Fincantieri e MARS42 - Comunicato stampa

Con l'ingresso di Fincantieri come main sponsor e del suo Vice President all’Innovazione, Massimo De Benedetti, si consolida il rapporto fra MARS42 - Research Beyond Academia e il territorio giuliano.

Organizzata da Sissa, l'International School for Advanced Studies di Trieste e TheDoers, innovation company torinese, MARS42 è la prima Summer School che fornisce a studenti di laurea magistrale, PhD e Post-Doc in ambito scientifico, una guida per fare ricerca senza perdere di vista il mondo delle imprese.

Venti docenti per venti studenti.

Due settimane di full immersion, per acquisire nuove competenze e imparare ad applicare la propria esperienza di ricerca in aziende innovative. Sviluppare un progetto di startup, gestire i processi di innovazione in un contesto industriale, trasformare i sogni in progetti concreti affiancati da docenti che sono manager internazionali, imprenditori e accademici.

Data e Luogo: 10-21 Luglio 2017 presso l’Università SISSA di Trieste.

A chi si rivolge MARS42?

  • Ricercatori che vogliono imparare a gestire progetti di Innovazione all’interno di un’azienda e capire come questi stiano evolvendo sempre più verso il concetto di “Open Innovation”.
  • Ricercatori che vogliono capire come lanciare una nuova avventura imprenditoriale con il proprio progetto scientifico, imparando a gestirne la crescita e lo sviluppo sul mercato.

“Per sviluppare questa Summer School siamo partiti da un’analisi approfondita dei bisogni dei ricercatori, investendo molto tempo nel confrontarci con loro per comprendere quelle che sono le reali esigenze. - afferma Enrico Cattaneo Partner di The Doers e ideatore del progetto. Ciò che è emerso, è un forte interesse da parte dei PhD di voler esplorare il mondo al di fuori dell’accademia e capire come poter applicare le loro competenze scientifiche in contesti industriali. Ed è proprio su questo che , il team composto da Irene, Daniele e Alessandro, ha strutturato il programma dei corsi erogati durante MARS42”.

Attraverso un approccio basato sulla simulazione e su attività di Role-Playing Game, gli studenti avranno la possibilità di calarsi in un contesto reale e di apprendere in modo interattivo come lanciare con successo un progetto di innovazione.

Main Sponsor è Fincantieri, uno dei più importanti complessi cantieristici navali del mondo, azienda che basa il suo successo proprio su Innovazione e Ricerca

Sono entusiasta di far parte della faculty della Summer School perchè penso che MARS42 possa veramente colmare il gap che abbiamo tra Accademia e Industria e sono particolarmente contento di poter aiutare ricercatori ambiziosi a meglio comprendere come utilizzare le loro competenze scientifiche anche al di fuori dell’accademia al fine di avere un impatto in aziende innovative. “ afferma Massimo De Benedetti, Vice President all’innovazione di Fincantieri.

 

MARS42's Speakers: Introducing Giovanni Rizzo, PhD, MBA from ZCube

As MARS42 is approaching, today we are thrilled to present you Giovanni Rizzo, one of the speakers that you will meet during the Summer School.

Dr. Rizzo got his Biology degree at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, his PhD in Oncology and his specialization in microbiology at the University of Perugia, Italy, his post-graduate qualification in preclinical and clinical development of drugs from University “La Bicocca” Milano and his Master in Business Administration (MBA) at the HULT International Business School, London.

He has extensive experience in drug discovery and development and in medical device development: head of biology of Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc. and he worked as consultant of Intercept Pharmaceuticals; Consultant of Index Ventures, a venture capital firm; CEO of iDNA Ltd, a drug discovery service company; Vice President of Yaqrit Ltd, a spin off company of the University College London; member of board of directors and chief of the innovation division of ZCube, Zambon group.

He is an entrepreneur and an investor himself of the London Business Angels (LBA) and MedCity Angels, London, and Italian Angels for Biotech, Italy. He has a honorary senior lecturer position at the University College London (UCL) in the Institute of Liver and Digestive Health (ILDH).

During his speech at MARS42 he will share his experience with ZCube - the Zambon Group's Corporate Accelerator - in order to let participants understand how a corporation can leverage on startups to keep innovating and what it takes - as young entrepreneurs in the field of science - to get access to such a great opportunity of collaboration.


MARS42 was made possible thanks to our Main Sponsor Fincantieri.

MARS42's Speakers: Introducing Cristina and Andrea from Impactscool

Science fiction today overcomes reality, and our present and future address us with questions that affect ethical and social aspects of our lives, which for a long time have not been questioned in the history of humanity. Will we be human, will we be at the centre driving of technological change that awaits us in the future, or will we be watching, passively?

We face an epochal change, dictated by technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic, blockchain, 3D printing, genetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology.

Not only are they powerful more than any other seen in history, both taken individually and in their combined and converging effects, but they also grow at a speed that makes it difficult to perceive them until they have already come to mass adoption.

These technologies and deriving changes insist on ethical, social and institutional issues that for centuries have not been questioned that strongly, requiring a major reflection on the part of everyone, as human beings.

Never as in the present era, it’s been necessary to learn how to face and think about the future, learning to imagine future scenarios and make the choices of today, according to the direction in which we want to go tomorrow.

Impactscool arises from these considerations, an organization aiming to bring debate, training and collaboration on these technologies for free in schools and universities around the world. A global movement that starts from Italy, boosting critical thinking, creativity, ability to collaborate and flexibility: skills that are the basis of our own humanity, and which will be essential to tackle and drive the future in the best direction.

Impactscool was born from an initiative by Cristina Pozzi and Andrea Dusi, entrepreneurs and exponential technology experts, investors and advisor.

They both studied at Singularity University in 2015, an education center funded by Google with headquartered in a NASA park in Silicon Valley.

In the past, Cristina and Andrea founded Wish Days (Emozione3), a successful Italian case sold to Smartbox in 2016 after reaching 40 mln euros in business in 2015.

From Research to Market Impact: The FREME Story

Introduction  

Research and innovation are often mentioned in the public debate as key fundamental ingredients for the creation of a prosperous and successful future for society [1]. With this rationale in mind, the European Commission over the years has been consistently supporting international research endeavors through the different framework programs of research and development. More recently, with the Horizon 2020 program, the total budget devoted to this policy reached €80 billion [2], a remarkable injection of financial resources devoted to exploratory activities expected to contribute to the construction of a more competitive, sustainable and equitable society (often referred to as “smart growth”). Despite such efforts, the European Union has been experiencing a significant gap towards United States in the ability to generate prosperity for its population. The graph below shows the persistency of the gap in terms of GDP per capita for over twenty years. A situation that impacts Europe’s number one political priority - employment -  generating unemployment rates almost twice as high as those present in USA.

Figure 1: Evolution of GDP per capita in real terms 1995-2016 - Source: Eurostat

Figure 1: Evolution of GDP per capita in real terms 1995-2016 - Source: Eurostat

A study on science, research and innovation performance in the EU published by the European Commission in 2016 [3] while discussing the situation depicted above states: “The EU has fantastic strengths. It is open, diverse, and hosts excellent institutions. With Horizon 2020, the Union funds research and innovation on an unprecedented scale. But we face three major challenges. First, we need to strongly improve our track record in getting research results to market and technologies developed in Europe are often commercialized elsewhere. Second, although Europe generates more scientific output than any other region in the world, we often fall behind on the very best science. Third, Europe punches below its weight in international science cooperation and science diplomacy”.

This post intends to focus on the first of the three challenges mentioned above, namely: the ability of getting research results to market. A problem that the report links to a number of contextual causes: lower availability of venture capital funds, national R&D investments below the 3% target, barriers to entrepreneurship, intensity of public-private collaboration to name a few.

The focus however will not be on exogenous variables on which researchers have little or no control but rather on endogenous aspects having to do with the design and the management of international research projects. The reminder of the post will briefly introduce the “journey from the lab to the market” (JLM) methodology that was developed by the Innovation Development team at ISMB and, subsequently, illustrate its application to a recently successfully concluded H2020 innovation action named FREME.

The JLM methodology

Acknowledging that recent years of crisis have called for innovations able to generate tangible business opportunities resulting in economic growth and job creation, the H2020 program demands remarkable focus on impact, coupled with a reduction in the distance between project results and the competitive market, especially when it comes to the Innovation Action funding scheme.

To help awarded consortia in answering such pressures, ISMB analysts developed a methodological toolkit known with the moniker of 'journey from lab to market’ (JLM), which unpacks the journey that every consortium has to undertake in order to turn research-led project results – data, algorithms and technological assets at large – into sustainable business ventures, either brand-new startups or new business lines within existing organizations.

