Inside BBVA Open Space Mexico City

Co-working environments are increasingly the norm for today’s entrepreneurs. Just look to the likes of WeWork – the shared workspace hub has criss-crossed its way across the globe. Dedicated private members clubs for founders are popping up in many cities in Europe too, offering the exclusivity of members clubs while actively encouraging conversations about business and connection-building.

Co-working environments are increasingly the norm for today’s entrepreneurs. Just look to the likes of WeWork – the shared workspace hub has criss-crossed its way across the globe. Dedicated private members clubs for founders are popping up in many cities in Europe too, offering the exclusivity of members clubs while actively encouraging conversations about business and connection-building.

Around a decade ago, BBVA had a somewhat innovative yet wild idea to fuse both of these concepts together when they weren’t the done thing, which took shape in the form of BBVA Open Space, a hub built for both entrepreneurial co-working and corporate collaboration. Located near the bank’s headquarters just off the Plaza de Alonso Martínez, the all-new site was launched in Madrid in 2010 and became the first physical space of its kind that allowed the bank to connect and collaborate with the entrepreneurial world.

Fast forward to the present day and Open Space is one of the core pillars of BBVA’s Open Innovation arm – a unit within the bank that provides it with connectivity and access to the fintech ecosystem. Having spent time refining its model over the past decade, the space provides a source of inspiration and knowledge for both the startups based there and employees of the bank.

Five years after Open Space launched in Madrid, another branch was built in a thriving centre of fintech innovation nearly 6,000 miles away – Mexico City. Originally called the ‘Innovation Centre’ at the time of launch, the space was soon brought under the Open Spaces brand.

Marcela Zetina, Head of Open Innovation & Open Banking Mexico and lead of Open Space Mexico City, described how the site has changed since it was opened in 2015. “Over the past three years in particular, the space has really come to life,” she said. Each BBVA Open Space has been designed to be a community, not just another co-working space or building for events, which is where it looks to differentiate from others on the market. “And communities need people,” added Zetina. “It took a while for the local fintech and innovation ecosystem to become familiar with the space and we spent several years engaging with other institutions such as public sector organisations, NGOs and academics.”

Fintech for good

For Zetina, supporting startups in the region that have a strong social conscience is really important for Open Space. “There are several underlying social and economic issues in Mexico that impact people’s daily lives,” she explained. “Some of these are issues that fintech innovation can directly address, such as a heavy reliance on cash, and living from paycheck to paycheck.” The high proportion of people employed in the gig economy presents its challenges, as does the low proportion of people without bank accounts.

Looking to do its piece, Open Space Mexico City can provide startups with office space at the local BBVA Tower, which is located on the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard in the capital. Alongside providing physical space where startups can work, market knowledge and insights from the BBVA team is also available for local companies on their growth cycle. Key to this is also leveraging its own network of partners, granting corporate firms such as Accenture, Amazon and Cisco the opportunity to get involved as part of the programme of events run by the BBVA team.

Working shoulder to shoulder

Insurtech and visual intelligence startup Bdeo is one of the companies located at Open Space Mexico City. Juan Luis Torres Atané, country manager for LatAm, explained that the opportunity to work side-by-side with a global corporate like BBVA is hugely valuable. By working closely with representatives from the bank, Torres and his team are able to further develop and iterate the product, based on direct feedback from one of its major clients.

The close physical proximity has allowed Bdeo’s team to develop strong relationships with the BBVA team. It has also opened up opportunities for Bdeo to get involved with other areas of Open Innovation. The team at Bdeo first collaborated with BBVA in Mexico through its Open Sandbox programme and that led to the team developing a pilot with BBVA’s insurance services unit.

Mutually beneficial

Marco Muñoz, CEO of Blockchain Academy Mexico, another startup based at Open Space, said that the arrangement and relationship with BBVA has been mutually beneficial. For Blockchain Academy – the company building the largest blockchain community in Mexico and LATAM – access to BBVA has enabled it to get to work with different areas of the bank and senior executives. Establishing these working relationships has provided the company with valuable information related to market needs and expectations.

Muñoz was initially approached by a representative from Open Innovation about participating in an Open Talks event about blockchain before hearing about the opportunities at Open Space. After this, he met the Open Space team in order to introduce the Blockchain Academy and put forward a proposal for how they would use the space – primarily to host meetups and blockchain courses.

New markets

Muñoz and his team at Blockchain Academy are planning to stay at Open Space for the next year or two. He’s said that being based at BBVA Tower in Mexico City has been a gateway for the company to collaborate with other branches of the bank in the Latin America region. As such, Blockchain Academy México is planning to expand its reach and offer some courses in other countries, such as Colombia and Peru.

Looking to the future as Open Space in Mexico City continues to evolve and momentum has gathered, Zetina is considering what direction it should take to ensure it continues to benefit the bank itself, and the local ecosystem, which could very well mean playing more of an active role in the genesis of fintech innovation.

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