Boosting startup ecosystem via open innovation: Wise Guys Fintech accelerator case
Swedbank and Startup Wise Guys accelerator partnered to launch together the first Fintech focused accelerator in the Baltics in 2018, this became also one of the rare cases of “external innovation” in a region where corporates are very much focused on breeding innovation “in-house”.For the bank it was a way to leverage PSD2 and Open Banking platform, create internal culture change and strengthen brand positioning as Fintechs' friendly and innovative bank. For the accelerator it was an opportunity to step into a new business vertical with a trusted partner and attract more Fintech startups for the investment.
Wise Guys Fintech accelerator programs run for 3 months, hosted at the premises of the bank. Program has been successfully run 2 times in Riga, Latvia with 17 graduates. To select the best candidates, more than 90 companies in Fintech, Insurtech, Proptech and RegTech were scouted across 10 countries in Europe, also promoting the region and its Fintech ecosystem internationally. Currently 3rd edition of the accelerator program is run in Vilnius, Lithuania with 9 startups.
Accelerator program is heavily based on mentoring, leveraging 200+ Startup Wise Guys mentor pool and Swedbank’s human resources. During the first two programs more than 75 Swedbank employees participated in the accelerator program as mentors. For more than a half of them it was first such experience and exposure to “startup mindset”. As a result, there are already some startup work-style elements adopted within the bank, for example, internal hackathons and pitch trainings.
Fintech accelerator has also served as a catalyst for bank's involvement in the local startup ecosystem. An event series that was initially launched to leverage international high-level mentors coming to the accelerator program, now have become a stand-alone monthly event often oversubscribed, hosting more than 100 people per event and becoming an important ongoing feature of the Latvian Fintech Ecosystem. In Lithuania – accelerator and bank are regularly hosting “Masterclasses”, where mentors from accelerator give free-of-charge workshops for the startup community. In both Latvia and Lithuania Swedbank also has a co-working space for startups.
If looking more at the investment metrics, than 15 months after the first Wise Guys Fintech program, 7 out of 9 companies are active and thriving and 6 out of 8 of the second program. That means that program has close to 77% success rate not counting 9 startups that are currently going through third program. Startups' satisfaction level with the programs and support received by Swedbank exceeded initially set goal (goal: NPS 7+, result: NPS 8).
While the direct goals of the program were very much in the interests of the bank and accelerator, it has served a bigger purpose. It has helped strengthen Fintech positioning for the whole region among startups, investors and other stakeholders thus attracting talent and Fintech companies to the region. For example, current 3rd Fintech accelerator program in Lithuania has attracted founders from Ukraine, Turkey, Austria, Luxemburg and even Lebanon, only 3 out of 9 startups are local. Most of foreign founders register their companies in the Baltics, thus having also positive impact on the ecosystem and economy. The same pattern can be seen in the previous 2 programs with even less local participation and startups as far as from Ivory Coast.
Zooming back to the innovation, this partnership is one of the rare “external innovation” cases in the 2 countries and has sparked interest and stirring in many other corporations in Latvia and Lithuania that are considering moving from intrapreneur programs to more external collaboration models with startups. More impact coming soon!