Friday, July 31, 2009

The Open Source Innovation Backbone for Startups

Guest post by Roberto Galoppini
Open innovation is taking over in many areas, and open source plays an important role especially in software sequential innovation, where each successive invention builds in an essential way on its predecessors. Foremost, for the most of us before anything else software (open source included) is a tool towards a goal.

Guy Kawasaki two years ago explained how he managed to create a new venture aiming at delivering UGC through a social media platform, called Truemors (later renamed NowPublic). Below a small excerpt:

  • 7.5 weeks went by from the time I registered the to the site going live. Life is also good because of opensource and Word Press.

  • $4,500. The total software development cost was $4,500. The guy sat Electric Pulp did the work.Honestly, I wasn't a believer in remote teams trying to work together on version 1 of a product, but Electric Pulp changed my mind.

Earlier this winter I had a similar experience. As secretary of an association I have been asked to start a so called web 2.0 portal for the association, and we managed to do it with as less as 3750,00 euros. As a matter of fact, open source is a viable alternative, but there is more than just some dime savings around the corner.

The case for open source innovation.
Open Source innovation is known to be one of the most hyped words: the world split in open source enthusiasts claiming that open source is as much innovative as proprietary software (or even more) and people saying that open source can just mimic.

"Innovation Happens Elsewhere" puts clearly why relying on external sources of innovation make sense:
Innovation happens everywhere, but there is simply more elsewhere than here. Silly as it sounds, this is the brutal truth: Regardless of how smart, creative, and innovative you believe your organization is, there are more smart, creative, and innovative people outside your organization than inside.

Open source can enable innovation, not only in recession times. Companies like Google (probably before anyone else), Facebook or Twitter are all heavily relying upon open source technologies. Beyond standing on giants' shoulders, those companies give also back to the open source community, as seen with Google summer of code and at large with Google code, open source at Facebook as well as open
source at Twitter

Clayton Christensen back in 1995 began to talk about "disruptive technology", to later replace disruptive technology with the term disruptive innovation. Reason is that he recognized that few technologies are intrinsically disruptive or sustaining in character: what makes a technology an innovation enabler, is the way it is used to deploy a business

Open source plays an important role in this respect, either when we talk of low-end disruption innovation or new market disruption. Look at how open source helps Mind the Bridge members, like in the Funambol case, making business out of commercial open source products, as well as innovating partnering with JAJAH to allow mobile users to call abroad at a fraction of the cost. Think of <your company, if there is some open source tell the story about what you're doing>

Low end disruption innovation - happening when technology advances faster than customers' needs (Oracle in the database space, Microsoft in the office automation arena, Filenet in the ECM world, etc) - it is the very first stop in a maturity model for open source adoption.

Open source adoption has to be managed, if you are going to use open source software you need some education and management. You need to pay more attention if you decide to spend time and effort to get off the best from open source coopetition, see what companies like Day Software do in this respect (yet selling innovative proprietary products).

When in doubt about how to adopt open source technologies, remember Dijstra's words:
[..] elegance requires great care to be achieved and education to be appreciated. In contrast we shall stress that in sophisticated designs, elegance is not a dispensable luxury, but a factor that often decides between success and failure.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Introducing MTB ITALIA

This has been my most important personal objective in the last several months as head of the foundation.
Now, after a long selection process, it's with real pleasure that I announce the launch of our Italy based operations.
Here's the team (from left to right):
 - Alberto Onetti, chair
 - Massimo Carraro, communication
 - Tito Costa, dir. of operations
 - Jari Ognibeni, area manager
The team will operate under Alberto's leadership and my supervision. Alberto is also joining Matteo Daste, Fabrizio Capobianco and me on the board of directors.

As a group, they bring and outstanding breath of expertise, enthusiasm  and, most importantly, they share our vision: to promote a new Italian entrepreneurial ecosystem that is ethical, highly professional, internationally focused and excellence driven.

I am particularly proud that our dream project can be infectious  for such a bunch of high quality professionals.
Let's keep the level of contamination to a record high: a new wave is finally coming to Italy!
You'll be hearing from them soon. 
For now, let's give them a huge welcome and let's wish them good luck on the ride!

