entrepreneurship Polihub start up
Being entrepreneurial in a high-tech world
We talk with Andrea Sianesi, Executive Chairman PoliHub, Innovation District and Startup Accelerator Politecnico di Milano
Professor of Logistics and Production Systems Management, School of Management
Andrea, you are in charge of an incubator, so you embrace new business ideas which are still in development. What characteristics does a good entrepreneur have at this moment in history?
Firstly courage. This is the same answer I would have given before the Covid-19 crisis. Entrepreneurial initiative is a leap into the void and committing resources and time to develop ideas requires a cool head.
In addition to courage, I believe correcting one’s mistakes and make the most of the “obstacles” along the way is fundamental.
There is a need to have technical and technological knowledge about your enterprise. The entrepreneur who goes through PoliHub, has a solid technological expertise, but lacks business world knowledge. Entrepreneurs must be open to partnerships with other people who can bring complementary skills to the company, such as the ability to develop the market, or knowledge of the regulatory framework.
One must always be willing to get help.
PoliHub is a university incubator: why does the university need it?
The university ecosystem is a fundamental asset for those who want to do business. At Politecnico di Milano, we guarantee access to the business school, POLI.design and Cefriel innovation hubs, thousands of professors and researchers, laboratories covering engineering disciplines, and which are fundamental for transforming an idea into a product.
We are not just a place that hosts start-ups, we are unique compared to other incubators. In deep tech start-ups, it is necessary to carry out experimental activities in laboratories that are only found in universities, and there are companies that, following technological developments in different sectors, have detached some of their departments to join us. This allows them to work and interact with start-ups and have the same ease of access to the entire hub.
This makes the difference and the figures confirm it. Let me give you an example: Politecnico di Milano’s PoliHub, together with the Technology Transfer Office (TTO), manages the “Switch To Product” competition every year. This programme enhances the market value of innovative solutions, new technologies and business ideas suggested by students and graduates (up to three years after graduation), researchers, alumni and professors of Politecnico di Milano, offering financial resources and consulting services to support the development of innovation projects through technological validation and entrepreneurial acceleration. This year we saw a 20 per cent increase in applications. This is an incredibly significant growth, which gives us hope for an increase in new successful companies.
Covid-19 has turned the tables and changed boundaries and business ecosystems, with short or long-term effects, what have you noticed about this situation?
Recently we feared that the pandemic could wipe out the start-up world as they were unable to access forms of subsidy available to other business and professional categories. The problem is real: start-ups today find themselves in greater difficulty than companies that are already well established, but for the moment the system is holding up and showing encouraging signs.
An unexpected effect has been an increase in demand to access incubation services. There is a strong demand to enter the business world, perhaps due to the realisation that it is necessary to know how to get back into the game, even for those who have a well-established career, creating new income opportunities where job stability is lacking.
The demand increase for services comes not only from potential start-ups, but established companies, who decide to relocate to smaller and leaner offices located next to centres of excellence. This new trend is perhaps facilitated by the spread of smart working, which makes it easier to manage small offices than larger ones.
You are describing a scenario with different opportunities on the horizon. What are Polihub’s future plans?
The challenge for us is to find resources that can accompany the start-ups from the idea, and the university, with its resources related to European projects and grants, funds and investors willing to support them throughout their growth phase.
I like to picture the process as crossing a valley. Start-ups need a “bridge” between the two phases that allows them to have the necessary resources to make their idea interesting for investors.
For the idea to be interesting it needs to prove that it is solid and technically verified and has a target market.
Often the technical tests already require considerable investment and are lengthy. We are committed to making this “bridge” effective, and as short as possible, compared to the objectives.
Our future project is to find institutional investors and venture capital, but with a wide-ranging international approach and not just a domestic exposure for our start-ups.
We think with an international logic, not only financially, but using every asset made available by the global network of incubators of excellence.
We are certain that pooling these capabilities will enable us to make a real difference.