720 Days Later
Wow, it’s been 2 years since the inception of the Visa Innovation Program and a lot has happened ever since. With two seasons behind us, we are eager to share our experiences and aspirations in this fintech innovation journey, our learnings and the achievements so far.
Before we kick-off, if you want to share your thoughts on all fintech-innovation-related stuff, drop us a line on social or via email. We would love to hear what resonates with you.
Let’s start at the very beginning.
START SMALL, THINK BIG
Starting something from scratch is always quite exciting – you think you have the best ideas and the path forward is pretty smooth and clear. Well, not really.
To quote Daniel’s (the Partner heading the fintech vertical at our team at Eleven) words from an interview with a regional media: “Two years ago corporate acceleration and innovation was still “a good to have” in our region – with very few players ready to invest time and resources in building long term and meaningful relationships with the startup community that ultimately may lead to launching novel products and services”.
Being itself among the first finechs in the world and recognising the value of the outside-in innovation, Visa embraced the idea and fully supported the establishment of a dedicated program that will nurture fintech innovation in the SEE region. We reinforced the value proposition with the strong network of Eleven’s mentors, VC partners and investors across the globe; we established a toolbox of resources such as data, analysis, exposure platforms and we dedicated a team of design experts (entrepreneurs by heart) with solid background in product development, UX and people management. Then added a flavour of networking events, community gatherings aand…
…the wheel started spinning and soon the first pilots and results for the fintechs started coming to life. Meanwhile the Program expanded in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, although moving ahead with different speed and intensity.
WHAT HAPPENED SO FAR IN SEASONS 1 & 2
Collectively raised by the program’s fintechs
PoC’s and pilots with Visa, banking and non-banking institutions
PoC’s and pilots in the pipeline
StartupToStartup PoC’s and pilots
Mentor hours with Visa, Eleven and fintech luminaries
Strategic meetings with banks, fintech executives, investors and Visa
Design sprints and discovery sessions on various topics
Global events in fintech hubs – Berlin, Tel Aviv, Paris, Vienna and Amsterdam (prior the pandemic)
THE INCEPTION – SEASON 1
Practising what we preach, we approach the creation of the Program as a startup – we did numerous iterations on the Program’s concept and building blocks back in 2018. They say that if you are not embarrassed with the first version of your product, you’ve probably launched it too late. And we started just like that – building and validating small pieces of the Program, doing constant iterations and improvements. At the same time we were getting to know better our stakeholders: the banks, Visa’s partners, the fintechs and all others.
For those of you who are not very familiar with the fintech space – it’s a tough place to be in. Heavily regulated, with fierce competition, constant challenges and too much complexity. And yes, sometimes we were struggling, sometimes – we were really proud of our achievements. Having Eleven’s strong legacy in supporting startups from ground zero and the backing of our amazing mentors and partners, we reached some great results in S1, which inspired us to push the boundaries even further.
Our key takeaways from S1:
- What went well: The overall engagement of the participating stakeholders was at a very sufficient level, beyond our expectations for Season 1.
- What could be improved: All practical applications of the fintech technology could be better explained – if you cannot sell fintech to your grandmother, then leave it. Forever!
- Key lessons learned: The magic doesn’t happen overnight. If you want your undertaking to be valuable for your stakeholders, then you should be a brilliant theoretician and visionary, but also a very diligent and resourceful executor.
THE NEW NORMAL – SEASON 2
After gaining solid confidence about what’s next in Season 2, having accumulated a good amount of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, the Covid-19 crisis came and again we started from scratch, this time in order to accommodate to a new way of work.
Our design team redesigned the Program so we could host it entirely online and we were very lucky to have the participating banks ready to work virtually on all Program related topics – from the Selection Day, to the mentoring sessions and all the trainings. They proved that despite being distanced, we were very well connected towards the end goal – innovative PoCs and pilots with the top fintech companies of the region.
Our key takeaways from S2:
- What went well: We observed a growing engagement and willingness to collaborate not only among the fintech’s, the banks and Visa, but also among the alumni startups. This resulted in 3 successful Startup2Startup pilots, and a few more in the pipeline – an incredible result demonstrating the need of such collaborative initiatives for our ecosystem.
- What could be improved: We want to be very inclusive – to involve everyone and all with an interest in fintech, be it as a participant, mentor, partner or other, and thus – to create even higher value for everyone involved. This is something that can always be improved and we’ll keep on working towards strengthening our partnerships at home and abroad.