Such a journey is framed around four macro-phases, each of them building on the previous one and attempting to test a number of hypotheses about the needs satisfied by the product/service provided, the appropriateness of the channels available for distribution, the match between the willingness to pay of prospective customers and the pricing that may be applied, the magnitude of expected returns and the fierceness of direct/indirect competition in the relevant market, etc.

img-2.jpg

In this journey, first of all, consortia (and especially commercial partners) face the pressing need to understand whether project results match what users actually want: this ‘problem-solution fit’ is the outcome of an initial exploratory phase that hinges on value proposition design, testing and refinement.

Once commercial partners are confident that the offering creates value for their customers, they have to ascertain their capacity to appropriate a substantial slice of the value they generated: this ‘product-market fit’ is achieved through the iterative design and validation of innovative business models, either company-specific or related to a multi-actor ecosystem.  

Looking at the phase immediately after the market debut, the ‘business viability’ stage deep dives into the competitive arena with the aim of evaluating sustainability and scalability of the business model previously devised. This passes through the assessment of the market landscape and competitive threats posed by best-in-class rival offerings, while quantitative financial projections through indexes and key performance indicators are then the litmus test for staying in the black once the grant period is over.

Finally, the widespread diffusion of project outcomes can result into multi-faceted societal impact that are not visible while looking solely at P&L statements. The extent to which this capitalization can materialize is investigated through state-of-the-art impact assessment techniques that factor-in also social and environmental dimensions.

Taking a helicopter view on the 'journey from lab to market’, it goes without saying that companies often go through many iterations before they find a sufficiently large and lucrative set of customers that resonate with their product, either inside or outside the boundaries of a project backed by a funding agency. This evidence calls for a mechanism allowing to continuously incorporate market feedback and outcomes of hypotheses tested into the business development process. As a result, the 'journey from lab to market’ leverages lean startup and customer development principles to favor hypothesis-driven experimentation as part of an iterative development based on MVPs tweaks and pivots.

The FREME case

FREME (Open Framework of E-Services for Multilingual and Semantic Enrichment of Digital Content) has been a two-year Innovation Action funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. The project was aimed at building an open, innovative and commercial-ready framework of e-services for multilingual and semantic enrichment of digital content. The resulting framework works by harvesting vast amounts of structured and unstructured datasets (e.g., linked open data resources, proprietary taxonomies and ontologies) and then reusing them in its enrichment services by means of six technological pillars offered through well-defined APIs and GUIs according to a modular product architecture: (1) e-Entity; (2) e-Link; (3) e-Terminology; (4) e-Internationalization; (5) e-Translation; (6) e-Publishing. Such a portfolio of e-services – instantiated on an elastic cloud infrastructure – has been made available to three real world commercial business cases that brought FREME data innovation and technology transfer directly to the market. This occurred through three FREME-enabled ‘killer applications’ situated at different stages of the data value chain: (1) translation and localization; (2) cross-language data sharing and access; (3) personalized recommendation. The innovation ushered-in by FREME resulted ultimately in an innovative technological platform that tears down entry barriers that SMEs and startups encounter nowadays in approaching Big Data markets, and in a new breed of business models for capturing the untapped value residing in data integration.

The consortium responsible for this challenging endeavor was made up of four technological partners – DFKI acting as project coordinator (Germany), Tilde (Latvia), Leipzig University (Germany), and iMec formerly iMinds (Belgium) – three world-class commercial partners – VistaTEC (Ireland), AgroKnow (Greece), and Wripl (Ireland) – and ISMB. Within the scope of the project, ISMB was in charge of business modelling and business development activities underpinning the commercialization of FREME technological solutions. Moreover, ISMB coordinates industrial liaisons as well as dissemination and communication activities.

As an ambitious market-oriented H2020 Innovation Action, FREME has considered the stream of activities related to exploitation as fulcrum for making project results sustainable over time and purveyor of impacts for project partners and well beyond. Along these lines, the three business cases have represented the exploitation backbone as they were driven forward by a clear commercial perspective and they represented the key opportunity to harvest the fruits of FREME in a short-term perspective.

VistaTEC, headquartered in Dublin with overseas offices, is one of the world’s leading provider of localization solutions. Within the scope of FREME, it successfully harnessed the notion of enriched translation to transcend the ‘red ocean’ of bloody competition peculiar to the language market. This passed through the launch of ‘Deep Content’, an entirely FREME-enabled business line based on automatic content enrichment meant to provide customers with multilingual content that is richer, more interactive and, thus, more social. Technological innovation, mainly represented by the possibility to establish private data spaces to turn translated content into seamless and compelling content journeys, has gone hand-in-hand as with business model innovation, as the company has unveiled a new pricing mechanism that is wreaking havoc in the industry.   

AgroKnow is a thriving SME, headquartered in Athens with a global customer base, that helps worldwide organizations to extract value from data integration and data intelligence in the agri-food domain. As part of FREME endeavor, the company unveiled ‘WeSupport’, an holistic package composed by multiple modular offerings that are conceived for agricultural open data holders. While taking advantage of advanced semantic web technologies to enhance information discovery capacities, AgroKnow tweaked its business model by crafting an additional value proposition targeting private companies willing to crunch a substantial mole of agricultural data in their R&D activities.

Wripl, a Trinity College spin-out startup headquartered in Dublin, provides research-led solutions for content personalization, primarily for marketing purposes. FREME underlying technologies have been exploited by Wripl to inaugurate ‘Cognitive Content Solutions’, a full-fledge suite that supports content strategy as a whole by addressing the two core areas of content creation and content delivery. While launching new technological features in terms of predictive analytics and automated multilingual coverage for non-English content, Wripl has applied a ‘blue ocean’ thinking that looks at non-customers in lieu of customers. Instead of concentrating on finer segmentation of customers already served by the industry and on tailoring the offering to better meet traditional customer preferences, Wripl chose to prioritize underserved segments – residing in sectors that are content-intensive but, at the same time, laggards in digital transformation – taking advantage of powerful commonalities in what such buyers value.

In such a setting, the overarching exploitation strategy crafted by ISMB analysts was framed around three interdependent directions:

  • Drive customer acquisition, by setting the road to market for FREME-enabled commercial solutions through activities such as prospect profiling, market assessment, competitive benchmark, price setting, financial projections, risk exposure analysis, etc.
  • Monitor customer acquisition, thus applying innovation accounting metrics for tracking in a granular manner the process of onboarding along the customer acquisition funnel.
  • Accelerate customer acquisition, by means of dissemination actions (e.g., top-tier sectoral events in the realms of big data and language technologies, trade fairs, product roadshows, F2F private meetings, webinars) targeting specific customers segments.

To orchestrate such streams of activities, ISMB team scheduled a number of milestones to be attained on a monthly basis in terms of market validation results. To keep the process under control, ISMB analysts release a Web-based environment – known in the project jargon with the moniker of ‘tableu du bord’ – which allowed commercial partners to plan and measure market uptake. Business case partners, in fact, had been facing a pressing need to define, measure, and communicate progress with internal (e.g., company executives) and external stakeholders (e.g., European Commission as funding agency, external private investors, business accelerators) well before the materialization of first visible results (e.g., contracts, invoices, impact on P&L statement). To use a metaphor, first visible results mentioned above could be seen as the tip of an iceberg that appears clearly visible above the surface. However, as an iceberg floats in the water, the huge mass of it remains below the surface. By analogy, the need of BC partners was to capture the tremendous amount of results, although preliminary and not necessarily conducive to sales, that happen prior to actual sales all along the customer acquisition funnel. To keep these aspects in the radar screen, ISMB analysts resorted to the well-known AARRR pirate metrics, which have been combined into a comprehensive framework providing for each business case the following metrics:

  • [Acquisition] Prospects engaged in bilateral vis-à-vis/virtual meetings and/or business pitches.
  • [Activation] Prospects involved in hands-on testing of ‘killer application’ MVPs and subsequent feedback questionnaire and/or interview.
  • [Retention] Prospects entering pilot experimentations and related negotiations after having satisfactorily completed the MVP testing.
  • [Referral] Prospects acting as brand advocates.
  • [Revenue] Prospects turned into paying customers via deals signed.

When it comes to results achieved at the completion of the grant period, the innovation accounting metrics shed light on figures that appear impressive for R&D funded projects. Not only the Consortium has met the target of 200+ prospects involved in market validation – set by partners as internal goal – but also generated a powerful sales pipeline on which commercial partners are building for conversion purposes:

  • 206 prospects engaged through commercial dissemination activities.
  • 168 prospects involved in MVP-based market validation.
  • 23 prospects entering the early adopter program as follow-up of MVP testing.
  • 8 prospects generating prospective contracts prior to the project completion, which amount to more than €150,000 per year of revenue.

In addition, FREME ‘killer applications’ have become the flagship offerings in companies’ marketing campaigns while attracting into early adopter programs high-caliber prospects including household name such as FAO, Expedia, and Salesforce.

Due to confidentiality reasons, further results – which have been reported in full-fledged business plans elaborated by ISMB analysts – cannot be disclosed in this blogpost. That said, just to provide the reader with a flavor of the high-potential solutions ushered-in by FREME project, prospective FREME-enabled revenues, if materialized in a 5-year time horizon, would allow business partners to multiply (on average) by 15 the EC grant received, thus corroborating the viability of the investment undertaken by the European Commission as funding agency.

