By @SimonCocking

Scarlett Sieber  Passionate about SVP, Open Innovation at @bbva. Global Ambassador Contributor to Huffington Post

Quick background – how did you get into doing what you’re doing now?

By luck and chance really. While I was at Infomous, we applied to a few competitions and one of them was BBVA’s Open Talent competition. We were fortunate enough to be selected as one of 10 finalists in our region and went down to Mexico City to compete. I kept in touch with the folks at BBVA after the fact and the rest is history. At the same time that things were happening with Infomous, I was creating a presence for myself online through Twitter, LinkedIn, and my writing about topics that I was passionate about. My role at BBVA is very public facing so I am able to capitalize on both my experience with startups from Infomous and my public speaking/thought leadership role from my personal brand.

1 min pitch on what you’re working on now?

Wrapping up our BBVA Open Talent competition (our global fintech competition). We had over 650 startups apply globally and were very impressed with the quality of companies. BBVA Open Talent is a key initiative for us and we want to be true partners with the startups we have selected. Next month is full of our immersion program where we will be spending a week with the winners in London, meeting VCs, mentors, and being part of the local ecosystem that is London fintech. Later on in the month, we will spend time in Mexico City and the focus will be on our presence there, what it is like scaling internationally, legal, compliance, etc.

What is open innovation at BBVA?

To me, open innovation at BBVA is about collaboration and community. We pride ourselves in being at the forefront of this industry and we know that to stay there we can’t do it ourselves, we need help from partners and of course this includes startups. These relationships are key for us because they allow us to think differently and see problems and solutions from different perspectives. Startups have the advantage of being agile and flexible, able to move very quickly, this is huge for us and we try our best to leverage it. We, of course, have a lot of offer startups and other partners and well and innovation is all about the best way for all of that knowledge to be shared. Creating and sustaining an environment that is open is important to us as well and you can see this reflected in our innovation centers all over the world.

Our innovation center in Madrid had over 200 events held in it last year and we welcome anyone to come and spend time in our facilities. We also have our Innova Challenge, our global datathon where we open trade transactions trough an API and challenge developers over the world to create new apps based on this data. We have had challenges with Spanish data and another with data from Mexico. This has been very interesting as we can release other ways to add value to our data from others perspective beyond the financial industry.


Top tips to startups for success?

Ah, there are so many tips! But given this is an Irish paper and there is a lot of focus around European startups, my main tip would be focus on one market at a time and dominate that market. It is easy to get caught up in the hype and think that you need to bring your business to US, UK, etc but it is much more important to own your market first.

Another tip, make sure you can explain your startup in simple and easy terms. Even if you have the most complex tech in the world, if you can’t articulate the idea/company in a way that resonates, it will be challenging to move forward. Not all VCs, customers, etc will be experts in what you do and the easier you explain the story, the more people will get it and be able to give you feedback. One thing that I always do if there is a startup that I like, I ask people from completely separate industries if they see the value, understand the tech/product. To me, this usually means that the product is a keeper or at least worth looking at more deeply.

Is NY a good place for startups? Why?

NY is an amazing place for startups. It is easy to think of the center of startups and think Silicon Valley and of course there are many advantages of being there as well but NY is unique. We have a lot of capital here and NY is key for industries like finance, fashion, media/publishing. Generally, it makes sense for you to be in the same location as your target market and there are a lot of target markets in NY. There is a lot of talk about it being harder to raise money in NY vs SV but I think this revolves around expectations. In my opinion, NY is great for b2b (business to business) companies as in these cases you see a problem, you have a solution, and people will pay you for it = revenue. SV is maybe a bit better for consumer businesses as it is a lot more around the idea and VCs there are historically more open to funding this. I will also say that NY is a great place for mentors as there are so many experts in different industries wanting to help.

Are you a VC also, what sort of startups would you invest in?

Not a VC, just very interested in the topic and I follow it closely by reading CB Insights and a handful of investor blogs. What sort of startups would I invest in, hmmm…there are a ton. I think that the alternate lending space is interesting and still quite young. For me, it is really about the team and the market. I love meeting entrepreneurs who are extremely passionate about what they are working on but also open to take feedback and iterate accordingly.

Tell us about your global ambassador role – how is it going, and how is the charity getting on?

My global ambassador role is amazing and I feel very honored to be part of such a prestigious organisation, A World At School. A World At School was started by Gordon Brown (old UK PM) and his wife Sarah. We have over 500 youth ambassadors globally and our mission is to get every child in the world access to education. We are just finishing up a petition #UpForSchool and have almost 10 million signatures to help make our mission a reality.

Women Empowerment, if you had a magic wand, what would you change, 3 wishes?

Oh goodness….choose the 3 that you like most 🙂

1. A lot more women on executive/boardroom level in all industries (this is not just a finance thing, the glass ceiling is a reality in many industries).

2. That women did more to help each and championed for each other more. There are a few group who are doing a great job at this including Dreamers & Doers (who I love).

3. That the conversation around women and diversity in general was being had by all. Men are half the population and are key piece in women having true progress and equality

4. That young girls had more women to look up to and that these women got the same attention as the pop stars and actresses.

(Ed. Might as well include all 4!)

Strategies for managing online / offline, work / life challenge?

Hah, I wish I had better strategies for this! It is important to unplug. Putting the phone away and spending time with the people you care about, watching a movie, going to dinner and not being interrupted. I travel a lot during the weekdays so weekends are for me. I try to get my work done in the mornings so that I have the afternoon and evenings to relax. I also make it a point to take a 2 week vacation every year as much off grid as possible. I am a big fan of scuba diving and this has been a great way for me to relax and let go, with nothing but my breathe and the natural beauty that is our ocean around me, helps to calm me 🙂

One thing that works for me is putting motivating quotes on my walls to remind me to a. keep hustling b. stay positive c. be confident and d. breathe and enjoy the moment. I got caught in the habit of always looking for the next big thing, the next goal to achieve, and once I hit it, it is on to the next goal without ever really living in the moment and being thankful for what I have accomplished so far or how fortunate I am.

Have you been to Ireland, when are you coming over? What’s your impression from afar?

Unfortunately, I haven’t but I have heard many great things! It is definitely on my list! Maybe for the next fintech event that you all put together, I would love to go, I just need to be invited 😉 I think it is great that Ireland has made a name for itself in the tech world with conferences like the WebSummit.

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