- Key lessons learned: With the right tools, engagement and attitude, physical distance does not translate into less engagement, collaboration and motivation – on the contrary, a program like that proved very efficient in this new world.
THROUGH THE LENS OF THE COMPANY – HOW THE PROGRAM LOOKS LIKE
Enough about S1 and S2 results, let’s take a look at how the program looks like and what do the fintechs go through.
At the beginning of each year, 5-6 of the most promising fintech companies from the SEE region are admitted to the program after rigorous selection processes. In the first 2 seasons, we’ve selected companies offering various products such as biometric payments, open banking, analytics, loyalty, digital insurance and more.
The selected companies immediately start working with their dedicated mentors – design thinking professionals, who guide them through the whole journey.
The startups engage in various sprints and workshops with their mentors, specifically targeted at their own needs and based on their stage – these include design sprints, business modeling, product market fit, user definitions among other – all towards making the startup ready and confident in meeting its first bank clients!
The whole Program is brought to life under Visa’s patronage and as such, benefits from Visa’s broad resources. The companies can leverage the Visa Developer Platform (VDP) and have opportunities for proof of concept (PоC) and pilots with Visa’s global partner network of issuing banks and merchants.
From the very beginning of the seasons, there are discovery sessions going on between Visa, the banks and the startups – with the goal to identify any PoC opportunities early on.
The end-goal of the Program has always been to help the admitted fintechs reach PoC’s or pilots with Visa and Visa’s clients and the Program is designed in such a way as to support both sides at any step of the way. During the 2 seasons, we facilitated 7 successful POCs between the startups, Visa and the banks, and 3 – among the startups.
On top of the main agenda, the Program provides constant networking and learning opportunities, and engages the companies in various initiatives aimed at raising their visibility in front of the regional fintech community.
The most promising of the companies can also receive an investment from Eleven and access to our broad network of investors. The fintechs of S1 and S2 raised 5.6 EUR in total and this is just the beginning!
Demo Day – the Culmination
The final “official” event is the Demo Day, where the companies pitch in front of a wide audience comprising the banks, Visa, investors, mentors and partners.
Our latest Demo day was the one of Season 1 and Season 2 combined. It was our first time to hold a hybrid (online + offline) Demo day of the Visa Innovation Program and to add on top of that we did it as an online streaming as part of this year’s DigitalK Conference. Ten startups were part of the Demo day, each with their own version of a pitch/demo video matching their style, along with three jury members – Daniel Tomov, Managing Partner at Eleven, Sevdalina Vasileva, General Manager of Visa for Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus and Ozan Öztürk, Strategy & Business Development Senior Director, South East Europe Cluster at Visa Europe, who discussed each companies’ product, market segment and potential.
If you are feeling curious about the Demo day’s format, dynamics and jury comments, we’ve got your back – here’s a complete recording which you could watch.
Watch the whole Demo day below.
MEET THE FINTECHS
As you might be curious who are the exact fintechs which took part in the Visa Innovation Program S1 and S2, you can find their profiles below.
The company provides alternative payment methods for online buyers and merchants based on the buy now, pay later model, incl. instant financing.
Secure audit trail solutions through blockchain protection.
Single solution for Anti Money Laundering [AML], Risk and Fraud monitoring.
A fully automated end-to-end receivables management platform that processes invoices, makes permanent payment requests and legal collections
Based on Open API / PSD2, Iris Solutions provides Open banking hub for Banks, allowing Banks’ customers to access and control all of their accounts from a single point.
Cloud-based platform for corporate gift cards and vouchers.
Helping small businesses and enterprises to utilize better their existing data by automating their processes in decision making, demand and sales forecasting, risk management, credit scoring and others.
WHY DO WE CARE?
Two years into the Visa Innovation Program, we’ve learned many things, changed a lot along the way and celebrated every step forward, but our core thesis stays the same – there are a number of talented founders in Southeast Europe (who we call “Local heroes”) who build transformative fintech companies pushing the boundaries. At the same time big players, like banks and non-financial institutions, need to innovate, stay competitive and embrace novelty. This is where we come in to level out the field and facilitate a fruitful dialogue supercharged with the powerful fintech toolbox described above.
Season 3 of the Visa Innovation Program is coming in hot and the application window is opening in the beginning of 2021. Stay tuned!
We have prepared for you even more initiatives, wider reach, bigger community, more PoC opportunities, larger investor pool and a promise – once part of the #OneOf11 family, always part of it.