Venture capital in the time of Covid: half of the world’s investment funds have changed strategy – but only 38.5% in Italy

The Bureau of Entrepreneurial Finance (BEF), a permanent centre established at the initiative of the Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management and the Politecnico di Torino, in order to connect the most recognised scholars and players in the field of venture capital in Europe.


More than 500 responses to the survey, received mainly from European and North American operators in the second half of 2021, suggest that the current trend is to invest at later stages in the lifecycle of start-ups in order to reduce the level of risk and to favour sectors like healthcare, energy and pharmaceuticals, driven by the pandemic.

Milan, 9 May 2022 – Venture capital in the time of Covid-19. As the pandemic significantly impacted many aspects of the global economy, forcing businesses to redesign their internal processes in order to stay in the market, it also drove venture capitalists to adapt their own investment practices to the changing scenario. Examples of this include investing at later stages in the lifecycle of start-ups or favouring sectors like healthcare, energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals and financial services, while turning away from digital services and commercial distribution.

These are some of the findings highlighted in the Report on Venture Capital and Covid-19 which was presented this morning at the Politecnico di Milano during the launch of the Bureau of Entrepreneurial Finance (BEF), a permanence centre established at the initiative of the Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management and the Politecnico di Torino – co-founded by professors Massimo Colombo, Annalisa Croce, Elisa Ughetto and Vincenzo Butticè – with the aim of providing networking and discussion opportunities for the most recognised scholars and players in the field of venture capital in Europe.

The survey was conducted in the second half of 2021, at the height of the post-Covid economic recovery but while price increases linked to raw materials and energy were already being seen, and responses were received from more than 500 funds, with excellent coverage of European funds (which increased their investments by 2%) and North American funds (which reduced their investments by 1%).

Globally, half of all funds (52%) stated that they had changed their investment strategy after Covid, even if only moderately. This percentage was much lower for European funds (57% of which did not change anything) and lower still (61.5%) for Italian funds, probably due to the fact that they tend to have higher rates of cross-border investment (90.2% of those making cross-border investments – 83.5% in Italy – did not reduce them in favour of domestic investment).

Another interesting aspect is the reduction in the number of seed stage investments, and more generally investments in the initial stages of the lifecycle of start-ups, favouring later stages of development (ranging from +1.2% for early- and late-stage investments to +4.4% in the mid-stage investments), with the trend being more evident among smaller funds.

“Uncertainty has increase everywhere and investors therefore prefer to shift the focus of their investment towards more mature businesses with more moderate risk profiles”, explains Elisa Ughetto from the Politecnico di Torino’s Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, one of the curators of the study and co-director of the BEF together with Annalisa Croce from the Politecnico di Milano’s Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering. “Moreover, also in response to the sudden changes occurring in recent years, investors are relying less on their instincts (gut feeling) than in the past, and are basing their decisions more on objective aspects such as favourable economic environments, business models and any public incentives”. “Investment strategies have also changed”, adds Annalisa Croce. “Business sectors that performed well during the pandemic, such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, are now being favoured, while sectors which traditionally receive high levels of investment from venture capital funds, such as ICT, are in decline”.

The sectors which have seen increased investment are healthcare (+2.4%), energy and the environment, pharmaceuticals and financial services (all +1%), training and semiconductors (+0.6%), while digital services (-1.4%), including those linked to the internet and mobile devices (-1%), and commercial distribution (-1.6%) are in decline.

Funds have also lowered their expectations for expected returns (IRR) and have become stricter in their assessment of start-ups in terms of the required multiple. In essence, they are taking on a lower risk for lower expected returns (-1.3% on average): although the largest band fell by two percentage points, it retains a target IRR of between 20% and 29%, while some investors – the number of which has also risen very slightly – still expect earnings of between 40% and 50%. Even the valuation of start-ups already in portfolios has been subject to remodulation: in 40% of cases it has fallen (significantly in 9% of cases) since, in the changed scenario, a reduction in value is expected when the funds exit their position.

One last curious detail is the fact that post-investment interaction between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, aimed at supporting the start-up’s growth, has increased by almost one third (+28.4%). While in the past they mainly talked between once and three times a month, weekly or even daily contact is now on the rise.

WiTECH – Entrepreneurship for Women in Technology

WiTECH (Entrepreneurship for Women in Tech), a European education project fully funded by the Erasmus+ Programme, is designed to encourage women to stay in the ICT sector and to empower them to reach their full potential through the creation of businesses in this sector

Not only is there a growing gap across Europe between the demand and supply for ICT specialists, but women are overwhelmingly under-represented in this sector. Furthermore, women who do choose ICT face a higher risk of dropping out because of unfavourable working conditions and lack of career progress.

Funded by the EU’s Erasmus+ initiative, the WiTECH project is led by Politecnico di Milano (specifically, by the School of Management and by the Department of Electronic, Informatics, and Bioengineering, DEIB).
Besides Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI), the WiTECH consortium includes two other technological universities (Lappeenrannan–Lahden teknillinen yliopisto, LUT, and Technological University Dublin, TUM), three tech start-up hubs (PoliHub, The Startup Shortcut, and Digital Hub Development Agency), as well as a business school (L’Institut de préparation à l’administration générale IPAG) from four European countries.

