Gibraltarian entrepreneur Denise Matthews wears many hats. As well as being the owner and founder of events company OME, Denise is also Chapter Director of the highly successful Startup Grind Gibraltar network and Operations Manager at Gibraltar’s Blockchain Innovation Centre (BIC). Through these roles and a whole lot of hard work, Denise has become a champion for Gibraltar’s fintech scene and the go-to person if what you want to do is build your network and make connections.
I met Denise over a coffee just before one of her ‘Fireside Chat’ events to talk networking, startups and the future of Gibraltar’s fintech scene.
You are currently Chapter Director for Startup Grind Gibraltar, how did this come about?
Soon after starting my own media, marketing and events company, OME, I saw an opportunity. My own startup had little or no funding and minimal resources so I took the chance to apply online to what is the biggest community in the world supporting entrepreneurship – Startup Grind. I applied to become part of a franchise that would help me bring that message here.
My application was accepted in February 2017 after a long process and lots of convincing that with such a small population it was possible to host monthly events. Our first event was hosted at the newly opened World Trade Center that March to a sold out opening by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Fireside Chat with Mike Balfour the founder of Fitness First who just so happened to be my previous employer locally. Professionally, this first event has been one of the greatest moments of my career. In Gibraltar there is limited physical space so tech and startups sounds like a good plan, I am an advocate of remote and freelance work as a way to overcome that.
How important are events to the building networks?
They are essential! By hosting events you help to build a brand by communicating and interacting with the community. Without a physical presence it is hard to get a feel of who your customers are and build that trust relationship. I would also say that events help to create content that is essential for marketing. In a place like Gibraltar, the ‘face-to-face’ is essential when you’re building a business or developing a concept – I like to feel that my events provide a space for people to make connections.
How did you start working so closely with Gibraltar’s fintech sector?
It was two months after the launch of Startup Grind Gibraltar that the Digital Currency Summit was hosted at the University of Gibraltar to announce the creation of a Distributed Ledger Technology Regulatory Framework locally. I had approached Minister Isola and various other companies about the events series and they were very supportive and are to this day. The network I had created in that short time was already of value and Alex Puig the organiser is also close to the Chapter Director of SuG in Barcelona, they got in touch and asked for my help locally so we got working on it. Since then I work directly for companies in the space such as Coinsilium and have had quite a few of Gibraltar’s fintech companies feature as Fireside Chat guests at Startup Grind Gibraltar.
You are also Operations Manager at the BIC, why did you choose to take on another role?
The Gibraltar Stock Exchange CEO Nick Cowan was one of the early guest speakers at SuGG so we established a connection and Phil Young Marketing Director at the time started to work together on a few of their projects. They announced the creation of the Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange and token at one of my events the following year and so when they decided they would like to create a centre for Blockchain Innovation locally they offered me the position of Operations Manager. Without continued learning it is not very likely that a new industry can emerge this is an opportunity for me to create initiatives that support this both locally and internationally.
As well as providing a platform for high-profile international professionals, your events always feature those from Gibraltar’s business community. Why is this important to you?
It is more than important – it is essential. We are such a small place that if we do not work together we are invisible to the rest of the world on the one part. Sharing the success of local business leaders, founders, politicians, educators and obviously women is a big priority for me they will serve as the inspiration and build confidence for others to follow locally. It is always community over competition and building long term value that will ensure your business is here to stay.
There’s a lot going on and you are obviously very driven, what drives you?
To be as productive as possible with the time I have, constantly challenging myself to reach my own goals both personally and professionally and doing things for the people that need me.
What are your predictions for Gibraltar’s fintech scene?
All the right foundations are being put in place for Gibraltar to become a global leader in the space. Already there are some really important companies that have set up bringing a new wave of business and employment to the financial services sector which is a big part of our economy. In the next year I would like to create bigger and more international initiatives in the industry myself to keep the buzz going. It takes time and hard work to get things right and there are times when you get it wrong too but that provides valuable lessons in itself. The main thing is to keep going and I think that Gibraltar does that very well.