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elevator lab - startup accelerator - vestbee
04 January 2021·8 min read

Magdalena Balcerzak

Manager, Vestbee

Startup Accelerator Of The Month - Elevator Lab

Elevator Lab Partnership Program facilitates a structured and effective fintech onboarding process with the aim of establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with Raiffeisen Bank International Group (RBI). RBI offers its banking know-how and potential access to an extensive network of 16.8 million customers across 13 CEE countries. During the Elevator Lab program, selected startups get the chance to work together with experienced mentors from the Bank on a Proof of Concept, in order to improve their product, evaluate how to gain traction and scale it internationally. For added value and validity, the products/ services are tested in a real-life banking environment (IT sandbox & real clients). The accelerator offers different global and regional programs depending on their needs and goals.

Accelerator Strategy Overview 



Geography: Global (no limitation regarding countries or regions)  
Preferred industries: Fintechs, Startups, Finance, Banking 
Company stage:  early growth (pre-series A, series A), series B, series C 
Product stage: MVP/beta & ready product
Product type: B2B, B2C, B2B2C, B2D, B2G, 
Revenues: Typically yes, but they make exceptions


Duration: 4-5 months
Participation fee:  No
Equity Investment: No 
Grant: Yes, dedicated PoC fund for the projects 
No of batches per year: Usually 1 batch per year / Application phase approx.: May-September 
No of startups in a cohort:  cca. 200 on average

Q&A with Istvan Kovacs, Strategic Partnerships & Ecosystems Manager

What are the 5 most important things you look for in a startup applying to your acceleration program?

The first thing we look at in startups and fintech applying to Elevator Lab programs is how well their solution fits the topics of programs they have applied to. If it is a solution that completely fits the needs of RBI or RBI subsidiary bank, then we work through an internal calibration of the company and their solution on various criteria, including founding year, size, location of their HO, etc. These criteria depend on the specific needs of the programs/tracks they have applied to. The best-case scenario is when the company already worked with a client who was a financial institution. Additionally, if the company is interested in, or present on, RBI’s core markets (CEE markets and Austria), that is always a good sign for us.

What startups should take into account before applying to your acceleration program?

It is important to keep in mind that the Elevator Lab Program consists of several global and local programs with various criteria, in order to establish truly the most compatible partnerships. For example, the Elevator Lab Partnership Program is a global yearly program aiming at establishing partnerships with global later stage fintechs, lasting for 5 months. Elevator Lab Challenge is a local program, for local/regional later stage fintechs, that lasts 2 to 3 months, and is an entry point to the local Raiffeisen Bank; allowing fintechs to pitch their product in front of the management Board of local Raiffeisen subsidiary banks. And then we have Elevator Lab Bootcamp, for local seed/early stage startups/single founders, which is a 2 to 3 month educational program, where we help startups and founders develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with local experts. Depending on the program, time commitment and criteria change.

Can you share some of the red flags that can disqualify a startup from joining your accelerator?

The Elevator Lab team, together with our partners and mentors from the RBI group, takes a detailed look at every startup and fintech application for our programs. Usually if the company applying for one of our tracks does not have a defined product (except when applying for Bootcamp tracks), or does not fit into the topic category of the track, we will certainly have them in mind for future projects or programs we might organize. Every year we publish all of our open programs and topics at our website.  For obvious reasons, we always have to also check if the company is already working with a competitor bank of the RBI Group in our core markets on the same/ very similar use case. 

What are the most valuable skills that selected startups can develop thanks to your program?

For startups selected through the course of the Elevator Lab programs, the most important skills they gain are the satisfying result of close cooperation and guidance from mentors who are all experienced employees of Raiffeisen group. This partnership helps startups get a glimpse into what is important when implementing a solution with and within a corporate and financial system, which is the valuable knowledge that many startups usually do not possess. Elevator Lab is hence the entry point to the RBI Group, as it allows the companies to listen to the „voice of the customer”. They not only run a PoC within the innovation/ fintech partnerships unit of the Bank, but we connect them with their „future clients” (specific business lines) to validate and fine-tune their solutions with, as well as to understand what an actual implementation within RBI Group would take. 

How does your accelerator support portfolio companies during and after the program?

Through the Elevator Lab Program, selected startups and fintechs get the opportunity to work on a paid PoC with one of the RBI Group subsidiary banks. If the PoC phase ends successfully, this gives them a chance to form a long-term strategic partnership with Raiffeisen Bank International Group. Elevator Lab team is included in every step of this process, and provides guidance and advice not only to RBI mentors, but to selected companies as well. Moreover, we also provide the companies with access to our API Marketplace and sandbox data.

What are the best-performing companies in your portfolio? 

During 4 batches of the program, Elevator Lab has established 10+ successful long-term partnerships across RBI Group. Those partnerships include Moxtra - RBI group wide mobile collaboration solution, Kompany – a group-wide business KYC Solution which is fully compliant, lean and efficient, Pisano – a customer experience management platform, and many more in RBI Head Office but also in the subsidiary bank network. It is also important to note that in 2019 Elevator Lab also branched out to cross-industry topics and joined forces with Kapsch Group in search for the best fintech in the area of Payments and Transaction Processing for Mobility Services. Fintech Nayax was selected, which developed a joint use case with RBI and Kapsch Group.

What key lessons have you learned from projects that didn’t work out the way you expected?

The ecosystem is constantly changing, with different demands on both the side of the Bank and on the side of fintechs and startups. Innovation topics are becoming increasingly important, and it is necessary to constantly re-evaluate and adjust the partnership and its scope in order to have all included parties satisfied; otherwise the final product will be lacking. During this process, sometimes you win, but you always learn. In the long run, even those PoCs that may not have delivered the expected results are helpful and learning opportunities. For example, some lessons include understanding that fintech solutions/ products that work well in other (e.g. Western European) markets may not necessarily work that well in our core markets – hence, testing with real customers is absolutely essential. Furthermore, it is very important that the company applying to Elevator Lab programs has the necessary resources to be able to work with a sizable banking group such as RBI – a PoC can shed a light on that. Finally, it always makes sense to test various ways of addressing the same customer pain point, in order to find the best solution which can bring our clients the utmost superior customer experience.

Why, in your opinion, accelerators are becoming more popular nowadays?

Accelerators like Elevator Lab connect in an unique way the traditional corporate world and fintechs, where they allow those applying companies to present themselves directly to corporations in order to look at a possible cooperation from a different perspective, and  to find ways for innovation and collaboration which might not have been obvious from the start.

What are the hottest markets you currently look at as an accelerator and where do you see the biggest hype?

The Elevator Lab Program focuses on the CEE market, where we see a lot of emerging and innovative fintechs, as well as extremely digitally aware and well prepared Raiffeisen subsidiary banks which are always open for cooperation.

Do you have any predictions about the key trends that will shape the European accelerator scene in the near future?

Finding companies that offer innovative digital solutions to clients in a year that will still face the consequences of 2020, will definitely be one of our focuses for the year ahead of us. There could also be a shift from „Proof of Concepts” to „Proof of Values” (PoVs) in order to test not only if the solution works, but if it creates value for the end customer as well; and helps build a sustainable long-term commercial relationship. 


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