A Day in the Life of a Plug and Play Startup Scout

Mohannad, Plug and Plays international operations manager recently traveled to Italy to expand Plug and Plays international branch and find opportunities to bridge together Italian startups with Silicon Valley. Here are Mohannad’s daily journal entries where he reveals the details of his trip and insights into the future of Italian innovation. The whole thing began […]

Mohannad, Plug and Plays international operations manager recently traveled to Italy to expand Plug and Plays international branch and find opportunities to bridge together Italian startups with Silicon Valley. Here are Mohannad’s daily journal entries where he reveals the details of his trip and insights into the future of Italian innovation.

The whole thing began earlier in the year, with the visit of Mr. Riccardo Monti, the charming President of the Italian Trade Agency “ICE”, pronounced “eeCHei”. And since then, with the incredible help of the Italian Consulates in SF and LA (namely Stefano and Carlo) , I set a plan to visit Italia, one of my favorite countries in the world, to learn more about the Italian high-tech ecosystem. Here is what ensued…

ROMA: June 3rd, 2013. My first day can be considered Government Day, where meetings with the ministries and agencies took place. As with many countries in the Euro Zone, Italy is experiencing very difficult economic times. Despite that, and perhaps because of that, discussions centered around finding the right formula that will help build the knowledge economy in Italy and create thousands of knowledge based jobs. How? By bridging Italian startups to Silicon Valley. I met Alessando Fusacchia, the Special Adviser to Minister of Foreign Affairs at Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “You know, you’re my first meeting on the new job!” he said. “Let’s hope then that this is a lucky meeting”, I replied. And the insights poured out. Alessandro is passionate about uplifting Italy. In fact he gathered an fantastic group of entrepreneurs, investors and stakeholders in the startup scene (his “policy angels” as he likes to call them), to put together a plan to “Restart Italia”. What he handed me was thick study, one that came in useful through out my journey. Later, I met with Valentina at ICE, along with members of agencies in this space.  “Consistency” is the name of the game here: if we want to strengthen the Italian economy and put it on the global tech map, we must see more Italian companies in front VCs and corporations in the Valley. But the goal isn’t to cause entire Italian companies to move to America. Rather we must provide them with the landing platform to come to Silicon Valley and, depending on their success, help them set up a front-end operation to grow and scale their businesses in the US.

 June 4th 2013. Day 2 was Telco Day, and I met with Telecom Italia, Wind Telecom, and Tiscali. All fantastic corporations seeking to innovate and transform themselves into segments other than voice and data services (as all aware Telecom operators are doing). Tiscali, headed by the ever-passionate and successful entrepreneur Renato Sorru, showed me what this transformation actually looks like (more on that below). Valentina met up with me again, this time for the last meeting in Rome with ItaliaCamp, an impressive organization, born out of LUISS University, one of the most entrepreneurial universities in the country. Having organized several business plan competitions across 67 universities, they play such important role in the ecosystem– creating the entrepreneurial mindset of young Italians. In fact their motto is “to change the country” and it’s that kind of passion that will move Italy forward. Check this amazing video out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFX3krtwl8c&feature=youtu.be

June 5th 2013. The third day (Wednesday) started with a 5am wake up to catch the 6am train from Roma Termini to Milano. I was received and accompanied by Corrado Tirassa, one of Italy’s most successful entrepreneurs, who was a great host. Together we zigzagged through the Milanese metro system, to meet with co-working spaces like Talent Garden, which has about 150 startups and expanding rapidly across the country, and amazing organizations like Sole 24 Ore (the Financial Times of Italy), RCS Media Group and Banca Intesa. I came to the conclusion that Milano has the potential to become one of the most vibrant (and charming) startup capitals of the world. The energy is incredible: for example Sole organizes an annual startup event with over 200 companies participating– that’s bigger than Tech Crunch Disrupt! And Banca Intesa showed me how banks should engage with the startup community– It’s not just about special banking services or rates, we’re talking full funding, mentorship and acceleration programs! Well done.

June 6th 2013, Day 4: It was a long car ride with Corrado through the beautiful countryside towards Trento, a small city close to the Northern border, to learn more about the R&D segment in Italy. Trento is an autonomous region in Italy where a lot is being invested in innovation and technology– everything from R&D labs and tech entrepreneurship courses to startups and accelerators. The universities are some of the top ranked in the country. The young guys at Tech Peaks have put together a really vibrant tech community. It’s a great city with a great tech scene. In fact, a young entrepreneur named Jari said something that struck a cord. In his view, Italians are incredibily strong and talented in three things: creativity, quality and design. So he put together a little clean-tech accelerator initiative to enable Italians to implement their ideas by with quality and design (both functionally and aestetically) in mind, and outsource the manufacturing process to places that do this best. In a globally connected world, this collaborative mindset is what’s going to put Italy on the map. It’s no longer a zero-sum game, where folks have to own the end-to-end process. It’s about identifying one’s abilities and limitations for the greater good. Those Trento guys know what they’re doing. But after touring a silicon manufacturing lab, we drove back down to Milano…and the lack of Zs caught on…so I passed out in the car…several times.

