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Entrepreneurship & Startups Updated: 18 Sep 2019

BBVA, searching for the ingredients to create disruptive startups

BBVA is working with the investment firm Anthemis on a new model to create startups. The focus of their efforts is on developing an ecosystem of talent, ideas and knowledge where new fintech business models can flourish, with the potential to transform the financial industry.


The team, the idea, the product…what is the seed behind a successful startup? “There is no secret recipe to create a company that triumphs,” explains Farhan Lalji, the head of the BBVA & Anthemis Venture Studio. BBVA established this partnership with the London-based investment firm Anthemis last year in order to support the growth of new ideas and emerging companies in the earliest stages. “Our job is to create the ideal conditions to give birth to teams that are capable of executing ideas with the most potential. But sometimes it’s a matter of adding all the ingredients together  - talent, ideas and resources - and waiting for the magic to happen,” adds Lalji.

As part of this new model, through its New Digital Businesses (NDB) area, BBVA offers support to newly created companies that emerge from the BBVA & Anthemis Venture Studio. This studio is dedicated to identifying new business models with huge potential for growth, finding the right talent to carry them out and supporting them with experts in entrepreneurship to ensure that both the team and the idea come to fruition. This new investment and co-creation model represents a step in a new direction for BBVA in its relationship with the fintech ecosystem. “Over the past few years we have learned a great deal about how to create new business models and now we have the opportunity to transform this knowledge into value through the platform we have created to connect ideas with talent,” explains Gustavo Vinacua, the Global Head of Venture Creation at BBVA. The director attended the Open Space meeting last week, where both Anthemis and BBVA shared how this collaboration has progressed and described some of the key aspects of the model and methodology.

One of the hallmarks of this new collaborative approach is that is emphasizes the creation of new businesses that can contribute not only lessons, but also an additional source of income and clients for BBVA.  “During this time, we have learned that the investment is not the most important thing when it comes to creating a model with the potential for success. What entrepreneurs look for and what good ideas need is knowledge, human capital and a network of experienced people within reach,” maintains Vinacua. The new model also allows BBVA to identify opportunities in areas of knowledge that align with its strategy, and to work with the ecosystem of entrepreneurs in order to see firsthand how new business models and trends evolve.

“BBVA has defined a series of exploration areas to find new market niches with potential where it sees an opportunity”

“The sooner we are involved in the process, the more likely we are to identify both opportunities and possible obstacles to overcome. We will also get to know the founders better and be able to better support them by really understanding their needs,” explains Lalji. For BBVA and Anthemis, being close to the ideas and founders since the beginning is a guarantee to fulfill the purpose of the studio: to support entrepreneurs in their journey of creating a startup, combining ideas with teams and the right talent, and helping them profile their products and services using methodologies like ‘design thinking’.

A network of ideas and talent

Anthemis and BBVA are using a hybrid model in which ideas sometimes emerge from an external founder that has identified a market opportunity and gets in touch with the studio through its ecosystem, and in other cases the ideas come from the team’s research. BBVA has defined a series of exploration areas where it works to find “white spaces” or new market niches with potential where it sees an opportunity. “We explore new behaviors and technologies that could create disruptive changes in the financial sector. We study the trends and we analyze the competitive landscape,” explains Lalji

Occasionally, once the idea has been identified, the project does not materialize until the Venture Studio team finds the right people to carry it out. “And sometimes what happens is we find the ideal people to execute an idea that we had already identified internally,” adds Katrina Cruz, who manages Anthemis’ community of founders. The serendipity is thus none other than the key ingredients from the studio’s work process, which places great importance on the role of the network of contacts and meetings to facilitate the creation of teams. In fact, in order to ensure that the necessary contact takes place, the studio organizes a series of events among experts, founders and other members in its ecosystem, which is where the connections emerge. “Our job often means creating the right environment and waiting for there to be chemistry among the people with the needed skills,” adds Cruz.

Apart from their experience in the industry and in the specific domains needed for each case, some of the characteristics the founders look for include resilience and the ability to visualize the long-term impact of the new business models, in addition to perseverance and an innate curiosity. When all of the elements are in place, including the talent, resources and network of necessary knowledge, the process of profiling, shaping and enhancing the products and services begins. For this, Venture Studio has experts in technology, product design and commercial needs, who analyze and improve the company’s product until it is suitable for the market.

In the end, the goal is for all the ingredients to add up - both human and intellectual capital, such as the investment, the knowledge and the necessary skills around a “common vision” that allows them to grow quickly, concludes Vinacua.