Bank of Ireland is nurturing Irish entrepreneurs with partnerships, funds, mentoring and collaborative work spaces to give its customers and its own digital banking business an innovative edge, writes Dave Tighe
When Bank of Ireland put open banking at the heart of its growth strategy, we knew that co-operation and innovation would be the keys to success. This meant working closely with fintechs to make us more competitive, and embracing the wider community of technology companies that might provide innovative, value-added solutions for our customers.
We decided to create an ecosystem that was as open as possible and that would allow us to work with lots of different tech partners – from start-ups, through scale-ups to well-established companies. Our ecosystem is a truly symbiotic system that benefits everyone and, most importantly, our customers.
But that's not all. Our ecosystem is global; we don't just work in Ireland. Our global footprint enables domestic tech firms that we work with to move more quickly on to a global stage. And when those tech companies are focused on banking, we get early access to the solution.
So how do we do it?
Our multi-faceted strategy has something for everyone. We work with students, undergraduates and post-graduates providing mentoring, funding and networking to connect them with entrepreneurs.
For those thinking about entrepreneurship or building something special we have free drop-in, co-working spaces and trained staff to help with developing business ideas and finding support and funding. First established in 2015, we now have Workbenches in six branches, with more to come. They are open to all and foster an atmosphere of discussion and knowledge sharing.
Their success has been phenomenal. The original Workbench, in our Grand Canal Street branch, Dublin, held more than 300 events in its first year, attended by more than 14,000 people. But it's not just about numbers; it's about bringing exciting new tech solutions to fruition. Plynk, a social-media payments app, is a product of Grand Canal Street Workbench. Its founders met there, came up with the concept for the business, worked with our community managers, received early-stage funding from our Delta Early Stage Capital fund, and were incubated in our Dublin offices. It has just closed a €25m fundraising round and announced 40 new jobs for Ireland.
Where Workbench is open to all, StartLab is by invitation only. Once young tech companies have a proof of concept, they can apply to receive six months' free mentoring, support and work space to scale up their business. StartLab is focused on helping tech entrepreneurs understand the fundamentals of a business, including market and customer validation, product fit, pitching for funding and pitching for customers.
Again, its success has been staggering. So much so that in March 2017 we opened a sister StartLab in New York to help Irish tech companies break into the US market. This program lasts 12 months (rather than six) and is free. Currently, it is helping seven Irish tech companies from premises near Grand Central Station, all of whom have received tremendous support from established Irish/American businesses.
Our open business ecosystem is growing, and going global, and all this is helping to create a virtuous circle. The bigger and more dynamic the ecosystem, the better the environment for growth. For this reason we don't rule out candidates already supported by our rivals, and we are willing to look at any tech solution that can be applied to business.
There is one exception to this. Where Workbenches, StartLabs and student programs have a general all entrepreneur remit, our forthcoming Dublin StartLab will heavily focus on fintech. Our Dublin StartLab will also leverage and partner with the Temenos' MarketPlace and Sandbox; which is focused on offering customers proven solutions that can be implemented quickly (MarketPlace) and understanding risk and protecting customers from it (Sandbox). Both of Temenos' initiatives allow companies to move faster with lesser risk, which has got to be good for everyone.
We expect this fintech focus to provide insights into banking business models, show where fintech is heading, and help us make sure that the tech solutions we are promoting will solve real customer problems.
Like all healthy ecosystems, ours is changing all the time. Partners come and go. But what isn't changing, and never will, is the fact that our community is helping businesses to grow and improve their performance, including our own. These are exciting times.