#FTW16: “In finance? Not partnered with tech firms? You’re in trouble.”

This post first appeared on the New Statesmen as part of London Fintech Week 2016.

Over the last few months there have been many reports of the great partnerships that are emerging in the fintech space.

Transferwise partnered with Estonia’s biggest bank, BBVA invested in Atom Bank, and tech companies like Apple and Google are also upping their game in the space, most notably via payments.

But when I joined Canary Wharf’s fintech accelerator Level39 back in March 2013, the appetite to partner was different. The finance sector was not really geared to engage with technology startups.

Over the last few years, though, this has changed and there are a number of great opportunities driving this transformation.

Technology is impacting all parts of the business process and finance companies are already some of the biggest spenders on tech globally.

In 2015 alone, financial services companies spent $114 billion on mobility, cloud, and big data and analytics. Over 25 percent of financial institutions’ IT budgets went into these three transformative technologies in 2015 according to IDC Financial Insights.

This is only set to grow and with this growth, partnerships are now key for organisations seeking to drive the greatest value across their business.

Technology-backed partnerships

Large tech companies are now enthusiastically engaging in partnerships with finance companies.

When Tim Cook announced Apple Pay in September 2014, mobile money was catapulted to the forefront. This was driven heavily through partnerships with established companies such as Visa, Mastercard and American express, and startups also started building off of the API, driving engagement across their customer bases too.

The API model is just one example of the partnerships and alliances that are common in the tech world. Google introduced Android Pay at Google IO in 2015 and in 2016 announced a number ways for in-app and web app integrations.

Technology companies will continue to drive new partnerships to create better products in finance.

Bank-backed partnerships

Not to miss out on the action, banks are also directly engaging with fintech companies through their own strategic investments and corporate venture capital.

Recent examples include Santander InnoVentures, a $200 million fund with investments in Ripple, MyCheck, Digital Asset Holdings, iZettle, Cyanogen and Kabbage.

Citi Ventures, founded in 2010, has made investments in companies such as Square and Betterment. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are investors in Square too.

Banks co-investing in fintech is also becoming more common and is another form of partnership that will continue to drive growth over the coming years.

Industry-backed

The banking technology network SWIFT launched the Innotribe Startup Challenge in 2011 – allowing startup companies to engage with SWIFT’S global community of almost 10,000 banking organisations, securities institution and corporate customers in 209 countries.

For a startup, the network effects of accessing SWIFT across the banking industry makes them ideal partners.

A number of startup bootcamps have launched over the years, from the Barclays Powered by TechStars programme launched in London in 2013, to Startupbootcamp backed by Lloyds, Rabobank and Mastercard, which launched in 2014.

Consulting

The most established fintech bootcamp programme was started in 2010 by consultancy firm Accenture with the Partnership Fund of New York City.

The London chapter of the Fintech Innovation Lab launched at Level39 in 2013 and gives startup companies the chance to engage with a mentoring program that brings in financial services CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, venture capitalists and technology luminaries.

This type of partnership offers access to high-level technology executives, which saves startups time and money. The mentors, in turn, are able to understand the latest innovations in financial technology.

Over the last few years EY, PwC and Deloitte have all launched dedicated fintech teams to engage and partner with new and interesting companies.

The growing number of new and interesting partnerships, rather than companies going it alone, will continue as finance companies see many areas of their own business ready for disruption.

But those that provide long-term value to their customers, rather than simply partnering just to knock out competitors or disruptors, will ultimately win the day.

Time to inspire the next generation

Entrepreneurship among under-35s has – somewhat surprisingly – dipped year on year in the UK. Adizah Tejani, head of ecosystem development at Canary Wharf’s Level39 accelerator, and co-lead for the Tech London Advocates under-35s group, says established entrepreneurs can help reverse this.

Working in the entrepreneurship space with over 140 entrepreneurs, as I do at Level39, is amazingly rewarding. They are a great set of talented people who are built with the drive to see their companies grow, making it a unique place to be.

But where will the next generation of entrepreneurs come from? According to last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, both activity and aspiration in the UK is lagging behind the US and others. It is clear that we need to do more.

The GEM reports a year-on-year declinein total early-stage entrepreneurial activity rates overall – especially amongst adults under 35. Neither trend is encouraging for UK enterprise.

So how do we make sure that the UK fosters a stronger culture of entrepreneurship to make it a more accessible option? And how do we make sure that the entrepreneurial wisdom that exists in our business community is passed on and that first-time entrepreneurs learn directly from the founders who have come before them,?

One way we can all help this to happen is to find ways for more experienced people to share individual lessons. Fortunately, this is happening through new networks such as Tech London Advocates (TLA).

The TLA consists of over 800 technology sector professionals, from VCs to serial entrepreneurs. The TLA’s group dedicated to entrepreneurs under-35 hosts breakfast briefings connecting experienced TLA members and first-time entrepreneurs.

As I write this, the week ahead at Level39 sees us host the third under-35 group breakfast with Eric van der Kleij, fintech entrepreneur and head of Level39. Over breakfast, first-time tech entrepreneurs will have access to top-class entrepreneurs who have faced all the obstacles that can be thrown a first-time entrepreneurs way.

If the entrepreneurial culture here in the UK is to grow it is also important that we make the ecosystem as open and as welcoming as possible, and this sometimes means thinking forward via education.

Initiatives such as Founders for Schools, a programme founded by senior investor Sherry Coutu, connects entrepreneurs with school students. Founders for Schools helps teachers to arrange for founders of successful businesses to visit their schools and inspire their students.