Such results – which has been accompanied by IPR arrangements defined by ISMB team and supporting sustainability measures (e.g., the hosting of FREME technical installation at the ADAPT center in Dublin) – have witnessed the FREME capacity to stand out in triangulating business ambition, scientific excellence, and search for impact on society at large.

All this is not only a perception of ISMB team, but it reflects the outcomes of the final project review, whose verdict clearly states that the “project has delivered excellent results with significant immediate impact for its participant’s business cases”.

The role of ISMB team was recognized by the Commission as crucial for this outstanding success. The EC acknowledged that “the business modelling approach provided significant guidance to the projection and provided the necessary focus on business results and measurable market impact” and emphasized the centrality of ISMB’s innovation advisory role in the project landscape: “a business partner like ISMB in the role of a project consulting organization is valuable for offering tailored business perspectives together with the provision of the needed tools and methodologies to pragmatically addressing the construction of a business plan. […] This type of support should be considered for similar future projects.”

Takeaways and lessons learnt

Drawing on the extensive fieldwork experimentation with JLM - within the scope of FREME as well as in a wealth of other H2020 and EIT projects - ISMB analysts have realized that an approach in this vein activates a new innovation kernel that challenges some of the most ingrained habits in the circle of organizations familiar with EU-funded projects. In fact, the JLM approach implies substantial changes with respect to the sectoral status quo, which are summarized as follows.

  • In terms of mindset, exploitation is no longer an obligation to be dealt with in the second half of the project lifecycle, but is becomes the heart, the engine and the metronome of the project. This pronounced penchant for ‘beginning with the end in mind’ – since the dawn of proposal drafting – results in a continued market-oriented approach that, in turn, bring the exploitation thinking to the forefront.
  • When it comes to timing, this approach allows to accelerate technological development when needed and to keep pace with fast-evolving market dynamics: this marks a discontinuity with respect to rigid implementation-driven Gantt charts that usually determine the schedule of project activities on a contractual basis.
  • In regard to project monitoring and control, in the current state of play the progress of EU-funded projects is ultimately dependent on project management metrics related to the adherence with what is stipulated in the binding contract with the funding agency. Conversely, placing prospect engagement at the core of project development abruptly alters the performance priorities: this makes explicit the need to shift to metrics that capture specific prospect behavior – such as for instance AARRR innovation accounting metrics – with the purpose of keeping track of the progress along the customer acquisition funnel and facilitating possible growth hacking tactics.
  • Validated learning adopted as modus operandi drastically changes consortia’s attitude towards failure. In fact, failure becomes an expected norm rather than an exception or an incident, hence turning into an unparalleled chance to continually distill lessons learnt.

A noticeable strength of JLM that came to light in the FREME experience has to do with not requiring a quantum leap in terms of ‘innovator toolkit’: in fact, consortia – especially partners at the helm of exploitation-related activities – can rely on the portfolio of tools that they are already accustomed with, such as Value Proposition Canvas, Business Model Canvas, tools for value ecosystem design (e.g., Board of Innovation, e3-value), competitive analysis tools taught in business schools (e.g., Porter’s Five Forces analysis, VRIN, SWOT) and financial metrics for investment analysis (e.g., NPV, IRR, PBP, ROI).

This brings to the fore the essence of the 'journey from lab to market’ mindset: it does not bring tectonic changes to the single tools adopted by consortia but rather – resorting to a culinary analogy – it intends to enhance the recipe without necessarily varying the ingredients. All this with a clear goal, that is turbocharging consortia’s ability of getting research results to market.

In practical terms, this means making the leap from procedure-based management of EU-funded project to outcome-driven (as market reactions act as guiding light in view of the customer development approach) and evidence-based thinking (as the lean startup mindset is grounded on running experiments that allow to systematically test potentially each element of a business line).

With FREME a similar approach has proved to be able to turn a EU-funded project into a powerful springboard allowing companies - spanning the gamut from startups to large enterprises - to embark on a path of market expansion, brand recognition and financial growth.

References:

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/research/innovation-union/index_en.cfm?pg=why

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/pdf/press/fact_sheet_on_horizon2020_budget.pdf

[3] https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/en/file/9083/download?token=LCOIWLRJ


Learn how to apply your scientific skills in the industry world and have an impact on the innovation space.

MARS42 with Molecular Foundry and Berkeley Labs

When I was a Master of Science student in Physics, in Italy, and the moment to choose a thesis was approaching, I remember the thrill that was spreading among people in my class. I suppose that all students feel their thesis as a bet, as the moment to test and show to the community the abilities acquired in the years and eventually do their step forward among peers. It is a competition and a pitch at the same time: for a full semester you are on the stage, looking for the most effective way to successfully solve a problem and thus step into word-class scientific research. This is why everybody becomes thrilled to get positions in the best labs all around the world and one of those labs is Berkeley Laboratory.

I remember the atmosphere created by that sentence: “I am going to the Berkeley Labs...”

Now that I am a PhD candidate and a scientist, facing everyday in my research the problems that Science lets arise, I understand the reason behind that atmosphere. In order to understand the mysteries laying under Science’s hat, you need the best facilities possible, you need to be able to manipulate science and look at it from different perspectives. Richard Feynman, who was teaching in the same marvelous and visionare State, said:

“What I cannot create, I do not understand”

Well, at the Berkeley Labs you can create it, what you are investigating, and, even better, at the Molecular Foundry nearly everybody can do it!

The Foundry’s mission is to provide communities of users worldwide with access to expert staff and leading‐edge instrumentation to enable the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale in a multidisciplinary, collaborative environment. Users come from academic, industrial and national laboratories, both domestic and international, at no cost for non‐proprietary research. They gain access to the Foundry on the basis of a competitive external peer‐reviewed proposal process.

The Foundry is providing enabling technologies and best-quality expertise to external users, coming from research environments as well as companies and startups. It is promoting the cultural exchange and the cross-fertilization between worlds that usually need to spend huge effort in order to find contact points between each-other. Foundry’s mission is above all a hymn to a new state of mind, it is a vision of a new concept of innovation in which scientific research and enterprises communicate and work synergistically to boost the change.

This is why we at MARS42 Summer School are glad to announce our collaboration with Molecular Foundry and Berkeley Labs!


We want to give birth together to a new way of doing scientific innovation and to break free the potential energy laying within our Universities in order to solve our Society’s problems. We are shaping brand new Scientific Entrepreneurs, able to understand the jobs to be done in the near future and we are doing it with a common and clear vision.

The focus of the MARS42 Summer School, to help students and postdocs explore the world of science-based industry and innovation, resonates with the culture and mission of the Molecular Foundry. Over ten percent of Molecular Foundry users come from industry, most of them from startup companies, and we see directly the value of supporting and encouraging crossover between the worlds of science and industry.

We at the Molecular Foundry are enthusiastic about this summer school and wish you every success.

Sincerely,

Dr. Alison Hatt, Director, Molecular Foundry User Program

 

Learn how to apply your scientific skills in the industry world and have an impact on the innovation space.

MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Massimo Debenedetti.

New member of the faculty, new blog post!

Today we are glad to introduce Massimo Debenedetti, Corporate Vice President for Research & Innovation at Fincantieri, where his main accountabilities are: to define the R&D corporate strategy, plan and budget, to manage and execute the R&D corporate plan, to drive the Innovation Process, to manage Intellectual Property.

He currently serves also as a Director in the boards of CETENA, Fincantieri’s Corporate Research Centre, and Trieste International Foundation for Scientific Progress and Freedom. He is also a member of the Scientific Committee of Area Science Park in Trieste.

In addition to his experience in the Corporate World, in October 2016 Massimo joint the Adjunct Faculty of Luiss Business School in Rome as adjunct professor of Innovation Management, where he is responsible for designing and teaching a brand new course of International Innovation & Entrepreneurship given in the Master in International Management.

He gives lectures on innovation strategy and management on a regular basis and - previously - he held positions as adjunct professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Turin University and Polytechnic.

Based on his experience, Massimo - as a faculty member - will help us understanding what it means to manage R&D in industry and the entire Innovation Process, and how the role of the R&D Manager inside companies is changing.

I am glad to take part of this Summer School as a faculty member because I do believe that MARS42 can really close the gap between Academia and Industry and - based on my professional experience - I am more than happy to help ambitious researchers understanding how to apply their scientific skills outside the Academia in order to have an impact on Innovative Corporations.
— Massimo Debenedetti

Learn how to apply your scientific skills in the industry world and have an impact on the innovation space.

How to turn Scientists into Entrepreneurs using Lean Startup Techniques

How would you feel if after years spent designing a sophisticated solution, you get a "You’re not in the lab anymore. This is Silicon Valley. Go out and interview 10 companies in this space before tomorrow and tell us if they really have any interest in buying this software."?

