Tuesday, August 07, 2018

With startups, BMO puts its money where its mouth is

With startups, BMO puts its money where its mouth is

After partnering with 1871, the bank becomes a client of two women-led startups

Heather Holmes of Genivity
One of the most popular ideas for bringing innovation to big companies and giving young businesses a valuable boost they can’t get from investment alone is to pair them up. But aside from Demo Days, a sort of speed-dating event, results have been elusive.
That’s why it’s worth paying attention to a partnership between BMO Harris and 1871. It began a year ago with a mentorship program and ended with the bank becoming a customer of two women-led Chicago tech companies out of six that participated in the program.
Genivity, a 4-year-old company, makes software that assesses how long someone might expect to live based on lifestyle, medical history and other factors in an effort to make sure people don’t outlive their retirement savings. It also identifies potential financial risks related to health. The software is being rolled out to BMO Harris financial advisers in a pilot.
“It’s different than other models I’ve seen,” said Heather Holmes, CEO of Genivity, which has six employees. “It’s the difference between having a Demo Day and rolling up your sleeves and wanting to bring innovation into your company. Our mentors at BMO recruited other mentors. It was the opportunity to get direct feedback from a large enterprise customer. BMO had people assigned to us who wanted to make sure we got the support we needed.”
BMO also is using SpringFour, which makes software to help consumers at risk of missing loan payments or otherwise falling behind financially to improve their cash flow and avoid default or other problems.
“We had a chance to have a dialogue with senior members of the management team who could help us figure out how to work with different units within the bank,” said CEO Rochelle Nawrocki Gorey. SpringFour, an eight-person company founded in 2005, has other customers, but the BMO partnership “is another validation point.”
Both Genivity and SpringFour participated in 1871’s WiSTEM program for women entrepreneurs.
The right formula for collaboration is still evolving; getting a foot in the door is just a start. 
“Once the C-level guys say, 'Do something,' it still doesn’t happen unless they identify a business unit within their companies and some line—not staff—people who will work to actually implement something that helps both sides,” says Howard Tullman, a former CEO of 1871 and an investor in Genivity. “Small wins to start but with real P&L consequences and benefits. If you don’t get someone inside as your champion, who actually has some skin in the game and a career interest in seeing the project succeed, then you won’t be going anywhere.” 

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