The Pandemic Accelerated and Expanded Rise’s FinTech Community; Brian Luciani Sees That Furthering Innovation

Barclays has always viewed its vibrant physical spaces for FinTech entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors as an investment in innovation communities. Here’s how COVID shakeups have extended the connections into a global digital membership.

Rise New York, Rise created by Barclays, NYC FinTechRise New York, Rise created by Barclays, NYC FinTech

Focal FinTech: Presented by Primary and Rise, created by Barclays.

When COVID first shut down New York, the whole startup community here panicked. Hiring froze, as did investments. But business rebounded quickly—and nowhere as impressively as in the FinTech sector. This was of course partially because the market demanded immediate new virtual solutions for exchanging money. But FinTech’s standout year might also be explained by the fact that so many talented financial service innovators—many of them in New York—came together to build those solutions collaboratively.

Rise, Barclays’ global community for FinTech founders, mentors, and investors, has long bet on this spirit of collaborative creation. With anchor locations in New York City and London, the organization has created a vibrant presence and become known as a home to visionaries shaping the future of financial services. 760 employees from 80 companies count themselves as Rise members in office spaces in New York and London; countless others come in to engage through mentoring, networking, and thought leadership programs, and Rise is also the home of Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, which 190 companies have gone through to date.

So in celebrating New York City’s most impactful and influential FinTech leaders in our Focal FinTech list, we sat down with Brian Luciani, Head of Rise New York, to talk about how and why this arm of Barclays has always put founder communities first.

The anatomy of a FinTech winner

Brian spends his days in close contact with FinTech founders, whether through Rise events, mentorship, or accelerators. With all that time spent, there are patterns that emerge. “The founders who really make a mark and create some of those most innovative ideas and companies are the ones who make the commitment to really give everything—their time, their salary, and their expertise—to building that company that they envision,” he says. “When you see how hungry they are and you start to work with them as closely as we do, it's just absolutely infectious.”

Member companies like Novo, Chainalysis, and Flux are a few such standouts. Flux is a particularly good example because its receipt digitization technology, which aims to enhance personal, commercial, and environmental decision making, is available on Barclays’ mobile banking app with over 12 million users.

“This is a real success story all around,” Brian says. “Not only are they a member of the Rise platform and workspace, but they also are a graduate of the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars, graduating in 2017.”

The benefits of a long engagement

But Barclays doesn’t sponsor this innovation space as just a funnel for contracts, as not all companies at Rise go on to work with the bank. This is by design. The Rise philosophy is that being there throughout founder journeys and facilitating meaningful relationships in the industry builds important sector-wide innovations and allows the bank access to the best of the best ideas.

“In the landscape of FinTech, where you can either build, buy, or partner, partner is certainly the way that Barclays has chosen to address the needs of innovators in financial services,” Brian says. “And so not only are we looking for founders who want to engage with Barclays, and maybe there's some value to us for knowing them, but we know that a founder's first three ideas typically fail. And so if you have the support for a founder, by the time they have the right idea, you can be there for them. You can be the network and the bank and the relationship to connect them to the resources that they need by the time that it really is the right phase or idea or market conditions.”

"Many of our founders are working on launching high-growth startup companies that will lead technological advances in the world of FinTech,” says Mariquit Corcoran, Group Chief Innovation Officer at Barclays. “Our goal is to connect them to a broader network of investors, mentors, and other resources to help them succeed."

Bringing the relationships online

Though COVID has been a challenging time, especially as a community built around physical locations, the way Rise has adapted only strengthens its long-term networks.

“I would definitely say it was tough for our members as well as for ourselves to keep up what culture has been built at Rise since 2015 in New York City,” Brian says. But the online learning and networking program will bring together leading FinTech builders from London, India, New York City, and everywhere in between. “We're able to coalesce everything into one area for folks to reference, to come back to.”

“I like to think we would have done this anyway,” Brian says, “it just happened much quicker because it had to. It's the future way we'll be working: hybrid forever. That's something that we're hearing from a lot of the FinTechs that we work with directly. And it'll be exciting to see what that return to work and future of work looks like for FinTech in particular, but a great example of the benefits to going online is that anything in either our London or New York auditorium, where we provide a lot of our thought leadership, events, and networking, could both be shared on the online platform.”

“So you'll have folks who can log in for experiences based on time zone, based on availability, who can look back at what's available or has been recorded.” The networking features also allow attendees to connect right after the event or far in the future. “And that super connector capacity is what we exist to do and is going to be completely enhanced by the online proposition.”

The net effect, as Brian sees it, will be even more collaboration and breakthrough innovation in the space. “What we're seeing is a lot of companies who come in together and focus on the same sorts of things can meet very organically when they're onsite, in-person at Rise, and that's what we are here to facilitate. We're a very vibrant community, both onsite and with our presence globally, and now virtually as well, and people are attracted to that.”

Tags: Takes, Success