This different way of thinking is called "Lean Startup Methodology" and can help anyone launch a new product or venture, whether it is someone tinkering in a garage somewhere, a group of executives at a major corporation, or a scientist with a fundamentally new discovery.

But, most of all, this approach can literally change the way you do science, with respect to the types of experiments you perform, how you write grant proposals, and how you prepare papers for publication.

Author of the article: Greg Satell, Harvard Business Review
Commented by: Alessandro Coltro - Lean Startup Practitioner


Learn how to apply your scientific skills in the industry world and have an impact on the innovation space.

MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Daniel Paz.

As we promised, here we are with a new blog post introducing the  faculty members of MARS42.

Today is the turn of Daniel Paz, the founder and CEO of Mercurio Ventures, a Berlin based venture building platform for hi-tech startups. The firm identifies hi potential ventures and helps them grow into the next level to reach commercial and financial success. Mercurio Ventures provides teams with the tools they need to grow and succeed. These include market and business planning, logistics, financials and strategy. The portfolio of companies Mercurio Ventures works with is diverse with teams from Silicon Valley, Israel, Iceland, India, France, Germany and more.

Before founding Mercurio Ventures, Daniel managed the supply chain of GE Healthcare for the Israeli biotech sector via its local distributor, Danyel Biotech Ltd. In this position he oversaw the distribution and performance of multiple world leading bio tech manufacturers serving Israel’s advanced biotech ecosystem, which included among others three Nobel Prize winners and pharma giant TEVA.

Daniel holds an MBA from INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau and a B.Sc. in Life Sciences from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Daniel, as faculty member, will help us understanding how to negotiate the concept of IP, its dynamics in different environments and how to negotiate IP licensing between PhDs, investors and universities. 

I am really happy to help young researchers dealing with IP and licensing, understanding their dynamics in different environments and the best negotiation strategies to gain value and profit from them. MARS42 has the ambitious goal to close the gap between academia and the industry, and that’s the reason why I am glad to be part of this exciting project as faculty member.
— Daniel Paz

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you?

I moved to USA with a PhD: on Challenge, Resilience and Giving Back.

When I was offered a PhD studentship at one of the largest CNRS labs in France, I immediately accepted. It was evident to me that higher education meant a further reaching career. I even checked on multiple salary databases. They all agreed with that impression, with higher retributions and job levels. Those were salary statistics for jobs in companies of my industry, Electronics and Communications Engineering.

One year or two into my training, I discovered that not any kind of PhD in my industry would be needed for the kind of career I desired, but rather those involving Applied Research, readily translatable to the industry’s needs. A research topic that doesn’t need 15 or 20 years to become mainstream.

So, why did I found myself knee-deep into a Fundamental Research topic like Graphene microwave properties, again? Well, an error coming from my naïveté, for sure. I didn’t connect the dots between what I wanted to achieve and the path I was following.

Learn from your errors. Such a simple lesson, applicable to really anybody. Yet it implies you first should fail at something, then honestly analyze why did you take that course of action, and finally correct your path.

Since then, I corrected my life and career path, and I failed at new and different things. That’s good, you don’t wanna do the same errors twice. If you fail enough times, you’ll develop a highly revered quality called resilience. You’re gonna need a good amount of it if you want to drastically change your life, or society, or the city where you grew up, or a bit of them all.

What’s all this about

Resilience is one of the main topics of this post. Another one is the mindset of giving back, plus on the importance of challenging yourself and truly stepping out your comfort zone.

If you are a highly specialized professional, or a PhD, or a researcher, or a startup founder, you’ll always have larger autonomy compared to other workers, and you’ll always be on the first line. You’ll always be on the brink of success and failure, and you’ll have to adapt quickly. Your professional success will be very much dependent on those personal traits.

Putting the concepts of resilience, challenging yourself and giving back into practice will be one of the strongest distinctive actions that will set yourself apart in this increasingly competitive world.

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

My transition from academia to industry, and from Europe to U.S.A.

I managed to correct my professional path from purely academic to one palatable to the industry. I did this by redirecting the focus of my last PhD studentship year on Metrology and microwave measurements. A series of doors opened at the same time, including an opportunity for my wife to spend one year as post-doc in Los Angeles.

I wanted to make the best use possible of my freshly got PhD diploma and of that American opportunity. That window was constrained to a one-year period by my wife’s J-1 exchange researcher visa, and her sponsors did not have funds to further her grant. With that, our visas too would stop after one year.

So, as soon as the visa offices allowed, we moved from Italy to California. No more than two months later, I was already employed as Sr. Design Engineer in a small startup and, even better, my boss insisted for me getting the Green Card, the U.S. permanent residence. At the same time, the American mindset of dynamicity, of personal success and of getting things done fast was really appealing for my wife and me, and we wanted to stay in the U.S. Those were really exciting times.

Challenging myself: the Green Card petition

Unfortunately, my Green Card petition became much more complicated than what the attorney initially forecasted. He convinced me that my case was strong enough for a highly challenging Green Card petition called National Interest Waiver (NIW), very advantageous for my situation.

For this NIW petition to succeed, I had to show the importance to the U.S. National Interest of what I did with my work (Radar Electronics). In particular, I had to show the results of my research as PhD student and, through those, demonstrate how I, as professional research, was significantly above the level of other researcher like me. The way to prove it (at that time) was through number of publications and citations I gathered with my works. And they weren’t enough to ensure a clean and smooth approval of my case.

I also needed other experts of my field and professors, especially whom I never met or talked to before (external to my circle of collaborators), to validate the worth of my work through official support letters.

One of the most difficult things for me in this procedure was really putting myself forward, stating my worth way beyond what even I, myself, thought I was worth. It was especially difficult with the professors, because I felt they would look at the results I achieved and judge them too meagre compared to the high value I was asking them to state in the letters. This made me extremely reluctant in asking their support.

But I forced myself and I did it. It was a big challenge for me.

It turned out that many of those professors and experts were really happy to offer their support. And one of them even went beyond and offered me a job in his lab. I couldn’t expect this kind of approval.

The lesson here is not about my special achievements and my value, there’s no use of that for anybody other than me. What I want to give to you is a practical example of what many people already say: the biggest limit we experience is within ourselves. And of how I got past that limit in many occasions: holding my breath and diving deep, there’s no way around it.

In my case, I was limiting myself from contacting the leading experts in my field, asking for their statement that I was world-leading expert too. I was very seriously considering of abandoning the path I chose, my personal American Dream, because I didn’t want to expose myself that way. I said out loud, many times, “I can’t do it”. I had to really force myself to click “Send” on the emails asking for their consideration and help.

That challenge paid off greatly.

Resilience

“1: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Oxford Dictionary.

My PhD training was absolutely a training of resilience too, being left most of the time on my own, trying to innovate on a topic mostly foreign to my supervisors. I imagine that this kind of difficulties are very common among PhD students, in any country.

The exercise of pursuing a career goal during the PhD training is also very formative, as there are many difficulties on the research path that tend to steer us away from our initial aim. For example, I had to change my PhD subject at least TWICE and reinvent it (and reinvent my career with it).

The second time was the most suffered one. At the very beginning of my second year I planned an experiment, and the samples I needed were supposed to be fabricated by my lab’s clean room. My supervisor was the one to build them, and he assured me it would have taken “just a couple of months”. It actually took more than two years. I got the very first sample of my first experiment when my PhD studentship was already over.

Again, this kind of things are way more common than what we want to believe, especially in fundamental research.

What helps in those situations, and that is really needed from a PhD, or a startup entrepreneur, or anybody involved in innovating and confronting with making radically new things, is the ability to pursue our ultimate goal even when the very basis of our initial plan fails miserably. That is resilience.

I have other examples of that trait to offer, but I don’t want to make this post about me.

Let’s focus on resilience again.

“The flexible are preserved unbroken.” Lao Tsu. The Tao Te Ching.

Anyone who launches in a new venture, being it building a product around a new idea, or furthering that idea by introducing the product into the market and building a company out of it, is always facing some degree of failure. It’s spoken as a necessary evil that prepares for and traces the path to success.

One of the most popular mantra in Silicon Valley is “Fail Fast, Fail Often”. However, I disagree with it. It’s not failure that should be sought for. Indeed, everybody in the Bay avoid failure as bubonic plague (even though people don’t generally avoid other people who have failed in the past; failure seem to be accepted in other people).

So failure is not exactly something people currently seek, or should seek at any time. It’s what happens next that failure that’s instead distinctive as a trait of a successful person: the ability of bouncing back. The ability of indeed learning from our personal errors, with honesty, and implementing a winning strategy.

Resilience is what makes a successful Entrepreneur and a successful PhD transitioning into industry.

Resilience is what made me go through two years of psychological hell waiting for graphene samples for my experiment, and finally reinventing myself on a different topic, very sought for by the industry.

Resilience is what made me stick through another two years of legal hell for my US immigration problems, sticking to my case, until I WON my own battle, alone, against any forecast of all the attorneys I contacted and that turned me away as if I had the bubonic plague.

