the ‘cloud’ and the ability of companies to compete will be dependent on their ability to take advantage of the new Connected reality

Above and beyond providing the infrastructure, Cisco is committed to accelerate the advent of a Connected economy through investments in Innovation and the acceleration of idea exchange across the industry.

Connecting people and ideas is what Cisco’s Human Network and my team (Cisco-IBSG) are about. We are thrilled to be part of the Innovation tribe and journey that Innotribe has started, and we look forward to further collaboration with Innotribe and its members going forward.

I have the best job in the world!

23 Feb

… and that’s not just me saying that.
Actually, the past couple of weeks, as we were preparing for SWIFT’s Global sales Convention some of my (marketing) colleagues said it: “Man, you must have so much fun doing what you do”, or “I want to do your job, do you want to do mine?”, or something along those lines.

So what is it that I do?

The funny thing is that I would answer: “nothing special”, honestly. As one of the latest newcomers to the Innovation team – I joined only 6 months ago – I’m still trying things out, I’m looking for my spot, my “thing”.
But actually, it might as well be that I am doing already what I’m supposed to do, what I was meant to do.

I’m exploring, I’m creating, I‘m learning, I’m growing,
I’m having fun!

When preparing for conferences and events in general, I was quickly bombarded the ‘Graphics Expert’ of the team.
Having a background as ‘Constructions Draftsman’, having worked nearly 20 years with AutoCAD, and having a personal interest in photography and software like Photoshop and Illustrator, and being interested in arts and architecture, I guess I had it coming to me…
Come to think of it, my role at such events is to make others, and their presentations, look better. As ‘simple’ as that 😉

Here are some examples of my latest work:

For a workshop, my colleague Mariela Atanassova (aka Mela) had this idea to create a card game, based on the book ‘Strengths based Selling’ and the Clifton StrengthsFinder® in it. So she asked me to make a set of 34 cards, briefly explaining the 34 strengths outlined in the book.
And here they are:
34 Strengths card game

Then another team asked us to help them on a presentation for them, explaining their product portfolio, and their ambition for the coming years. It involved the metaphor of a car, starting with a regular (used) family car, leading towards a proper F1 racing car.
And this is how it turned out:Cardboard toy car taking of

As a final example, I want to share this video that I created, together with Mela. The challenge was to give an informative overview of 6 marketing initiatives in an entertaining way. We chose video as a medium, and created it on-site (in the hotel), in about 12 hours.

When I joined the team, I knew that I was in for a change. The bar was being raised for me, I was bount to be challenged, drawn out of my comfort zone.
At this point, as I’m writing this blog, I’m starting to feel good outside of my comfort zone (as contradictory as it may sound). I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m also starting to push myself, looking for the next limit to be pushed.

Basically what I’m saying is:
I’m enjoying what I do, and I hope that you do too!

Yours truly,
Dominik De Buyser

A very snowy meeting…in Davos!

8 Feb

 My first time in Davos.  And a record, according to the founder of the WEF, there has never been so much snow during the forum.  I was told 2m60! 

So, on my first day, I made my way through the slippery streets to my first meeting where the Schwab Foundation had kindly invited me to a preparatory meeting with social entrepreneurs.  What that meeting really did to me is to reinforce my belief that the only way to solve our society problems is to make people meet and talk.  This dialogue allows a deep connection at human level and kills prejudices and preconceived ideas. 

The next day, I was (briefly) allowed in the sacred temple of the WEF.  As one can well imagine, one does not get into the WEF without a good reason.  About 2000 participants, royalty, politicians, artists, CEOs, social entrepreneurs, journalists, book writers, etc., etc., etc. rub shoulders and get a chance to listen to very inspirational sessions and to network. 

But, what was I doing there, you may wonder?  Through my new connections in the social business world,  I was introduced to the Schwab Foundation who were kind enough to give us a space in their session on the topic of shared value.  We shared this space with big corporations in different industries, like energy, food, pharmaceuticals, recruitment, IT, etc..  So what did we do?  We defined what shared value is, how it differs from CSR and what the critical success factors areto actually implement a successful shared value strategy. 

Shared value, for most of us was based on shared objectives, common goals, dialogue, sustainability, metrics. But also some more extreme views, ie that shared value is first and foremost about capitalism, whereas Nobel prize Professor Muhamad Yunus made it very clear again that social business can only be not for profit and solely based on selflessness. 

So, what was SWIFT, and particularly SWIFT Innotribe, doing in the middle of all this?  Well, we were there, Lazaro Campos, our CEO, and I, to run one of the breakout sessions on what shared value is for a company like SWIFT.  Surrounded by an array of people covering sectors such as ebay, micro-credit, insurances, consulting, alternative financial institutions we deep dived into Banks for a better World.  This is how SWIFT proposes to address shared value.  How does this initiative differ from others?  First it is not SWIFT’s project only.  Its uniqueness is that it tries to rally the whole financial industry around social business and how the banks could support it.  Unlike other shared value strategies that are specific to one company only. 

How did the session go?  It started with a lot of questions from the participants, since it was not clear to them why SWIFT wanted to get involved into such an initiative.  At first, people were unclear, a bit sceptical and reticent, to be really honest.  But Lazaro explained the rationale behind the project, our traditional role of bringing all the competing banks around the same table to come up with collaborative answers to issues.  But also, some more fundamental and existential questions, which are so relevant in a time of crisis.  How will the role of banks evolve in the future with the changes that are brewing in society?  The old game is not acceptable any longer to most people and especially the younger generations.  Financial inclusion presents a risk to disintermediate the banks if they do not offer the relevant financial instruments to connect the unconnected and to bank the unbanked.  Currencies are becoming virtual.  The concept of value is changing.  Capitalism and the economies are all in turmoil.  

This makes it all relevant to gather the industry and to do some deep thinking about the future.  And that is precisely where Banks for a better World fits. 

What did we conclude from the session?  The group definitely supported the initiative, notwithstanding the initial reluctance.  Their advice was to focus on financial inclusion and supporting social business.  They could see the value of SWIFT playing this intermediary role to connect mainstream banking with social banking and its ultimate beneficiaries, the unbanked, the poor and the social entrepreneurs. 

Lazaro and I felt that definitely warrants pursuing the project and taking it to another level where concrete decisions and actions are put in place.  Our next chapter of this book will be written on 6 March in New York with a core group of banks and non-banks.  Watch this space!  It is only the beginning of this exciting journey. 

And as far as first experiences go, Davos was maybe not glorious yet, but a very firm step in the right direction.

Martine De Weirdt



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