Corporate innovation debated at lively Lisbon Web Summit

The Web Summit event attracted 53,000 people to Portugal last week, and corporate venturing and innovation partnering were in the spotlight in a lively formal debate at the specialist MoneyConf stage, on the motion “innovation labs will not save traditional banks”.

Mike Laven, chief executive of fintech startup Currency Cloud, made a strongly argued case that innovation labs would not work for banks, stating: “Collaboration is the term banks use when they are losing,” and claimed innovation labs would be nothing more for banks than “a PR exercise.”

Claire Calmejane, a director of innovation and digital development at Lloyds, however, rebutted Laven, saying: “I strongly believe innovation labs are key elements supporting large financial services to transform.”

Novum Insights, the data company which I run, prioritised attendance at MoneyConf sessions at Web Summit, as it is planning a forthcoming special report on fintech and corporate innovation partnering in December (see Novum’s website for more details).

The Money Conf sessions consistently returned to the theme of how traditional banks could respond to the fintech challenge. Jay Reinemann of Propel Ventures, the venture firm backed by Spain-based bank BBVA, said “it is just hard” for retail banks to invest in digital transformation with quarterly reporting.

The fintech startups in attendance revealed they were finding a far wider pool of corporations were seeking them out as partners.

Rob Frohwein of US-based small business loans company Kabbage, said: “We see banks as one type of partner,” adding that businesses like postal company UPS had said to Kabbage they would “love for you provide capital to customers”.

Frohwein’s panel was moderated by Tracy Isacke, the corporate relationship lead for venture finance provider Silicon Valley Bank.

The MoneyConf stage hosted a lively discussion of blockchain, the distributed database supporting cryptocurrencies, with Peter Smith, CEO of bitcoin infrastructure company BlockChain, keynoting.

Smith said blockchain had clearly moved forward to legitimacy, stating: “Blockchain companies now have former bankers joining their board and have banks investing in their company.”

There was some debate as to which currency would win out. Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, said: “It is possible the Facebook of the blockchain has yet to be created”.

Wenger added that bitcoin was possibly the equivalent of Friendster and ethereum the equivalent of MySpace in terms of cryptocurrency legitimacy, and that a new currency may emerge which becomes the standard like Facebook has done in social media.

Other corporate venturing executives in attendances included Jay Onda of Yamaha Motor Ventures, who shared the stage with Portugal-founded Veniam, a university spinout focused on the “internet of moving things”.

Joao Barros, founder and CEO of Veniam, claimed his company had coined the above term and told attendees: “The internet of things has to be reliable over a network that is very unreliable as things move,” adding that Veniam’s technology was helping solve this problem.

Spectacles at the event included the Nasdaq opening bell being rung live from the event at Lisbon, representing the fourth time Nasdaq has opened from the Summit. The European Commission and European Investment Fund used the event to launch a fund-of-funds investment vehicle sized at up to €400m ($430m), designed to boost venture capital in Europe.

This article originally appeared on Global Corporate Venturing (GCV). Toby Lewis is a contributing editor for GCV, as well as founder and CEO of Novum Insights, a corporate innovation data business focused on fintech, cybersecurity and the cloud. Lewis was previously chief analytics officer and editor of GCV.

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Novum Insights is your guide to the Defi, Crypto and Fintech Economy.