Transferable skills

Resilience is an exceptional transferable skill that many PhD and Startuppers can learn in their personal life, then adapt and implement in their profession.

No employer or VC investor will ever ask you to show your mastery with that particular MATLAB function or that obscure physical measurement. They will instead look for a handful of transferable skills that you learned in your past experiences and that will prove vital in the future. Resilience is one of them.

The mindset of Giving Back

All of us know that helping others, in any form, is important for the survival of community and society as a whole. But very few people describe it as a vital part of the Networking skill set. Even fewer people talk of it as a necessary element of the Leadership skill set.

The latter is source for one of the strangest contradictions. Everybody imagine that a leader is one that “shows the way to others”. But how does he or she show it to other people? By pointing at it with a long stick? Or with a laser pointer on a slide?

Lead by example. Teach what you know to the people who are in the same position as you were in the past. Feed your network at every level, including your roots, such as your native country, your hometown or graduates from your Alma Mater. Because they will likely support you in the future.

Giving back is more profound than the traditional notion of charity. Both of them represent helping others and both are equally important. However, giving back inserts into the gradual progression of one’s life. It threads into the very fabric of one’s professional community. What we got from the community, we give back to members of that community.

Giving back is something I learned in California. It is embedded into the U.S. culture. As much as the U.S. culture is controversially founded upon money and mythology of success, so it is founded upon giving back substantial portions of your time and wealth to your own community.

I decided to implement that giving back mindset. I took everything I had learned the hard way, that is how to win the Green Card petition using academic and professional results, and I’m sharing it. I’m building two websites, both dedicated to PhD’s and Entrepreneurs. And I especially want to share all the things that I wish I knew while I was building the case for my own Green Card.

NIWeasy.com is dedicated to a global audience in English and provides resources to highly skilled professionals, PhD’s and startup entrepreneur to petition for the U.S. Green Card with success.

OttenereLaGreenCard.com is in Italian, my native language, and broadens the scope of the first website. It also integrates career-building, soft-skill-building and American mindset as tools for a successful and empowered life, be it in Italy, in U.S.A. or anywhere people can express their full potential.

OttenereLaGreenCard.com in particular is my way of giving back value to my native country, and hopefully it will help Italians be more competitive in an ever-changing world.

Conclusions

There are many actionable tips in this article.

First, getting out of your comfort zone really means do things that make you uncomfortable. Do things that you never ever thought of doing, and that don’t put you in any danger other than getting yourself closer to success. (Yes, success is sometimes perceived as dangerous, like any other radical change in our life).

Embrace challenges that are deeply, truly important for you, and that you must win at nearly all cost.

Embrace resilience. “Losers are those who stay down when they fail. Successful ones are those who get up.” Listen to some talks of Brené Brown, PhD, for that.

Give back to people who are in the same situation as you were in the past, and build your network not by merely adding people to your LinkedIn, but by helping them out, even in little things once in awhile. Add value to them.

I hope this helped you as much as it would have helped me during my PhD :)

Giancarlo

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Ruggero Frezza.

The day we came up with the idea of creating MARS42 we set our goals very high, and that’s why we have been working very hard during the last months to involve the best professors and mentors for this exciting project.

In this blog post - the first one of a series where we will present all the MARS42 Faculty members - we are glad to introduce you Ruggero Frezza.

Ruggero Frezza graduated in Electrical Engineering in the University of Padova and became Master of Science and Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis.

During his career he was visiting scientist and researcher in several Universities: the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Laxenburg (Austria), the Royal Institute of Technology in Stoccolma, the University of Groningen in Netherlands and the University of California in Berkeley.

In Italy he became Professor at the Department of Information Engineering in the University of Padova. In that period he founded with his students and collaborators six companies that operated in high tech industries, from biomedical to wood industry and CAE instruments for the automotive industry.

In 2006 he founded M31 in order to support young people to establish innovative technology projects and in 2008 Ruggero Frezza chose to abandon teaching to focus on M31. Today he is M31 Italia President and Ceo.

So far, the Padova based venture incubator has invested € 7 million since its foundation, found co-investors for more than € 14 million and the aggregate revenues of M31’s portfolio companies surpass 20M €.

Moreover, ventures supported by M31 own more than 20 patent applications.

In February 2017, M31 sold its participation in CenterVue to Zignano holding Spa. CenterVue is a hi-tech company that produces “robot diagnostici per l’oftalmologia” and that M31 has been supporting since the beginning.

Ruggero, as a faculty member, will help us understanding which is the right moment to leave the laboratory to dedicate our effort building new successful venture in scientific and technological fields.

I believe that MARS42 represents a very unique opportunity for PhDs who are striving to find a way to take their research on the market. This Summer Entrepreneurship School will help them acquiring the right methodology to develop a project in the field of hard sciences, transforming it into a new disruptive business.
— Ruggero Frezza
 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

Entrepreneurship as a State of Mind: follow the steps which brought Sara Diani to merge Research and Entrepreneurship.

I was a clinical doctor, I worked in Italy and Germany in the rehabilitation field, but I had a major interest, a fire inside, for research. In particular for the theoretical research in medicine.

In the hospital, I saw so many cases of acute and chronic incurable diseases. I was observing the patients and our clinical practice and I was unsatisfied. I touched with my hands the actual limits of medicine. I mean, medicine in the latest years improved a lot, especially in the surgical and technological field, but there are a lot of difficulties in finding new drugs, and especially new approaches to diseases.

Parallel to my clinical activity I made a lot of courses in the lasts eight years and, together with my daily work, I understood the potential of our organism, the great magic, marvel of life. I began studying the logic of our organism, the logic of life. I'm passionate in philosophy and physics, and I started reading them intensively, and binding them to medicine.

My key-approach is the following: in order to improve consistently the entire clinical practice, we deeply need to change our approach to health and diseases. The only way to do this is to bind and use different disciplines, such as philosophy, physics, mathematics and biology, to build an inclusive, coherent and complete theoretical approach. If we reach this comprehension, this clarity and logic, we can apply and derive the general model to the particular cases in order to treat them.

This means that in order to face the problems in which medicine is stuck, we need to develop a new paradigm. My specialty is to bind different disciplines, to discover the common points between them, and use them to build theoretical models that explain reality. Reality first, abstraction second.

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

With further studies, I started putting all together, like a puzzle, and I built my vision. Still, I was stuck, always working in the hospital. Then something changed: I had a severe disease, and I needed to stop to heal myself. I combined my theoretical approach to the therapies in order to cure myself and it worked. Additionally, I thought: "I don't know why this happened to me, but I pretend it was because I need to learn something". Afterwards, I understood that learning wasn't enough, I needed to evolve.

I saw the big opportunity in the big difficulty. Month after month, I realized that my route was in the research field. This was the first important step.

So I decided to do research as an independent researcher, for two reasons:

  • In the past, professors of different universities told me my projects were awesome, but too difficult to realize. So I couldn't accede to a PhD.
  • I wanted freedom, time to think different, to develop my ideas in the best way, and I wanted to act like an entrepreneur.

The second step was to find a financial plan to overcome at least the first year, and I found a safe way.

The whole 2016 was necessary to prepare myself from the scientific and business point of view. I started writing a book, I thought and wrote the first important physical model, that was read and examined by an important Professor, who approved the content. I continued studying and amplifying my knowledge. My approach is innovative, but scientifically rigorous. I prove all my ideas, test them through the facts, and ask for expertise to improve them and make them more precise.

My research projects are actually four:

  • The first, very important, is about complex systems and philosophy of medicine. We are a complex system and we need to adapt our medical approach to this. Philosophy of medicine is also significant to understand the nature of health and diseases. Now I'm focusing myself especially on this one, because it's the most urgent and inclusive.
  • Modern physics applied to medicine. I found a way to use the quantum field theory, combined with physics of information, to model our way to reach and answer to different kind of information. This can be decisive in developing new kind of drugs or stimuli to treat diseases or to maintain a healthy state.
  • Immune system and chronic diseases: network medicine is a new discipline. To deeply understand chronic diseases is necessary to observe immunological networks and diseases network. This will allow also new approaches in the treatment of chronic diseases.
  • Philosophy of consciousness. This is the "new entry" of 2016. It is impossible to model our organism and ignoring our brain, our emotions and our mind. So I started to understand how the body and the brain communicate, how consciousness emerges, how the rules of complex systems influence it. I created my model of consciousness and asked myself whether free will and willpower exist and how we can use them to improve the patient's pro-activity in curing diseases. There's also the actual challenge of AI, that is multidisciplinary by itself.

Actually, I'm writing the first papers, and this is an important part of my daily routine. The second part is business.

The real challenge is to create a business with theoretical research. In fact, normally is possible to create a business with an income when there's a product, a patent, or a concrete system/algorithm. In my case, this is not possible, because products, or patents, will come after years and years of research. Normally theoretical research is funded, and it is not financially autonomous. My challenge, my big bet is to make my research financially independent and productive.

