Shalom! What we brought back home from the Silicon Wadi’s Fintech Junction

It took me a while to have this blog post ready to go live, mainly because it is not easy to put in writing the excitement that you feel when visiting the startups’ homeland. With a population of less than 9 million, Israel has become the world’s second most notable innovation hub with a blooming tech ecosystem and exceptional talent. The country has the highest number of startups per capita and it attracts a significant share of the global VC investment. Israel has a strong track record in driving innovation, with this type of culture and mindset also incentivized by the state and further enhanced by the education imparted in the army units. Not surprisingly Israel earned the nickname “Silicon Wadi” (Wadi means “valley” in Arabic and Hebrew).

Tel Aviv is the focal point of this vibrant ecosystem and its pulse is unparalleled. We felt it exactly that way at Fintech Junction Conference which took place in the city. FinTech Junction is Israel’s largest and leading conference on technology and innovation in the financial industry. Being among the main partners of the event and one of the major players in the startup and innovation ecosystem in the country, Visa invited our team alongside few fintech startups to visit the conference and get in touch with its diverse audience. 

The Welcome reception 

Rooftopping could be a popular activity in Tel Aviv. Losing your sight in the spectacular view is all the time disrupted by the warm ‘’Shalom! What do you do, guys?’’ 🙂 So many introductions and pitches could be heard at Haiku’s Sky bar. The entrepreneurial buzz is prolific, staged on the backdrop of the golden sunset.. Who will be the next rising star? 


Photos: Tomer Foltyn


The Conference 

The Conference venue – Avenue Center – was the hottest spot that day. 40+C outside and some 1500+ international guests inside. Here is a tip for Tel Aviv firstcomers – take time to pass through a transitional temperature spot before switching directly from the melting hot to the arctic freeze in the conference part, otherwise it can get your heart racing. Similarly, if you are impatient to jump in to the keynotes, make sure to have yourself well clothed. Obviously I neglected both of them, since we were a bit late already and our thrill to enter sidelined these considerations. Right on time for the opening announcement. The conference is coming to Berlin this autumn! Worth visiting, right? 

Photos: Tomer Foltyn

Photos: Tomer Foltyn

How to approach the open innovation? 

Great insights, coming from BBVA’s Ainhoa Campao, Head of Open Innovation at the Spanish bank. Few years ago, they started their innovation journey with a simple, but a straightforward vision – everybody to do banking wherever they want. Nowadays 95% of BBVA’s services are available via the bank’s mobile app. It didn’t happen overnight – a sustainable and cohesive effort is needed to digitize a multibillion business. Transforming dumb processes into smart ones, requires a lean approach, talent and investment, shared Ainhoa. Now they are proud that they managed to change the mentality and to offer a great range of value added services  in addition to traditional banking products, including in areas such as mobility and real estate , all that paired with exceptional customer journey. 

Photos: Tomer Foltyn


Do you know what the Open banking is? 

One of the best definitions that I have heard comes from Sagive Greenspan SVP, General Manager of Payments and Head of Finastra Israel. It’s the magic that will help you to create a value across the whole life of the consumer – no matter if you buy a house, or a car, your data should serve you best and optimize your effort, time and money. At Finastra, Sagive is leading the company’s end-to-end payments business and also works to unlock the potential of both people and businesses. 

Photos: Tomer Foltyn


Visa: success lays in collaboration 

Shahar Friedman, Head of Visa Innovation Studio in Tel Aviv and Director Venture and Startup engagement, opened his speech with an honest admission – to lead the disruption, you need a change from the inside. The organization’s culture is the foundation that lays in the successful collaboration with upstarts. Shahar met us for a talk and you can read the interview in our online column Corporates love Startups that we publish together with Trending Topics to promote open innovation and corporate acceleration activities in Bulgaria. 

Photos: Tomer Foltyn


API strategy is the new black 

There is no better way to finish this post with the exceptional know how, coming from one of the most innovative Israeli’s companies – max by Leumi. 

The speech of Ohad Maimon, EVP Business Development and Strategy, was spot on. Less than 2 years ago they realised that in order to keep the pace and continue to innovate successfully, they need to change and completely rebuild the whole API infrastructure of the company. The question from where the next disruptor will come poses a great dilemma on where to put your effort, where to invest, who to partner with. So they ended up with a completely new API based infrastructure that enables various third party players to collaborate easily with them. 

Today max has the flexibility to meet, talk, assess and decide in a very fast manner who to partner with. At the same time they embrace the holy grail of open innovation – try, fail, test, improve. What you need to remember is that your business is under constant scrutiny and the road to success is the so called openness Today max meets approximately 300 startups per year because what they firmly believe in is the next big change will come from outside. A good sum up in this case is not a descriptive one, but rather an equation 

API = new channels = growth 


Photos: Tomer Foltyn

So what we brought back from Tel Aviv? This is mainly the inspiration and the proof that you can lead the change no matter your scale and resources available, when you have the right mindset and put your money where your mouth is. 


Author: Veselina Markova, Visa Innovation Program

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