Universities are another vital area of our education system where we should make stronger connections with enterprise, to help foster a culture of entrepreneurship. Universities are getting better at encouraging entrepreneurship as an option, but it is just as important for those of us already in the space to make the extra effort to reach out more.

We need to connect in as many ways possible to expose students to the countless opportunities available to them as entrepreneurs. We should reach out to students who get a glimpse inside the tech business ecosystem, encouraging them to become the entrepreneurial talent of tomorrow and become advocates themselves later on.

Being surrounded by so many young entrepreneurs, it has become clear to me that having a great idea is only one part of what’s needed. Drive and tenacity needed are also key to growing a business, as are execution and implementation.

Having access to those who have done it before will not only make you into a better entrepreneur – it will help you build a better company.

One other obvious way to access wisdom is by reading. Although you may not think you have the time to read, try to make the time, as countless entrepreneurs have been telling their story for decades. Remember also that is takes a team to build a company, so read not just about Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin but also the people behind them, like Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt.

As the UK’s record of successful shows, we have a great environment here where entrepreneurs can grow their companies. We need to make sure that first-time entrepreneurs know that there is an ecosystem that encourages that growth. We must continue to foster an entrepreneurial culture that encourages early-stage entrepreneurial activity for years to come.

Women in tech: advocating for advocacy

I originally wrote this article for Tech City News – after more than a year of not writing I wanted to write.  I chose to look at the way we as individuals could do more in increase the number of women in our industry.  

I work at Level39 a Technology Accelerator that has over 80 member companies. Just 15% of our members at Level39 are women.

While we are proud that this is higher than the industry standard of 9%, we still don’t think it is good enough.

To try to counter the imbalance, we’ve been supporting women in tech by hosting events such as the Code First Girls course, which was attended by more than 70 female graduates, Women Shift Digital including speakers such as BBC Click’s Kate Russell and private sector group meetings such as Tech London Advocates’ Women in Tech group.

But we believe we can do more – and we will.

Changing perceptions

It takes time and commitment over years to create such change.

If you are a woman in tech when was the last time you told your story? How did you get to where you are?We have started but there is still a long way to go. We believe that the best way to dispel the myths about women in technology is to actively advocate and champion women that are doing amazing things in our industry.

When I’ve said to people I work in technology, they often say I have broken every single preconception they’d held about the ‘type’ of people that work in technology.

This perception will only change if more advocacy and championing occurs across all layers of the ecosystem.

Remember your roots

The tech industry has an appetite and a need for female advocates. Many universities are crying out for their alumnae to engage in some way.

I’ve gone back to my university almost every year since I graduated four years ago to speak to students. So go and dig out that email address, and even if you have to take time off I urge you to do it.

It is especially important to engage young women, as the reality is many do not know the technology industry is an option.

I went back to my secondary school in Mile End to speak at assembly.

I picked stories that I knew they’d talk about in the playground: meeting Bill Gates because of Twitter, checking into the Facebook UK office on Facebook and being given my first website project.

Forward guidance

Actively collaborating through mentorship and sponsorship is also key.

Claire Cockerton, the Deputy Head of Level39, is my sponsor and mentor – one of many within and outside the technology sector, both men and women.

I know that mentoring is an old concept, but it’s a good one. We never stop learning, and what better way to learn about the highs and lows of tech, than to be mentored by someone who has experienced them – maybe even invented some of them!

I have mentors who are investors, VC’s, professors at top universities. Mentorship can take many forms – from face-to-face coffees to email updates.

Don’t ask, don’t get

It sounds like basic advice, but I find many young women starting out are not asking the question.

If you do not ask you do not get, and research shows that women are, particularly in the workplace, less likely to ask for what they want. So we need to proactively encourage young women in order to help them make the most of their opportunities.

The technology sector must show that it is a vibrant, creative industry for all types of women who are interested in using technology to solve problems.

From reaching out to students of Code First Girls, to proactively supporting other women – there is a lot that both men and women can do to help change the perceptions of what it is like to be a women in our industry.

TEDx Accra 2012

On the 5th of April 2012, I was lucky enough to be in Ghana while TEDxAccra (@tedxaccra ) was taking place. I love the idea of TEDx and believe that platforms for sharing good ideas, is a great way to foster collaboration. Having been to TEDx London last year, I was looking forward to my first TEDx in Ghana. 

Watch my interview with Jonathan Gosier a designer, software developer, and serial entrepreneur. He now serves as Director of Product for SwiftRiver at Ushahidi building a platform for making sense of streams of realtime data. He’s also the founder of Appfrica and HiveColab a business accelerator and incubator for East African technologists. Appfrica was founded in 2008 and the goal is to build local capacity for young technologist in the region. Appfrica is an active mentoring group and investor for software developers in Africa and works with a number of multinational firms who wish to do work in the continent. He’s also served as an investor for many African startups including the Kuyu Project and Status.ug, a now defunct Ugandan mobile-social network.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uR-Z0HAyWBY&w=953&h=580]

It was great to be at TEDx Accra – if you want to follow some great people from the TEDxAccra community – follow @mjamme @Abocco@ttaaggooee @alloysiusattah and @gamelmag .

TEDxAccra gave me the chance to experience tech and start-up culture from across Africa. Twitter has been a great way to continue the conversations and I hope there will be many more TEDx’s across Africa soon.

To find out more about TEDxAccra like the Facebook page here and check out the photo album here. TEDxAccra was only part of my trip to Ghana in April – so over the next few months, I will blog about my other experiences.