RIS Ventures: We Link Big Corporations to Small Blockchain Startups

The first accelerator to seek startups focusing on banking and financial technologies was recently launched in Russia with selection criteria for the candidate projects including application of blockchain in depositing and settlements.

The opportunity to join the project might be somewhat unique for blockchain startups, as, should they successfully graduate from the acceleration, they will become eligible for cooperation with the likes of Moscow Stock Exchange, QIWI and Visa. Startups may apply for qualification at the accelerator’s website until October 15 this year.

“The Moscow Stock Exchange’s customers are all the bankers and brokers of Russia. By developing a product with a partner like that, a startup will have access to their entire clientele. Additionally, startups will be able to access QIWI’s infrastructure,” reads the press release of RIS Ventures, the operator of Finance & Banking Technologies at GenerationS accelerator.

The GenerationS 2016 prize fund comprises 15 million rubles (around $235,000), with overall value of partner prizes reaching at least 100 million rubles ($1,567,400 at current exchange rate).

ForkLog spoke to Ilia Antipov, RIS Ventures co-founder and Pilotbed acceleration programme co-creator.

FL: What do you personally think of cryptocurrencies? Do you think this market requires strict regulation or established rules on international and local levels?

Ilia Antipov: Cryptocurrencies are an irreversible innovation that will seriously influence finance and banking sectors. Bitcoin can’t be stopped by restrictive measures; it’s all about an open source code, transaction validation, and a distributed computational system. Cryptocurrencies don’t have any headquarters or any other kind of central authority, so one just cannot close them up. Local bans or attempts to oppose or to ignore cryptocurrencies are a futile strategy. It’s much better to try to understand how to get aboard that train. For instance, New York’s Federal Reserve Bank has already started working with BitLicense. If a company intends to buy, store or sell cryptocurrency, it obtains a license and interacts with the new tool under the rules applicable to foreign currencies.

FL: What jurisdictions would you recommend to blockchain or cryptocurrency-related projects?

Ilia Antipov: Gibraltar is one of examples of a blockchain-friendly jurisdiction. Our partners, venture funds ABRT and Mangrove, work with fintech startups from various countries. Now we’re interested in breakthrough projects, including those related to blockchain technology in general and to cryptocurrencies in particular.

In Russia, it’s complicated with the legal realm regulating cryptocurrency, and the complication lies in the fact that there is no regulation. However, startups still find a way to implement what they are working on.  Cryptopay.me is one of the startups developing and issuing Visa and MasterCard cards for bitcoins. They use a banking platform to perform processing and transactions but because of Russia’s regulation peculiarities they cooperate with EU-based banks. Thus, Russian teams developing products or services related to cryptocurrencies find themselves in a situation where they have no other choice ut to enter international markets. And that’s a very strong motivation to pilot a product. By the way, Cryptopay.me team has already applied for Finance & Banking Technologies at GenerationS.

FL: Will you tell us more about RIS Ventures? How’s the project doing now?

Ilia Antipov: We’ll be celebrating 10 years soon, and all this time we’ve been working with startups. We’ve seen thousands of projects and we know what a project needs to become one of the happy unicorns.

We’re interested in developing new interaction formats for startups. Pilotbed isn’t the first instance when RIS Ventures comes up with and implements a new mechanics. We’ve already offered the HADI cycles concept based on formulating and challenging hypotheses. We’re the first in Russia to implement the tracking institution, when a team is advised by experts of relevant expertise throughout the entire project run prior to the launch. Apart from inventing formats, we were involved in creation of such infrastructure initiatives as Ingria business incubator, Deep Dive, WebReady, Ceo Camp, and FRII.

For the last 18 months we’ve been focusing on collaboration with large corporations. It means we’re solving the problem of building innovations from within and how to befriend big corporations with small startups. A cybersecurity project like this was implemented together with VympelKom and Kaspersky Lab; also we made an internal corporate accelerator for EMC bringing to the surface a number of interesting projects. Apart from the fintech sector, we are interested in retail and new media projects.

FL: From what we know  RIS Ventures partnered with Microsoft as a part of Microsoft BizSpark. Is this cooperation still ongoing? Do you have other partners of the same level? How strong is their support?

Ilia Antipov: Actually, it was Microsoft that helped RIS Ventures to emerge, and I can say that we have a long-standing friendship. Ten years ago Microsoft recommended us to their independent software vendors and since then we’ve been joining and accelerating project.

There’s another strong partnership with the Russian Venture Company (RVC). Now, RIS Ventures operates Finance & Banking Technologies track of the federal accelerator GeneratorS. That’s where our Pilotbed format is being deployed.

FL: Will you name any successful and currently operational projects that have gone through RIS Ventures?

Ilia Antipov: Together with Mangrove Capital Partners and ABRT Venture Fund we implemented such well-known startup acceleration projects as CEO Camp (with sponsorship from Veeam Software) and Security Startup Challenge together with Kaspersky Lab. There are lots of successful companies in Mangrove and ABRT portfolios that we have been working, oktogo and KupiVIP just to name a few.

FL: Do you have your own blockchain experts or distributed technology specialists?

Ilia Antipov: We have friends and partners from this industry. Moscow Stock Exchange and QIWI are happy to share their expertise while working with us on Financial & Banking Technologies of GenerationS. We’re open for proposals, so if there’s anyone feeling capable of and interested in venture initiatives, we’d be happy to meet and discuss possible cooperation.