So my big question was: how can I run an entrepreneurial activity without nothing to sell but ideas? I understood it was necessary to discover a market addressed by my research.

But, how? I found an answer, this is actually a work in progress. I need to communicate what I'm doing. Not to inform, to communicate. I need to assemble a community of people who can agree with something I propose and who shares ideas. I suggest and publish contents, divulge the core basic ideas on my website, my Facebook page and other social networks. I'm now creating a "tribe", a network of people who can collaborate and share some important thoughts. Then I will sell my book, and by the time I'll develop other valuable content to share and/or to sell. This means to develop web strategies, learn how to communicate with external people, learn everything possible about the online world.

To compound the research and this business part is challenging but fascinating. I need to be flexible, open, efficient and quick. As I wrote it's a work in progress, but now I understand I couldn't do anything different. I'm realizing myself, giving myself the possibility to bring my personal "plus" to the world.

To be entrepreneur of myself is a mindset, an attitude. It means to be ready to work on myself in order to improve my working activity. It means to stop dividing my person from my job, to stop being a day laborer. It implies the willingness to evolve as a human being through my job, and at the same time, the willingness to evolve in my job through the development of my person.

I hope to improve continuously on this route, I hope to bring the best part of me to the world.

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

Leaving Academia: How To Get A Job In Industry After Your PhD

This is the story of a PhD, working on Chemistry, who decided to get a Job in Industry.

Being a real story, it has the flavor of all personal experiences, thoughts and doubts, encountered during the process. That's probably the reason for the massive use of slang in describing the adventure (get prepared for it)...

“Getting a job in industry after your PhD is an honorable alternative to an academic career. Despite its appeal, many PhD students seem terrified to take the jump.”

With this article he wants to help other PhDs that are approaching a similar path. It is a hands-on tutorial full of tips, suggestions, potential plans, readings and references to other useful articles that help you in a smoother and easier transition to the Industry world.

“You should see an academic position (postdoc, associate professor) just as a regular job. Don’t get obsessed by following all the steps in the academic ladder.”

Author of the article: Julio Peironcely - PhD, founder of Next Scientist
Commented by: Daniele Conti – PhD candidate in Physics

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

Why PhDs are potential entrepreneurs?

We are used to think that Entrepreneurship and Academia are two completely different worlds. Well, I’m not so sure, and this article will show you why.

The purpose of a PhD is not just about producing an original piece of excellent research. Neither is obtaining a degree certificate. Instead it’s about driving changes in society through the conclusions of a few years of hard research. And during these years - other than writing scientific papers - PhDs have to be able to blog (write abstract), pitch (seminars and defenses) and teach about their research (and more) to any kind of audience (conferences and practical lessons).

If you compare the life of an entrepreneur with yours as a PhD, you found out more similarities than you expected:

An entrepreneur has to be able to convince consumers (your students and practitioners), investors (the research center founding you) and key personalities (academicians, colleagues, practitioners) that you’re solving a relevant problem (research question) and that your solution (thesis) has sounded value proposition (implications) and business model (applications).

So what differentiates entrepreneurs from PhD candidates? Well, I’ll say it’s vision. 

 

Author of the article: Maria Angel Ferrero - Teaching assistant at University of Montpellier
Commented by: Alessandro Coltro - Lean Startup Practitioner

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

Physicists to Silicon Valley.

I am a PhD candidate in Physics. I am working on machine learning, transforming neural networks into hardware technology.

Sometimes, talking with some colleagues of mine, other physicists, it emerges a common concern about the lack of positions in academia and being “unsuitable” for the “external” world...

Well, let me say it is impressive to read this article and discover how many people out there, working in outstanding companies, are indeed physicist! They come from Astrophysics, Nuclear physics... They are everywhere.

“We didn’t go into the physics kindergarten and steal a basket of children,” says Stripe president and co-founder John Collison. “It just happened.” And it’s happening across Silicon Valley.

“In the early days of Google, one of the key people building the massively distributed systems in the company’s engine room was Yonatan Zunger, who has a PhD in string theory from Stanford.”
 


Author of the article: Cade Metz
Commented by: Daniele Conti

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

Startup science: a scientific approach to build success.

The role of a startup/transformative entrepreneur consists of changing the world in a better way, making the world a better place.

We often confuse the sentence “changing for the better” with “creating something new”. We are used to ask the question “What does influence the success of a startup entrepreneur?” but I do believe that the right question should be “What a startup/transformative entrepreneur can do to influence the success of his own company?”.

The second one sounds more interesting, doesn’t it?

At 42Accelerator we have a couple of answers in mind. They are not ours, we borrowed them from the American entrepreneurial culture, then we filtered and validated them on a daily basis through our experience. Our job consists of updating and refining them every day, in order to be able to transfer them to teams we invest in. Here is what a startup entrepreneur can do to change the world. Going ahead with this article, you’ll realize why this topic is related to science and why I call it Startup Science instead of Startup Crystal Ball.

1. You can build models to represent the world, as it is and as it should be.

As scientists do. The transformative entrepreneur continuously produces models: business models, models of metrics, model of growth because he wants to own the power of changing things in a time-persistent way and with a scalable impact.

How can we produce models? Disfluency.

It starts from recognizing the pattern in the reality. A pattern is a recurring scheme, a repetitive structure of causes and effects, very complex.

The reality returns data and information in the form of events and being able to recognize the scheme is a skill that psychologists call disfluency. Not all the schemes can be reproduced (or the opposite, avoided), so recognizing the scheme doesn’t necessary imply that it can be used, but it’s an important starting point and the disfluency is a requirement for the entrepreneurial success. Too many people ignore it. Too often business ideas focus on what it’s possible to do with technology and not on the observation of the reality that drives you to what it takes to do that. After that, it’s necessary to identify the behavioural model of the events involved into the scheme, the reason why things happen in a certain way. Here comes the funny part of those who choose to do this job: the reality produces schemes, making hypothesis and validating the model in order to reproduce it in a very systematic way to look like a determinist model is up to you.

It’s not a coincidence that a startup team gains high credibility to the eyes of the investors once it proves to have a stable traction, that is being able to modeling the acquisition process and service in a way that is so accurate that it can be mechanically reproduce into the reality with no unexpected events.

Mark Zuckerberg has transformed Facebook into the biggest photo sharing platform because he obsessively observed the behavior of its early adopters and noticed a pattern: they often changed their profile picture, with apparently no reason. He identified what it’s called “unintended use of technology”.

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

 

 

This is the first reason why the entrepreneurial success has a scientific root: “science” refers to that systematic process of building and organizing the knowledge in the form of objective descriptions and with a predictive trait of the reality and the laws that rule it.

The practical advice that we suggest to you is: train your disfluency. Train yourself to understand meanings from information that the rest of the world see as an inconsistent amount of data. This is your real competitive advantage: not the patents, not the solution idea, but the ability to read the real world through new lens. Be hungry of schemes.

An idea is nothing, an idea with an observation behind is the beginning of a change.

2. You can validate models.

There’s a difference between entrepreneur and startup/transformative entrepreneur. When talking about entrepreneurship, if we ignore this difference, it’s easy to misunderstand. A traditional entrepreneur, who follows a plan and who doesn’t innovate, he doesn’t necessary need to acquire the habits and the behavior of a startup entrepreneur that allow him to reach his goal of changing the world. To describe this difference I use the metaphor of poker. I’ve never played poker, but the way a poker champion described the difference between an intermediate player and a professional one inside this book really impressed me.
 

At an intermediate level, your goal is to know as many rules as you can, you are greedy of certainties. To become a Pro, you have to start to see the bets as a way to ask questions to the opponents. <<Wanna fold? Wanna raise? How often do I have to provoke you before you start acting impulsively?>>. Only when you get an answer, only in that moment, you are able to predict the future in a more accurate way. The art of poker consists of using your chips to gather unreleased information, before anyone else.

The art of starting a company consists of using your limited resources to gather useful information from the market before anyone else (so unreleased). The day-by-day of an entrepreneur consists of asking the right questions, at the right time, in the most frugal way possible, and being able to accept the answers.

Why frugal?

Because questions refer to hypothesis on the models that you formulated during the previous step. The process of constantly questioning the market with the aim of gathering useful information is called validation process and consists of verifying those hypothesis.

If the answer stultifies the hypothesis, you have to put yourself in a position of asking another question, and another one. That’s why I said frugal, because you have to make sure to always keep a few chips in your pocket.

This is called “execution”, and it’s so hard and difficult that startups fail because of “lack of execution” (that is “lack of validation”), not because the market of investments doesn’t work correctly. So, if this is the art, where is the science? The science adds the method. The method helps intermediate players developing the art of the choice in conditions of uncertainty, that only pro players have. When the method enters into the muscle memory, it becomes habit and mindset, and only at this point it becomes art. This is an aspect that the majority of entrepreneurs (those who end up by not excelling) ignores (because of lazyness, of course). The startup entrepreneurship, the innovation, is not a job for lazy and undisciplined people. The method is exactly the scientific and experimental one: as Charles Duhigg said:

The paradox of learning how to make better decisions, is that requires developing a comfort with doubt.

