On Wednesday, 5 April, with startups and scale-ups waiting to pitch their ideas, ABN AMRO’s Frans Cuppen kicked off the ‘Celebration of Innovation’. This inspirational afternoon event revolved around innovations arising from ABN AMRO’s partnership with HighTechXL, given shape through the Econic innovation hub in Eindhoven.
Cuppen gives a concise explanation of what innovation means. ‘Innovation is solving a problem by dreaming of solutions without limits and having the guts to realise that dream,’ he says. ‘Every innovation springs from the right mindset. Acting is what makes it complete.’ Econic programme manager Jošt Faganel agrees. ‘Identify a problem and choose to solve it: Problem, Solution and Action.’
The moment comes for the first three teams to pitch their services. Bart Hulst of ‘Yes Please’ leads the way. ‘Yes Please’ was born from the idea that opening a business account should take less time, and preferably should be done on the spot. Richard Heuvelmans then takes over and introduces ‘FindR’: a single centralised desk that answers questions from clients for everyone at the bank. The first round closes with Sonya Rahmani and her pitch for ‘Network’: a platform where networking becomes easier and relationship managers can carry on doing business face-to-face. In the end ‘Yes Please’ proves more popular than the other innovations and wins this round.
Validation, validation, validation
The next round is for teams whose ideas are already in the Concepting phase, which is all about validation. Ideas that have made it through the Ideation phase are subjected to repeated tests and refinement. Leonie van Loenen talks about the VentureDebt innovation, and how by filling a hole in the financing market it benefits banks, venture capitalists and scale-ups. Her pitch wins over the audience. VentureDebt receives the highest number of votes, beating three other Concepting teams: Excelerate, Mix&Match and Spotty FX.
‘Get in the Ring’
Ringmaster Keith Wallace takes over after a short break. The competing teams are the result of the Outside-In approach, which links external startups to the bank with the idea of bringing together the best of both worlds to overcome specific challenges facing large companies. Seventeen of the twenty-two finalists hold Launchpad Spots. Together with Econic, they have accepted the challenge of taking their service or product live within a hundred days. Three pairs of teams go head to head in the ring. The final round can be particularly vicious, when the teams argue not why they should win, but why their opponents should lose.
The first contest is a face-off between Stride.ai from the United States and Privitar from the United Kingdom. Stride.ai claims to be able to improve worker productivity through Artificial Intelligence. In the freestyle round Privitar deals the killing blow: ‘You’ll need to solve the privacy issue of using big data first, because you need big data for Artificial Intelligence. So choose Privitar, to even be able to use Stride.ai’s service.’ Both the audience and the judges decide overwhelmingly in Privitar’s favour.
Audience v judges
In the second head-to-head British team Wevolve takes on Certo Escrow from the Netherlands. Initially Certo Escrow wins over the audience, by pointing out that its focus is not primarily on improving processes – which is what Wevolve does – but on helping clients. Nevertheless Wevolve wins the match. Next to enter the ring are Fluid AI from India and Nidaros IT Solutions from the Netherlands. Fluid AI’s win is never in doubt. Acclaimed as the ‘Best Deep Tech Startup 2016’ by Forrester, the company’s clients include major banks in the US, the UK, the Middle East and India. So why does Fluid AI wish to work with ABN AMRO, and why have they made the journey from India to Eindhoven? ‘We have a concrete product, and Econic offers the platform that we need. We want to work with a major European bank, which is why we have chosen ABN AMRO.’ The excitement in the room rises as Fluid AI gives a live demonstration of its service. A virtual banking environment is displayed on the screens, showing how an account is opened for a client within a matter of seconds. The process uses an augmented scanner to scan the client’s face and ID: a wonderful example of the possibilities that innovation offers!