David H. Thorne, Ambassador-Designate to Italy, speaks.

On July 16th, Mr. David H.Thorne, the ambassador-designate to Italy, gave a speech describing is vision of the relationship between the two countries.

Hi speech covers a variety of topics spanning from his personal history (he lived 20 years in Italy) and his passion for soccer, to more serious issues such as geopolitics and international cooperation.

Of particular interest for the friends of MtB, Mt. Thorne declared that he "will use [his] experience as a businessman to deepen commercial ties between Italy and the United States and will build on Ambassador Spogli’s Partnership for Growth initiative to continue to foster high-growth economic ventures in Italy."

For those interested in reading Mr. Thorne's full speech, it can be found here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Celebrating the european startup community

On July 9th I flew to London to attend the Europas, the awards hosted by TechCrunch Europe.

Let me just say it was a huge success. All of the most important, successful and influencial people in the european tech scene where in the same room exchanging ideas, feedback and (hopefully) capital. I met people from UK, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Romania, Poland. There were quite a few americans too.

It was a really enjoyable event, and I'm gonna share with you what I got from it:
London is the epicenter of Europe's innovation and startup ecosystem. The money is there, the startups are there, the community is there.
That doesn't mean that you can't buid a successful business in other cities (there were a lot of examples in that same room), it just seems easier. This can be caused by many different factors, first one being language.

So what about Italy then? Well, not great news. There were only two other italians attending the event. The italian innovation community is growing but as always it just focuses on its own country, not attending this events is a HUGE mistake. Networking is one of the most important phases when building a truly global (or any kind, for that matter) business.

I really do hope italians will understand that, and start flying all over Europe and US to meet people, share ideas, get feedback from different markets and cultures. Or simply to have fun.

Let's go back at the event, here are the winners.

  • Best Bootstrapped Startup (less than 3 years old) –

  • Best Design – Songkick

  • Best Social Innovation (benefits society, EMEA) – Mendeley

  • Best Cleantech / Environmental Startup (EMEA) – Alertme

  • Best European Hardware / Real World Gadget (EMEA) – Poken

  • Best Entertainment App or Service (EMEA) – SoundCloud

  • Best Mobile Startup (EMEA) - Nimbuzz

  • Best Mobile Application (EMEA) – Spinvox

  • Best Web Application Or Service (EMEA) – Spotify

  • Best Enterprise / B2B Startup (EMEA) – Huddle

  • Best Startup Founder(s)Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, jointly for Spotify

  • Best Investor (VC or Angel fund, EMEA) – The Accelerator Group

  • Best Investor Personality (EMEA) – Yossi Vardi

  • Best New Startup, Summer 2008-2009 – Spotify

  • The Europas GRAND PRIX” – Spotify

The european startup community is growing, I urge everyone to be a part of it. Not only will you get to know some amazing peers but you will gain a real competitive advantage for your business.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ready to Crunch?

...and here it comes our TechCrunch time.
It's been sometime (over 4 years) since the Silicon Valley Tech Crunch has become a sort of a bible in specific environments (technology startups and investments)
Its power has been increasing at such a fast pace that today it can create (or destroy) the dreams of most of the startups at any given time.

Its European cousin has followed suit and even though the URL starts with a UK.techcrunch, it's becoming less UK centric.
In fact there are even a couple of coraugeus Italians in their team.

One of them, Stefano Bernardi, is the author of the most recent Startup.EU blog, one of the best Italian based blogs in the subjects.
In fact, we hope to lure Stefano to share some of his insights for this very blog.

Here is the full article.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I often thought that it would be cool to have a magazine focused on the bridges between US and Italy.

Well, not too long ago Marco Pratellesi (head of introduced me to the new born FELLOW Magazine, a dual-language magazine on topics of Italian-American interests.

And in their second issue, here's an interview I gave about the activities and prospective of the Mind the Bridge foundation.

