LTP recently had the pleasure of interviewing Marisol Menéndez, Open Innovation Manager at BBVA. She performs strategy design and implementation duties to create suitable environments for interaction with communities of developers and entrepreneurs worldwide. She has been at the head of innovation projects in HR, support, ATMs, social media and Open Innovation for 15 years. Marisol holds an Industrial Engineer Degree from the Panamerican University (Mexico) and an Executive MBA from the IESE Business School.
LTP: How does it feel to be BBVA’s Open Innovation Manager and head the BBVA Open Talent Program? Can you please share your experience?
Marisol Menéndez: The word that best describes the feeling is: “energizing.” Right now, we’re leading and bearing witness to the transformation of a whole industry that affects a vast majority of human interactions. This disruption process improves individuals and businesses day to day activities, and it’s thrilling to be part of it. Also, because Open Talent is a worldwide initiative, we get to experience the differences in each region and sector: from emerging to mature markets, from millennials to seniors, from SMEs to big corporations—the change is happening everywhere. It’s energizing to see how many startups, teams and institutions are involved in it, and how we’re helping to make it happen.
LTP: In the last five years, Open Talent has seen over 3,250 companies, with winners raising over EUR 116 million in investments. What makes this program unique?
MM: As the old saying states “If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk together.” At BBVA, we are committed to innovation. We have been learning alongside entrepreneurs for over seven years now. We love to discover and promote talent, we want to share all our knowledge, and we are sure that we can also learn a lot—we know what you are looking for or at least, we hope we do and we know what we seek. So what makes this program unique? We go hand in hand. Winners, besides getting the money award of 30.000€, interact directly with BBVA executives, and experts in what we call the “Immersion and Interaction Program.” The idea is to open the door to business opportunities for both startups and BBVA. Also, from the moment they finish their registration, all participants are part of BBVA’s ecosystem, and so will be connected to initiatives and potential business opportunities if the opportunity arises.
LTP: The 2015 edition’s winners included a blockchain registry, a startup that improves access to capital in financial markets and a credit scoring technology startup. So, can we expect to see a variety of FinTech startups this year as well?
MM: All startups based on an innovative technology in the FinTech or FinTech-related industry are welcome to participate. This means that we always have a great variety of topics between the startups, from blockchain to user experience. But that is one of the most valuable features of Open Talent—to see so many different and brilliant ideas, trying to disrupt the FinTech ecosystem. Entrepreneurs come every year with new ideas or they improve the once they already had, which means that every new Open Talent edition is richer in variety.
LTP: Have the criteria changed for selecting the finalists over the years?
MM: As the market and the needs change, we have to adapt ourselves to this. If we went back to the first edition of Open Talent, we would see that the competition was very different from the one today. We have been adapting it to the needs of BBVA, but also to the offer of the startups. We’re now focused only on FinTech and FinTech-related startups, and emphasizing in the potential business relationships that may emerge from here. And this opens the door to many opportunities.
LTP: What is your expectation from Open Talent this year and how is it going so far?
MM: So far, we have over 900 registrations from more than 50 countries—almost as many as 2015 but we still have one month and a half to go. So in this aspect, we can say that this eighth edition is being a great success. But our main expectation is to be in contact with transformative and innovative projects that will transform the industry, and who can benefit of partnering with us to grow and make that change happen.
LTP: What is your advice for startups who are applying and what can they expect if they win the finals?
MM: What I’ve learned from living and working with our alumni is that being passionate about your project is key. So, love what you do, live your startup at its best, and it will reflect on the energy and quality of your project.
But one basic and practical advice: Do not procrastinate! I recommend to finish the registration and submit it as soon as possible. Our evaluators are already screening the first startups.
The really important matter of the competition is that all startups are going to be evaluated by BBVA executives and experts worldwide. This—combined with the search of the different areas and departments for collaboration with these startups—means that they have the opportunity to find a partner in BBVA. All startups also enter our database, so that every time a department of the bank asks for a certain topic, they will get the information and contact of the startup.
For the finalists, there is, of course, a higher prize. By attending the finals, they will have the chance to meet different executives from many departments from the bBank in person, to tell them about their project and get feedback from these experts.
The winners will win 30k euro each to develop their project. But even better than this is the Immersion and Interaction program, where they will have two non-consecutive weeks (one in Madrid and one in Mexico), meeting BBVA executives to look for ways of collaboration.