Venture Houston 2018
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Hopkins, D

It was a meeting at the offices of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in October 2009, which first convinced Deborah Hopkins, US bank Citi’s chief innovation officer and chairman of venture capital initiatives, to travel to Palo Alto, California.

Hopkins said: “I had a smaller team based primarily in New York, and then I had a breakthrough in 2009. I was in Silicon Valley at Kleiner Perkins [KP] listening to the chief executive of Shopkick, Cyriac Roeding.

"I was blown away by this young man whose view of the world was not limited by the way things are today but was focused on how things should be tomorrow. I remember saying in the parking lot: ‘This is crazy. We need to be out here.’ I shared this instinct with our leadership and they liked it. So we based the Citi Ventures team in Palo Alto in early 2010.”

Roeding said of the meeting with Hopkins: “I was an entrepreneur-inresidence at KP at the time, incubating Shopkick, and describing our idea for our charity-based trial app[lication] Causeworld. It was literally one sheet of paper, and not a single line of code had been written yet. We needed to find a sponsor for the charity dollars in order to realise the project. I explained the concept and Debby’s eyes lit up. She immediately saw the opportunity.”

Hopkins herself had come to the innovation role after talks with Citi’s top management at the height of the financial crisis. She said: “In 2008, when the focus in the banking industry was putting out the fire, Don Callahan [Citi’s chief technology and operations officer, to whom Hopkins reports] and Vikram Pandit asked me to be Citi’s chief innovation officer. The key goals were to help establish innovation as a core capability central to the company’s strategy and return Citi to being the world’s most innovative bank.”

Citi Ventures is effectively three teams reporting to Hopkins – innovation under Susan Andrews and venture investments run by Chris Kay. Supporting Kay with venture investing are managing directors Ramneek Gupta, Wei Hopeman and Arvind Purushotham. Supporting him with incubation are managing directors Debbie Brackeen and Busy Burr.

Hopkins’ approach has been to target both Palo Alto and Shanghai for venturing, with offices also in New York and Singapore. She said: “We are now in the two hottest entrepreneurial hubs in the world and have recruited a team in these locations to bring investing capabilities and entrepreneurial experience.”

Hopkins has twice been named one of the most powerful women in business by Forbes magazine. She has also been head of corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions as well as chief operations and technology officer since joining Citi in 2003.

She was previously chief financial officer for Lucent Technologies and Boeing. She was vice-president of finance at General Motors Europe.

Hopkins is on the board of business intelligence software company Qliktech and the advisory board of private equity firm RiverWood Partners.

Lessons from the top: Hopkins said: “Bring in professional investors to help you. It is different from being a strong financial person. It is important to have people good at looking at multiple forms of innovation, thinking which one of these business models make sense.”

She added: “The money you invest is less important than the partnership. We are committed to building a strong partnership, and our portfolio companies would attest to that I think. Big guys showing up and putting the money down is not how it works.”