A few weeks ago the first edition of "Mind-the-Bridge" final event was held here in San Francisco. Thanks to the determination of Marco Marinucci, the extensive support of BAIA, and the hard work of the businessmen involved in the selection and tutoring process, the the entire competition was a great success.
Now, a few weeks after the final event, it's time to analyze the first results and check how the protagonists are doing and in which ways this experience is affecting their business and mostly important their entrepreneurial mindset. Who can help us with this analysis better than the winner of the competition Luca Foresti? I asked Luca a few questions. Here is the complete interview.
Luca, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial activities?
I studied Physics as first degree in Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, then Financial Mathematics; therefore I have a scientific and modelistic approach to life. My first step in the productive world was in a company developing micro-finance institutions in developing countries. There I learn how to manage large groups of people and how to make things happen with no-nonsense and excuses. During the last two years in the company I moved towards the management of ICT departments. I basically learn about technology during the nights, deciding about contracts, people and strategies during the day. It was fun and it helped me a lot in developing a basic trust in the possibility of learning fast in areas where you are not a professional at the beginning. In practice this is the main skill if you want to be an entrepreneur.
Since February 2006 I am the CEO of Econoetica and I live in Bologna. Our company is based on a concept: only people fully engaged can create a long-term competitive advantage. Therefore we look for entrepreneurs that are not aware or ready to do the big step and put them under a lot of pressure. Those that survive and are able to take responsibilities are then shareholders. We have at present three divisions: Arianna (Multimedia mobile guides for cities), Noody (Wifi infrastructure and services), E-consulting (B2B ICT complex projects).
How was your experience with the Mind-The-Bridge business competition, and what is the next step?
It was a very good possibility for us. In practice was the first time we could translate our idea of Silicon Valley in real people, companies, time spent together with exceptional leaders. The quality of people that organized it (Marco Marinucci as main player, in our case Luigi Orsi Carbone as mentor, but many others helped us a lot), the centrality of the location, Silicon Valley, in the ICT world, are few reasons for being absolutely satisfied with the experience. The next step is to prepare ourselves to transforms all the opportunities created and the network developed in facts. Our initial aim was to look for Business Angels or VCs. The reality is that we should enter into a process where we prepare the ground for achieving our initial goals. Today we understand this is normal, when we started we were quite naive about it.
Do you have any recommendations for young Italian entrepreneurs wishing to compete next year in Mind-The-Bridge?
Two main recommendations. Write a Business Plan that has numbers interesting for investors; don't write small plans. In Italy we are used to think small. Silicon Valley is a place where everyone thinks big and expect everyone else to do the same. The real challenge is to forget for a while the Italian way to think about business and enter into the American way. Second, If you win, think about who you want to meet there and prepare yourself before flying in Silicon Valley. I know that this is difficult, but with the help of the mentor and with a bit of ability you may transform an interesting trip in a big possibility for you and your company. This suggestion translates in what everyone there call "homework"; and it's a lot of work.
Your business idea leverages a simple and relatively inexpensive device such as a PDA that customers are supposed to rent or buy. Do you have any plan to also approach the more common mobile phone platforms?
That was exactly the plan we presented at Mind-the-Bridge. Develop a downloadable software for mobile phones, with a back-office platform for creating personalized guides. In the next 5 years almost every piece of software will go mobile. Smartphone will be smarter and smarter, connectivity will increase and finally multimedia contents will start winning over written contents. These are the trends we aim to surf for making our Arianna the best Multimedia city guide people can have. User generated contents can integrate professional contents, creating a mass-customized guide for a city. The portal is the place where people choose and manage the contents they really want and the mobile user interface is adapted to the conditions in which people really use the product. The main asset users have today is time: and it is a scarce resource. Therefore we spend a lot of time and effort in having a very user friendly product.
As an entrepreneur you have been exposed to the Silicon Valley way of doing business. Which aspect of the Silicon Valley model do you think can be successfully adapted to the Italian economic system and culture?
In the world of the economy every model that works spread in any areas where there are no barriers of entrance and no cultural clash. Italy is full of both. Therefore a very honest answer to your question is: none. First we have to destroy our barriers! Then there are many ideas, models and opportunities to be copied and implemented in Italy if those barriers disappears. Most likely the most important change we need are all those decisions that enhance meritocracy in our society. The creation of an ecosystem that can sustain an high tech industry in the long run is something very difficult to do. We need entrepreneurial spirit, and this is not something you can study in books. I have the feeling that first we have to send our people abroad for a while and then, when they come back, they will have a different mindset.
With the new BAIA LINK online community we are now trying to create a connection between Italy and the Italian community in Silicon Valley. What can this community do for Italian entrepreneurs like you?
BAIA Link can help us to find the right connections to spend a few months or even a year working there, with successful companies and creating a strong network that can be then used in developing companies in Italy. Another way could be to have there a company that commercialize services and products developed by Italian start-ups.
I would like to thank Luca Foresti for taking the time to speak with me today. If you have any questions for Luca or for BAIA, please leave a comment below or contact Luca or me on BAIA Link and we will be glad to answer.