Thought Factory is Axis Bank’s innovation lab which is working with startups to help them develop and scale their fin-tech business ideas. SheThePeople.TV spoke to the two women behind the project, both of who opted to help the bank set this up, in turn putting themselves through an entrepreneurial journey – Rashmi Shekar and Ritanshu Kashyap. The duo has made a daring leap from being in corporate positions to becoming more entrepreneurial, even within the bank. They talked about their journey, their interactions with entrepreneurs and the exciting startups they have come across.
Asked how Thought Factory started, Rashmi and Ritanshu said they wanted to build a cross- functional small team within Axis Bank that would explore and deploy new technologies to solve challenging problems in banking and beyond. The team started as an in-house innovation forum around two years ago.
Interestingly, team members were given the freedom to spend a good chunk of their day engaging in projects that were outside their defined job roles. The team built and took to market some interesting products such as locker booking on mobile, instant personal loans on mobile, digital account opening and happy holidays, to name a few.
This is when the two women realised the immense value that cross-functional teams can have and the seeds for Thought Factory were sown.
Here is an excerpt of our interaction
1. What is it like working on an entrepreneurial venture that is also part of a large bank?
It’s no different from any other entrepreneurial venture backed by a well-known investor, which really brings a lot of value in terms of opportunities, collaboration and partnerships.
2. How long did it take to implement and start this program?
We started in September 2015 and Thought Factory was launched in August this year. This team came together early on and started building the programs and partnerships… In addition, we have done multiple startup demo days that involved curating startups from the ecosystem to present to our business leaders and selecting them for POC development to solve existing problems using their innovative technology.
3. Your first batch started in September, can you tell us a bit about some of the interesting startups you have encountered?
Six high potential startups are part of our first cohort that began on November 2. They are from various domains such as customer service/experience, lending, operational efficiency and payments.
4. What was the selection process for the startups?
Startups were asked to complete and submit an online application form. We did roadshows in six cities in the country to meet entrepreneurs and encourage them to apply. The objective was not only to understand the potential of the idea, technology, and the team, but also figure out if Axis Accelerator is the best fit for the startup.
5. What kind of technologies are you looking for when it comes to investing in fintech startups and why?
We are experimenting with emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, mobility, and cloud to bring about disruptions across functions, including Credits, Deposits, Wealth management, Mobile Payments, and Security etc. These continue to be our focus areas while engaging with startups as well.
6. You are keen to look for startups in artificial intelligence — can you explain what kind of solutions can come from collaborating with these technologies?
Artificial Intelligence would be pervasive and sooner or later it will be adopted across various bank functions, both consumer facing like a chat bots which intelligently & proactively assists customers with all their banking needs as well as for enabling operational efficiency.
7. What advice would you have for women to become more financially literate, and participate in their family’s finances?
Advice for anyone, including women, who want to become financially literate and a contributor in family’s finances is to take baby steps, both in terms of savings and contributing to family’s finance. This is especially relevant for millennial women and men who globally distance them from financial planning.
8. What are your thoughts on fintech enabling more women to become financially included in India?
Fintech per se will make many consumers segments financially included in India — be it the youth, women, rural or bottom of pyramid consumers.
Rashmi is a software engineer-turned-banker who joined Axis Bank through a Women’s Leadership Program from Indian School of Business in 2013. She headed the Technology Strategy and Digital Innovation Group at Axis.
“I have been working closely with the startup community through initiatives such as hackathons and curated startup demo days; this has helped me understand and appreciate how startups function and the early access to technology that they provide. Thought Factory was a natural progression for me and I am super excited about the vision and possibilities,” she says.
Ritanshu joined the Bank as part of the New Product Development team, and was also hired through a Women’s Leadership Program from the Indian School of Business. Her role before Thought Factory was to use consumer insight to launch products which had strong business potential.
“The new role at Thought Factory, Axis Bank Innovation Lab, is highly entrepreneurial and rarely found in large corporates. The journey so far has been fast-paced, collaborative and has made me feel like a start-up founder!” she says.
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