If it’s true that you are doing something new, that no one has done before, then it’s also true that you live into the uncertainty domain. Almost by definition, you start from assumptions. The experimental method teaches you to:

  • recognize the assumptions
  • isolate the most risky ones for your model
  • formulate an experiment that stultify them (using the entrepreneurship language, this is called MVE - minimum viable experiment)
  • formulate some goal metrics that help you to objectively compare the results
  • making experiments to gather results
  • decide if you need to stultify or validate the assumption and what this implies for the model, using an entrepreneurial language it’s called “Pivot or Persevere?”.

This is the process followed by biologists, physicists and inside the Google innovation laboratories, where everyone who has an idea accept the challenge of stultify it and prove that it’s wrong. Everyone involved in the innovation space should use the same approach. Following this process there’s no success or failure, just learning and the winner is the one who learns the most in the fastest way. As in the poker.

3. You can be coherent

The basic rule of the validation process is consistency.

This is related to science too, because the correlation between consistency and success has been scientifically validated by applying the finite state machine model of Markov to the life-cicle of over 600 startups (see: Startup Genome). The rule of consistency is extremely important from a practical perspective because it suggests to you which questions ask to the market, and when ask them.

In fact, it’s very important to have some kind of answers since the beginning. But there are other ones that it’s useless to get in the first stage because they just let you waste your time in finding them and they could be misleading.


The ones related to the market (who) and the problem (why), have to be got before the ones related to the offer (how) and the product (what) or the financial sustainability (how much).

The reason is apparently obvious: developing the product is useless if you don’t know the market very well and the important problem you aim to face for that market. I said “apparently” because focusing on the development of the product first and then try to put it on the market is the most human, arrogant and common thing that I see happening.

Innovating is neither a right nor an obligation. It’s a privilege, a permission that the market agrees with the entrepreneur, before he starts developing something new.

To make it easier for the entrepreneur to ask the right questions at the right time, different kinds of meta-models have been developed and they allow you to recognize - with more precision - in which stage you are, and let you to know what to do.


To mention a few of them: The Customer Development model (Steve Blank), the Startup Genome stages of growth (Max Marmer, Steve Blank et al.), The Disciplined Entrepreneurship model (Bill Aulet, MIT). Everyone offers a quite strict definition of thresholds and milestones that go from problem-solution fit, to product-market fit and beyond.

The experience and the science prove us that an entrepreneur moving organically from a step to the next one has way more chance of success compared to the one who acts incoherently against the development stage.

With all that said, inconsistency is still the main cause of failure.

To better understand what it means, let’s think about the startup as 5 dimension object.

  • team: the founder, the employees
  • product: the first tests, prototypes, the industrial version
  • finance: the personal one, pre-seed, seed, next rounds and IPO
  • market: early adopters, large majority
  • business model: you have to validate it starting from the right side to the left side (del cosiddetto business model canvas)

The symptoms of the incoherence can be different, these are the most frequent ones:

  • A team that is not balances against the market
  • A product that is too big against the market
  • Too much money (or too little) against the real validation of the business model.

Yes, too many, raised too early, are bad for your company.

The majority of the exclusions from our acceleration program are due to inconsistency, because our experience proves that is too hard to recover it.

Because inconsistency puts you in a loop of wrong decisions. It doesn’t mean that the decision is wrong, but the focus of your decision is and so the startup is completely out of focus.

The practical advice that we like to provide in these cases comes from an ancient Turkish proverb that says: “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.“.

Train yourself to come back, or even better, to frequently check if you are on the right way.

In a situation where you have to draw your own path, it’s objectively hard, and that’s why it’s very important for a founder to have the support of other people that know the nature of the journey you are going through and that are able to keep his focus on the right goals at the right time.

Education: The PhD Factory.

It is not unusual nowadays to encounter published papers from esteemed journals like Science or Nature, wondering about the current situation of Science PhD. Among all of those, “The PhD Factory” published by Nature in 2011 is particularly relevant and accurate in performing a comparison among systems throughout the whole world, like USA, Japan, Germany, Singapore and others.

We discover that often the desire for a larger population of highly educated scientist comes from political reasoning, aiming to a faster economic growth boosted by technological innovation. Unfortunately, it is more rarely found that governments act to create favorable conditions for such a supply of new PhD holders to enter the economic tissue and face the shrinking of academic positions.

Singapore: “I see a PhD not just as the mastery of a discipline, but also training of the mind,” says Ng. “If they later practise what they have mastered — excellent — otherwise, they can take their skill sets into a new domain and add value to it.”

USA: “It’s a waste of resources,” says Stephan. “We’re spending a lot of money training these students and then they go out and get jobs that they’re not well matched for.” [...] Some universities are now experimenting with PhD programmes that better prepare graduate students for careers outside academia.
 

Author of the article: Nature
Commented by: Daniele Conti

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

From PhD to Entrepreneurs: here is the story of Hotblack Robotics.

The Hotblack Robotics’s story started in 2011 when TIM wanted to invest in Research and Development for new technological trends: Internet of Things and Cloud Robotics. Since the idea seemed to be interesting in 2012 TIM decided to strictly collaborate with top Italian universities. So they founded new laboratories inside the academic world. They were called Joint Open Lab and the idea was to have mixed team, both academics and TIM employees, working together in innovative projects. The lab where I carried out my Phd was JOL CRAB (Connected Robotics Application LaB). The vision of the laboratory was to realize a cloud robotics platform and find different markets where this idea could generate revenue. The lab had different test cases to show the potential of a cloud platform:

  • robots for energy monitoring into data centers
  • UAV management into smart cities
  • robots for education and entertainment
  • robots for agriculture

In addition one of the aims of the lab was also to create start-ups in order to speed up the go to market process. So the 23rd June 2015 me and my Phd colleague Ludovico Orlando Russo decided to found a start-up with the same vision of the lab and bring our scientific results to the market: we founded Hotblack Robotics. We decided to start from the most mature project that was a robot for energy monitoring into data centers. The result was that the shift from the scientific to the entrepreneur world was very painful and full of unexpected problems.

Fig 1. Robot for energy monitoring into data centers

Fig 1. Robot for energy monitoring into data centers

Data centers have a huge energy electrical consumption due to the fact that they need to cool down servers temperature continuously. There are many solutions for this and one of the best is to use a wireless sensor network to have a real time energy monitoring analysis. The problem of this solution is that in big data centers they need to install many different sensors so the network is very big and the maintenance very expensive. The idea was, why having many sensors into the environment while we could have only one moving around the entire area? So we realized a robot with sensors moving around autonomously and giving information in real time of the entire data center. It was working perfectly after 4 years of hard development with the state of the art algorithm to make the system working robustly. So we decided to bring it into the market since we had also some possible customers inside TIM. What was missing? It was a technology solution looking for a problem, thing that in business is very dangerous.

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

 

Fortunately we apply the lean startup methodology in a very scientific way. So we interviewed 31 site manager and asked them how they were managing the infrastructure to have a better insight of the market. In particular we have learnt that it is composed as follow:

  • Housing service, is the service where customers are paying only for the physical space. They put their servers into this rented space and the service provider must guarantee that their servers stay within a certain safe temperature range.
  • Hosting service, the customer is paying only for remote data storage.
  • Cloud Service, it is very similar but the customer is paying only according to the space used day by day or hour per hour. So it is more flexible.
  • Internal data centers, are those data centers that are into a bigger company. The company doesn't want to deliver storage service to a different company so it decides to have everything internally.
  • Audit services, are those services to evaluate the energy efficiency and improve it.

Then we identified our competitive value and find the right market accordingly. Our solution was useful for physical monitoring of the servers in dynamic context and where the energy consumption is considered very big. We realized that customers that provide hosting and cloud services were not interested in our solution because they have no physical hardware to monitor.

Housing service seemed to be interesting because of its huge energy expense. Unfortunately we found out that most of them are designing new infrastructure in order to keep the efficiency always at the top. So we thought to internal data centers. Internal data centers are interesting because from the company perspective this infrastructure is always a cost. So we interview General Electrics CTO Fabio Borri. He told us that actually the energy problem is not the main reason of this cost but the infrastructure itself and all the IT team to support it. In fact they are shifting to a big centralized data center world wide that are designing with the highest possible energy efficiency. 

Only audit services was left as the latest chance. An interested potential customer was telling us that the main interesting feature was the dynamicity. So we thought that this would have been the right market. Unfortunately it ended that audit market for data center is too small for a business. In addition we needed to have audit skills for energy monitoring, thing that was not suitable to our vision as cloud robotics. We were basically out of any market with many prototypes and no people interested in using what we built!

We didn’t surrender but we took this experience as a good lesson learnt for creating something better.

