Podcasts

Citi Ventures’ Vanessa Colella: ‘No one runs innovation, it’s all about unleashing it’

  • Citi's focus on innovation combines internal programs with a venture investing arm.
  • Vanessa Colella is the bank's Chief Innovation Officer and she joins us on the podcast this week.

As one of the largest financial institutions in the world, Citi takes its innovation efforts seriously. Combining internal and external models of collaboration with a disciplined corporate venture arm, the financial services giant ensures that it has a lot of coals in the innovation fire.

Leading those efforts is Vanessa Colella. Vanessa runs Citi Ventures and is the Chief Innovation Officer at Citi. In my talk with Vanessa, we explore how Citi combines internal and external innovation and what role venture investing plays in the overall mix. For her, all this talk and activity around innovation addresses something very simple: how to get the best results for Citi’s clients.

Vanessa Colella is our guest today on the Tearsheet Podcast.

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Below are highlights from the episode, edited for clarity.

You are both Chief Innovation Officer and also run Citi Ventures. What’s your mandate?
My role entails a variety of things, from our venture capital equity investing on a global basis — that’s about bringing the outside in and staying on top technology and new developments in fintech — to working with our internal innovation labs and external and academic partners.

How do you encourage innovation within the organization?
We also run a program at Citi Ventures called D10X, which stands for discovering exponentially better solutions for our customers. We bring the same principles of entrepreneurship and ingenuity into a 206 year old company to unlock the promise of how our employees know they can best serve our clients. Innovation isn’t one single point or approach. We’ve greatly benefited from the perspective that it’s both about internally what we can do to drive better solutions for our clients as well as externally understanding what’s happening in the marketplace, what entrepreneurs are doing and where technology is moving. Sometimes people ask me if I run innovation as the Chief Innovation Officer. No one runs innovation. It’s really about unlocking the creativity and promise of what all our hundreds of thousands of employees bring to work every day to unleash that to drive results for our clients.

What are you looking to accomplish with your corporate venture investing?
We’re strategic investors, so we’re doing this to understand and participate in the technology ecosystem driving change. This isn’t something you can be an observer of. It’s something you have to get in the game and work with entrepreneurs. Our mantra has always been to champion our entrepreneurs, to help them scale their businesses quickly and efficiently. This approach is different than a lot of corporate venture capital firms who think a lot about finding entrepreneurs who can help the parent company. We’ve learned that a company as large and diverse as ours can have enough demands on an entrepreneur and a startup that they can’t keep up. Instead, we find that we’re able to work with them to scale their businesses. It can turn out that they become partners of ours or we’re able to help the launch into new markets.

What drives success in equity investing for Citi Ventures?
It’s two-fold. We understand that venture is both an art and a science. So, we judge success in the strategic impact an investment has on our firm and our clients, as well as the ultimate success as our companies. Today companies in our portfolio employee over 10,000 people.

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