The Fintech Finance 40: Vanessa Colella
Head of Citi Ventures and Chief Innovation Officer, Citigroup
Currently ranked: 11
Previously ranked: 18
On the subject of ecosystems, Vanessa Colella is well versed. The term, commonly used in the start-up world to describe communities where innovations flourish, comes from biology, which was Colella’s undergraduate major at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today she is chief innovation officer at Citigroup, where she heads the firm’s innovation lab and venture capital arm Citi Ventures. Headquartered in that most famous of high-tech ecosystems, Silicon Valley, Citi Ventures is an ecosystem in itself, investing in and nurturing start-ups. “Collaboration is critically important,” says Colella, who first joined Citi Ventures in 2013 and was promoted to her dual role in January 2017 on the retirement of Deborah Hopkins. Colella believes that fintech is not one big thing or tipping point, but rather will produce “sustained innovation over time.” Speaking in September at The Economist’s Finance Disrupted conference in New York, Colella described her philosophy: “Great ideas don’t go anywhere without an ecosystem.”
Citi Ventures was set up in 2010 by Hopkins to be a font of ideas, with offices in start-up scenes like San Francisco, New York, London, and Tel Aviv in addition to the group’s Palo Alto, California, base. Investments align with Citi’s businesses and client experiences in such categories as data analytics and machine learning, financial services and technology, and security and enterprise IT. To stimulate innovation, Citi Ventures has encouraged a start-up–like culture, including hiring 24 experienced entrepreneurs to foster attitudes different from those of a big, incumbent organization.
“We believe that the system of venture capital and entrepreneurship can be deployed inside a large company,” says Colella, who had previously been Citi Ventures’ global head of venture investing and strategic growth initiatives. Reflecting what she calls a “spirit of entrepreneurship,” about 100 so-called start-up projects have been launched within the bank to develop new, “exponentially better” products and services.
“We talk about permeability — the openness of the organization to ideas from the outside and the importance of collaboration,” she says. Colella explains that she is drawn to “highly complex problems” — problems that, “if solved well, can have the greatest impact on our world.”