When I finally received a physical copy, with a large picture of Obama in the front page, everything looked even more impressive.
Since there's no online version yet, I guess you need to buy the physical version if you are interested in the topics.

I strongly recommend it, they talk about very cool stuff! :-)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pitfalls and challenges in business plan writing

This article, appeared on the Wall Street Journal's website, covers some interesting points that anyone writing a business plan should be aware of.

The article begins by describing three core elements of a good business plan:

  • The logical statement of a problem and its solution.

  • Hard evidence supporting the previous.

  • Candor and awareness about the risks, gaps and other assumptions.

The author continues by describing what he considers the five most significant kinds of rejected business plans:

  • "Here I am, nevermind the problem": business plan is technology centric, while underestimating the importance of identifying the problem it solves. Better technoloogy no always wins!
  • "A coke for every kid in China": lack of knowledge about the initial market. Ignore the difficult work of crafting a strategy to gain market awareness, persuade customers, ans set up a distribution.

  • "Just look at our (paper) profits": financial projections based on wrong or weak assumptions.

  • "Our team walks on water": lack of objectiveness in assessing the team's skillset.

  • "All is beautiful": the writer of the business plan can find only good things about his idea, not seeing or aknowledging any potential pitfall associated with the idea.

This article provides precious insight for all perspective participants to Mind The Bridge: read carefully!

Mind The Bridge at Roma III, June 13th

Guest post by Augusto Coppola, ERIS4.

At the University Roma III of Rome there is an interesting and increasing number of initiatives aiming to fill the gap between the Italian academic world and the new emerging industrial eco-system made of a number of national companies no longer interested in making business on the small regional scale, but rather in growing up internationally and provide the global market with high-tech products and services.

In this regard, Roma III is looking at the Mind the Bridge business plan competition as one of the best opportunities for students and researchers to verify their business ideas and collect valuable feedbacks from Silicon Valley experts, market leaders and investors.

In order to prepare its students and researchers to apply for the competition, Roma III is going to set up a number of seminars on how to prepare for the competition and for the Silicon Valley experience. The first seminar will be held on July 13th and the speaker will be MtB veteran Augusto Coppola, from the company ERIS4.

Monday, July 6, 2009

H-Farm, farming humans better than Google

I'm just back from 2 full months in Europe, something that I hadn't done since 2001.
In particular, I spent most of June in Italy.
Of the thousands stereotypes that we hear about Italy, 2 resonated particularly with me in this trip:
1: what happened to the young people? and
2: oh my God, exceptional average food quality really makes a difference.

I had the chance to visit several startups, incubators and corporations.
Among them, my visit to H-Farm was one of the highlights.

Started in Italy less than 4 years ago, H-Farm is already an outstanding success that deserves attention.
Their creativity, starting from the incubator model itself (in fact I'd call them a "company engineering" venture rather the inflated "incubator" term), from the setup of their offices (old farms in the middle of nowhere, renovated hi-tech style, in a technology-farming fusion that includes cow statues and toy-robots) is a notch above everybody else working in the startup creation field these days.
The 2 founders and good friends Riccardo Donadon and Maurizio Rossi have really pushed the envelope of farming talent to streamline new businesses born to be acquired.
The results? 3 important exits under their belt to groups like WPP and RCS (who can claim that in Italy?), a venture that can attract talent from all over the world (several hundreds employees) and the possibility of writing history with the new spur of Italian innovation in the world.

Out of their stable of 17 home-made startups, there's also Zooppa, the mythical winner of our 2008/09 BP competition, nowadays fully US based.

When you walk about their stables, among locally produced fresh organic fruit, video monitors showing international media news-war-room like and panels reminding the visitor what H-Farm stands for, you definitely have the feeling to witness something remarkably fresh in the almost-dead panorama of Italian innovation.

Riccardo and Maurizio will be facing some challenging times to come, a direct result of their success. The expansion in US and India and the steep increase of startups incubated will put undoubtedly some strains on their so-far-successful model.
But risk taking is their bread and butter, and we sincerely root for them.

Chapeau for H-Farm, fellows!