So we thought about our key features. With a cloud robotics platform we can:

  1. Make robotics application development easy and accessible to everyone
  2. Through the internet we could seed a community of developers
  3. We could separate software from hardware and selling only the cloud platform itself instead of dealing with difficult services

So finally with the same strategy we found a market for makers and robotics enthusiasts! Now the cloud robotics platform is accessible at www.hotblackrobotics.com/cloud and helps everyone to use robots and write software in an easy way. It is an education and entertainment service on-line that makes everyone that want to use robots to make it working easily thanks to the power of the cloud. There are some cool functionalities such as voice recognition and face recognition that are already implemented into the platform and a growing community! And many and others things yet to come..  

Fig 2. Hotblack Robotics team: Gabriele Ermacora, CEO, and Ludovico Orlando Russo, CTO  

Fig 2. Hotblack Robotics team: Gabriele Ermacora, CEO, and Ludovico Orlando Russo, CTO

 

Research under the industry lens.

Most PhD students believe that academic post-doc is their only option, but this is the result of a lack of information on which non-academic career options are available to them and which of these positions fit their goals and lifestyle. It’s also very important for PhD students to pay close attention to changing trends and to make sure to note which job sectors are rising and which are falling.

As mentioned in our previous article PhD in Wonderland. Dream or Reality?, a valid reason to consider other options to the academic postdoc is the fact that - talking about the US, for example - there is an increasing amount of opening PhD positions that would never be absorbed in academia and - as emerged during a recent conference hosted by the UK Council for Graduate Education - 80% of PhD students are aware that it may be hard to get a job as a post-doc or junior research associate and secure a lifelong academic career.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with an overview on the world of research in industry, highlighting the benefits that this non-academic career option offers to you and the differences with the academia, in order to let you choose the right path for your career.

So, let’s go deeper and see what working in industry as a researcher actually means.

"In business, everything begins with the profit motive. ... Just the very idea of research is geared towards a product rather than knowledge itself. The most critical factor in determining whether a scientist is going to be successful in making the transition from the university to the private sector is the ability to buy into that point of view." said Michael A. Santoro, a business ethics professor at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey.

This statement introduces the first difference between academia and industry: in industry you have the chance to see the result of your research becoming a solution to a real-world problem and you can build something that the company can use and test in the real world.

But this is not the only benefit.

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

 

Your progress is measured accurately and consistently based on performance.

Your performance on assigned work and shared goals is used to accurately measure your progress. Your performance is also used for determining promotions, salary increases, and bonuses. Not only this, but there are specific people designated for measuring your progress and they are actually held accountable to it.

As a research scientist in industry, you will report to a manager who will be responsible for advancing your team’s goals and the company’s vision overall.

Moreover, at the beginning of every fiscal year, you will write a Performance Development Plan (PDP), or similar, with clear business and personal goals.

These goals must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Oriented and Time-Bound, also known as SMART goals.

You are rewarded for being a leader and showing initiative.

In industry, however, you will work with a very fast work pace and be expected to deliver accurate results quickly.

Working at a faster pace is enjoyable for different reasons, for example:

  • you are working with a team whose goals are aligned with yours
  • you are rewarded for finding better ways of doing things

If you take the initiative to improve the workflow of a system, improve a product, or make any part of the company better—you’re rewarded.

The more confidently you take initiative, the more you are rewarded.

You are part of a supportive and structured work environment.

Finally, as an industry research scientist, or as a professional in any of these non-academic careers, you are not alone and you know exactly where you’re going. In industry, every scientist has his own project.

At the same time, ever scientist is trained to support each other.

As the French chemist Christophe Eychenne said “Industry is not the dark side. Mostly, we can't find breakthroughs in the industry without the academy, and we can't find money for the academy without applications in the real life. Rather, it's just "another side" of the research endeavor.”

No jobs in academia? Consider becoming a scientist-entrepreneur.

An interesting article showing how the skillset you have as a researcher can be very useful for your career as a scientist-entrepreneur.

Take money from Business Angels or Venture Capitalist to develop your own idea can be a valid alternative to raise money from federal and no-profit organizations.

You have a solution to solve a problem (your research), you can write a business plan (like you write a grant application), you are able to pitch your idea (like you pitch during seminars)...so, you are probably a scientist-entrepreneur right now.

If academia represents intellectual freedom and independence, and industry represents job security and earning potential, then entrepreneurship is the best of both worlds.

In a biotech start-up, you are taking your own idea and framing it within the context of an applicable product. There is no more translational research than this, which epitomizes bench to bedside. Taking money from a private entity to get you started is not all that different from taking money from the federal government or not-for-profit organization (NPO); in fact, you will still need to do this as a private company.
 

Author of the article: University Affairs
Commented by: Enrico Cattaneo

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

PhD in Wonderland. Dream or Reality?

Talking with other PhD Students and colleagues of mine, it emerges that the main drivers for choosing a PhD in science is passion. We love what we are doing, the project we took part into becomes a piece of us day after day. Most of us are not requested to stay into the lab such a large amount of hours, nevertheless who has never spent a night in there? It happens so frequently to see lights still turned on in department's labs late in the evening and, to whom is able to observe deeply, immediately a thought comes up in mind: “Research is going on there!”

That probably is the most meaningful definition of research: free-minded students' energies devoted to push knowledge ahead and to discovery.

That probably is the most meaningful definition of research: free-minded students' energies devoted to push knowledge ahead and to discovery.

On the same hand, everybody of us is aware of the whole set of difficulties that have to be faced every day in doing recognized quality research. Low salary per number of worked hours, lack of investments in infrastructures and materials, difficulties in publishing research in high ranked journals and most of all, the tremendous lack of opening positions in academia that would allow to proceed in a permanent career in university. It naturally makes arise a quest for positions all around the world that, although it allows a faster growth both from the professional and the personal side, it also demands a considerable amount of years of instability and precariousness...

The problem begins to be recognized worldwide. Recently a number of articles from respectable scientific journals, such as Nature and Science, addressed the problem of increasing amount of opening PhD positions in the US that would never be absorbed in academia [1]. It is the American Institute of Research (AIR) that in 2014 takes the task of quantifying the phenomenon of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) PhD holders that rather than running for tenure track, exit the university to dive into the market [2].

Totally, 61% of PhD holders find a place in Industry, while the amount increases to a high 74% when only Engineering is considered. Interestingly, the 88% of graduates with doctoral degrees working in Industry at the survey moment comes from three major fields: Engineering, Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences (fig. 1) with an overall amount of 57% of PhD holders still working in Research and Development at different levels: Basic Research, Applied Research and Development; the remaining 43% is involved in management and other professional services. The combinations of these data make arise the need for soft skills to be acquired alongside with technical skills. Communications to general public, project management, basics in economic balance and market trends are missing competences to STEM PhD holders that may heavily affect the transition to industry into a tough job even for highly qualified researchers.

Figure 1. Distribution of PhD degrees of workers in Industry at 2014 in the USA. Source AIR [2].

By the way, despite the impact that it can have on the researcher’s working habits, this kind of transition could provide benefits from a financial point of view. Indeed, OECD research states that higher education provides consistently higher salary with respect to secondary level education, to an amount that is about +150% higher for the US and about +100% in EU [3].

 

Does MARS42 sounds interesting to you? Let us tell you more about it!

 

Data definitely state that pursuing PhD is a profitable investment, but it is also as much evident how risky it could be running for an academic career. Indeed, focusing on the Italian scenario, statistics collected by the University and Research Ministry and elaborated by PhD and Researchers Association (ADI) make it clear that how only 8% of researchers will be absorbed into the academic path within 2020 [4]. Moving to the UK scenario, this percentage reduces to about 3.5% when Permanent Research staff is considered and drops to 0.45% for a Professor Position (fig. 2) [5].

Figure 2. Diagram illustrating transition points encountered in typical career for scientific careers following a PhD. Source The Royal Society [5].

Talking to other PhD Students and colleagues of mine, it emerges that the longer they are into research, the more they become concerned about their future. Sometimes the will for staying into academia comes mainly from the lack of knowledge of what there is outside; Industry is often perceived as subject to money rules, as the killer of the free-spirit driving discovery.

Probably we will persist in being deaf to what data tell us, despite our analytical mindset, but sooner or later we will have to deal with the tough choice between academia and something else. It will be better to know more about the rivals.

 

References:

  1. Cyranoski D, Gilbert N, Ledford H, Nayar A, Yahia M, Education, the PhD Factory, Nature 472, 276-279 (2011)

  2. Turk-Bicakci L, Berger A, Haxton C, The Nonacademic Careers of STEM PhD Holders, Broadening Participation in STEM Graduate Education, STEM at American Institutes for Research (2014)

  3. OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en

  4. V Indagine ADI - Il reclutamento di assegnisti ricercatori a tempo determinato di tipo a e b, ADI Associazione Dottorandi e Dottori di Ricerca Italiani. https://dottorato.it

  5. The Scientific Century, securing our future prosperity. The Royal Society. ISBN: 978-0-85403-818-3, Issued: March 2010 Report 02/10 DES1768