June 7th, 2013/Day 5: Another early morning wake up call, this time to catch a flight from Milano’s downtown airport and head south to Napoli and the birthplace of the Pizza! It was an excellent visit. Not only was the pizza epic, but as soon as I landed, I was greeted at the airport by Campania Innovazione, a government-run innovation initiative attempting to rebuild Southern Italy’s manufacturing hub as a technology R&D hub. I was taken to one of the oldest buildings in the city where I met with several high-profile individuals (whom all felt like close friends) focused on the city’s innovation ecosystem: from governments, universities, corporations and investors. Everyone was so hospitable. After listening to their presentations, I talked about PnP, our fun history, and our future plans in Italy, all of which felt inspiring. We were all thrilled and excited to one day see PnP in Naples. After finishing the presentations and discussions, I was taken to fabulous small island with a old castle, where Napoli was apparently officially founded, and we had lunch with the dignitaries. Mamma mia, after an incredibly delicious sea food, accompanied with a live Napolitano band, I was taken to the site where Campania Innovazione is building Napoli’s new technology zone– right in the center of old town– a 60,000 square meter land that will house research labs, hardware testing facilities, university satellite offices, and more. As Giorgio, Michela and the team showed me around, I kept thinking “A potential home for PnP Napoli?”:) A PnP presence in Napoli would compliment our broader Italian strategy, which is to have a front-end presence in Milano where the banking/financial/corporate strength of the country is, and an engineering/R&D and research (back-end) development could be based in Naples. In fact, I was told that if PnP manages to bridge not just Italy to Silicon Valley, but Southern Italy to Northern Italy, we would be one of the very few organizations to do so in the country’s history (a fantastic goal to achieve!).

In the middle of it all, I receive a message from our friend at the Italian Consulate in SF telling me that I was in the paper 😮 Mio Dio they’re fast! The article put a huge smile on my face as I informed HQ of the potential of the Italian startup ecosystem: Plug&Play, dalla Silicon Valley a Napoli Est

My dear friend Valentina, who has been so supportive of our efforts by introducing me to the right stakeholders, joined me once again on the last Monday morning before my vacation starts. We met with Enel Green Power and learned about the corporate innovation strategies of one Italy’s largest firms in the world. It’s really promising to see such a big player investing so much in clean-tech for the sake of the environment. Afterwards, we ran to Roma Termini to meet up with Luigi Capello, founder and CEO of LVenture Group which invests and houses dozens of companies, right on top of the Roma’s grand central station (talk about getting location right!). It’s a very cool working space with events from Google, Microsoft and others taking place there. Even Uber Italy is renting space. Check em out! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muXrNBiiDIc

And just like that, my vacation to the beautiful Italian coast and countryside began that afternoon. With the family, we headed south to Sorrento (the Amalfi Coast is straight out of a movie) and north to Firenze, Tuscany where Italian art exhibits itself on practically every corner of every street (a must see!).

But I did manage to organize day trip to Sardinia, where I met with Mr. Renato Soru, former President of the republic of Sardinia, entrepreneur, founder and CEO of one of the large Telecom operators/media/advertising companies in Italy. Sardinia is not only beautiful, but the warm people at Tiscali (Alice, Carlo and Team) showed me around their modern-minimalist headquarters, lined with inspirational quotes and empowering words. I could see that they “get digital” very well– having made several initiatives to transform themselves from a Telecom operator to a news platform, a digital advertising company, a very unique social network called Indoona, an innovative search engine called Istella and fresh new video streaming platform called Stemago, all of which blew my mind away both in terms of idea and team execution! They also hosted Startup Weekend! Really impressive stuff.

The trip to Italy was spectacular. The tech community in Italy has so much potential to flourish. Known as the land of a thousand cities, each region can leverage the next to create a bi-directional flow of innovative ideas and opportunities. The Italian entrepreneur is hungry to grow and show the world their real talent and passion for innovation.

With the right partners who share our vision to create value through innovation, we look forward to enabling to succeed, and show why Italia is the next Startup Nation.

As I last tweeted: #Roma #Milano #Trento #Napoli #Firenze #Sardegna tutta L’#Italia: Grazie per un’esperienza incredibile.

Arrivederci!

Mohannad


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