Rabobank mentors innovative talent: from coach to partner

Startupbootcamp helps newcomers and established businesses to make progress

You’re young and full of innovative ideas. So you start a business, hoping that your new product can help make the world easier, more customer-friendly or more logical. If you’re lucky, you may be selected to take part in Startupbootcamp: an acceleration programme in which a team of ‘old hands’ from the industry provides you with three months of intensive coaching to help your business make a big leap forwards.

Rabobank makes innovation and growth possible as a partner of Rockstart, Robovalley, YesDelft! and Brightlands Smart Services Campus; Techruption. Since 2012 Rabobank has been involved with Startupbootcamp, in which around 30 experienced and passionate mentors provide startups with advice on such matters as finance, marketing and strategic choices. This is good news not only for the startups, but also for the bank and its customers, because the bootcamp offers exciting opportunities for established businesses too. Rabobank discovers new innovations through the programme and, by working in partnership with startups, it can acquire innovative technologies to be used in-house to improve service provision and processes. So it’s a win-win situation all round.

This is illustrated by Rabobank’s partnership with Gyomo, a small business that has developed a new way of training staff in security awareness, an area in which the bank is active too. Gyomo uses real phishing e-mails and malicious websites to teach using realistic scenarios. Its training is set up like a game, an approach known as ‘gamification’. If a participant clicks on an unsafe link, he or she will be taught in a fun but efficient way how to take immediate action to avert an attack. Quincy Acklen, the American founder and CEO of Gyomo, describes his approach as 'Just-in-Time Training'.

A better way

Acklen says: ‘I used to work for Bank of America. After “enduring” their slow security policy and the impact that it had on our productivity, I realised that there had to be a better way to protect the business without taking a mind-numbing training course every year. A number of my IT colleagues thought exactly the same. They were familiar with the banking industry by this time and had the knowledge and experience to develop innovative anti-phishing technologies. We put our heads together and thought about the options for improvement. And we asked for feedback, not only within the bank, but also from other companies that experience the same kind of security problems. We also asked the crucial question: how would you like to solve this problem? All this feedback helped us to refine our ideas.’

Acklen and his fellow IT professionals found participating in the Startupbootcamp ‘a fantastic experience’. ‘There was a great atmosphere and lots of activity. The programme was packed with sessions to help young startups map out their route to success. But Startupbootcamp also brought us into contact with big companies and partners. When you’re a startup it can be difficult to arrange your first real meeting with a big company, but the bootcamp made this possible for us. And the businesses that we collaborated with were great. They helped us to understand the problems that they face in practice and showed us how our solution could be effective in their environment. It gave everyone involved some very valuable insights.’

Identifying cyber-attackers

Another of the participating startups was Vision Tech Lab, which uses its internet platform to ‘provoke’ cyber attacks, analyse the attack methods and develop powerful defences against them. This approach also helps to identify the attackers. This startup’s Portuguese founders Tiago Carvalho and Miguel Lordelo were administrators of critical systems at the European Space Agency. There they witnessed how systems could be compromised, and realised that what the networks actually needed was an extra security layer to detect attacks and show what attackers were doing.

Fangueiro says: ‘Startupbootcamp was a great experience. Our business evolved considerably and we learned every day from the mentors, workshops and interactions with all those involved. The programme focussed on how to establish a startup and launch a new business, which are 100% relevant to us. But the icing on the cake was the opportunity to get close to big organisations and potential partners. That truly gave it added value.’

The role of the mentor

Martin de Vries, Information Security Officer at Rabobank, has been mentoring startups in Startupbootcamp since the summer of 2015. He has also been involved in the ‘fast track’ selection process that precedes the bootcamp. That process determines which startups qualify to participate in this acceleration programme. Gyomo and Vision Tech Lab are two of the four startups that he took under his wing during the last Startupbootcamp. What was he able to do to help kickstart these brand new businesses? De Vries says: ‘I brought Gyomo into contact with one of Rabobank’s major vendors, a well established information security company. Small cyber security firms don’t always need to reinvent the wheel. That can just make things even more complex. So we examined how Gyomo and the information security company can learn from each other and facilitate integration between their systems. In this way Rabobank can help startups make progress.’

De Vries also helped Vision Tech Lab move a step further thanks to Rabobank’s knowledge and expertise. ‘Vision Tech Lab is a skilful detection service that provokes cyber attacks by placing “honey pots”, networks that are intended to appeal to cyberattackers, enticing them to launch an attack. If an attacker takes the bait and launches a cyberattack on the network, Vision Tech Lab will monitor how the attack is conducted. Rabobank has its own Cyber Defence Center (CDC), a long-established department that tracks down and analyses attacks and incidents. That’s why I brought this startup into contact with the manager of the CDC, who can give advice to this young firm and help it to progress by offering feedback and specialist knowledge.’

Across-the-board preparation is essential

What was the main lesson that Vision Tech Lab learned from Startupbootcamp? That you need to understand how to deal with investors and how to present your project to a varied audience. Fangueiro says: ‘What really hit home for us was the message that when you’re starting a business, you need to be prepared in a variety of areas. Now we’re completely ready to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.’

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Rabobank and Startupbootcamp

Startupbootcamp offers acceleration programmes for startups in a variety of industries and locations across the world. Rabobank is currently a partner in three of the programmes:

  • FinTech & CyberSecurity (Netherlands)
  • FinTech (London)
  • FinTech (New York)

As programme partner, we organise a variety of events for participating startups. We invite them to meet us, organise workshops for them and bring them into contact with potential investors in our network. We try to follow the startups as closely as we can, partly to get to know them properly and partly to support them as effectively as possible. In the past few years participation in Startupbootcamp has been the launchpad for a variety of pilots and partnerships with startups. For instance, Rabobank’s startup MyOrder is working with the startup MobyPark,. MobyPark’s technology will help MyOrder to introduce further innovations to its parking app, making it more user friendly and expanding it to include new mobility services, such as paying for fuel via the app.