The team consists of professors and experts in highly relevant technical, educational, economic, and managerial fields from POLIMI. These include Massimo G. Colombo (Full Professor in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance at SoM), Cristina Rossi-Lamastra (Full Professor of Business and Industrial Economics at SoM, with additional expertise in gender issues in business contexts), Mara Tanelli (Full Professor of Automatic Controls at DEIB), Nicoletta Trentinaglia (Senior Project Manager of e-learning, e-collaboration and learning innovation projects).
The project leaders from other partners are: Adnane Maalaoui (Director of Entrepreneurship Programmes – IPAG), Jussi Kasurinen  (Associate Professor and Head of Software Engineering Programmes – LUT), Barry Feeney  (Head of Department of Computing – TUD), Julia Witting-Mäklin (Director of Operations – The Shortcut).
The project also involves young scholars such as Silvia Stroe (Junior Researcher in Entrepreneurship at SoM) and Jie Li (PhD Student in Entrepreneurship at SoM).

Currently, the WiTECH project is putting together a blended learning course, which builds the skills and confidence that women with STEM qualifications need to create their own innovative businesses in ICT fields.
The heart of WITECH is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which is conceived as a self-sustaining tool to encourage professors to innovate their teaching practices. It targets Master’s students in STEM subjects, by being freely available online, it is also intended to spark interest in ICT among high school girls to encourage them to choose this field of studies.
The course will be promoted widely across Europe, after the development and testing of its contents during 2022.

This blended learning course consists of three modules:

Module 1:  Entrepreneurship and management.
Notions of entrepreneurship (including social entrepreneurship), how to become an executive of the 21st century (new working culture, corporate-social responsibility, diversity in the workplace, etc.)

Module 2: Technology entrepreneurship.
The notions of entrepreneurship applied to the specific challenges of starting a business in technology sectors.

Module 3: Training at a tech startup or a tech hub.
Understanding the context of tech startups or tech hubs in the framework of technology entrepreneurial ecosystems.

WiTECH started in Oct 2019, and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.  All the course content is now ready and the MOOC format is being produced. The website has just been launched:
The Linkedin page of the project is:

We welcome you to join us!

From technology to luxury, via MIP: the experience of Merry Le

MBA Alumna tells about the success achieved at the Mark Challenge, a competition for startups in the luxury & yachting field. A result also made possible by the ability to best exploit one’s skills


There’s a phrase, attributed to André Citroën, founder of the French auto manufacturer, that goes more or less like this: “Knowing how to do something is nothing without making it known.” Because sometimes the biggest challenge isn’t finding an excellent idea and developing it. It can be much more complex to effectively describe it, especially when faced with a varied audience, with different educational backgrounds. How do you convince everyone? It was the question asked by Merry Le, who after attending the Master in Business Administration programme at MIP Politecnico di Milano became the business strategy lead for Moi Composites. The company, a spinoff of Politecnico di Milano, is active in the 3D printing on demand market and received the Special Award in Yachting from the Mark Challenge, a competition for startups in the luxury sector. «Our patented technology, Continuous Fiber Manufacturing, allows production of unique products in a more efficient and economically accessible manner», explains Le. «Characteristics that go hand in hand with the production needs of a luxury sector like yachting, where customization is regularly desired.  The Mark Challenge seemed to us to be the right forum to promote the unique advantages of our startup. There was one main obstacle: since it is a technological process innovation, it was difficult to make the more technical aspects comprehensible».


The importance of a good pitch

Merry Le and her colleagues, all four hailing from MIP and the Politecnico, thus decided to take advantage of their knowledge network, including MIP professors: «We presented the project to several people to get feedback on its effectiveness. So we simplified the language and made some messaging more clear. The actual presentation, then, involved a further complication», says Le, «because it took place in the middle of the Covid-19 health emergency,  everything was done online». But the strategy of Moi Composites paid off, because Merry Le and her colleagues were awarded and won the possibility to present their pitch to the Monaco Yachting Clustercommission. Not only: the presentation itself was voted by the public as the best pitch. «A success that I and my colleagues achieved, thanks also to our different backgrounds, which allowed us both to develop a solid business plan, and to work with an innovative technology.»


The future of luxury between personalization and sustainability  

The characteristics of Moi Composites’ business are well suited to the latest developments in the luxury market in general, and not only of the nautical industry: «The current trend is that of personalization. Customers are increasingly looking for tailor-made products suited to their specific needs. It’s a trend accompanied by an increasing demand for environmental and social sustainability, as well as circularity», continues Le. «I am convinced that, despite Covid-19’s major impact on the economy, and thus also on luxury, we are more prepared to face the change.  The 2008 recession struck suddenly, taking everyone by surprise; but because of that crisis people now learned how to manage recovery and to become more creative and proactive.»


The wealth of the MBA  

Merry Le attended the Master in Business Administration at MIP because, after years of a career, she felt the need to broaden her expertise: «The world is changing rapidly, and it’s increasingly important to be able to count on skills that allow you to best understand and face changes underway». An American from the East Coast, after 14 years in the aerospace manufacturing industry, today Merry Le, in her new position as business strategy lead, can use the knowledge acquired during the master’s. Not only: the project work with which she participated in the Mark Challenge was proposed to her by MIP. And if you consider that Moi Composites, with headquarters in the nearby town of Pero, was created thanks to the support of Politecnico di Milano, it appears evident that MIP’s strenght isn’t limited to education, but can also provide a geographically near productive fabric, made up of high-level companies that are constantly seeking professional skills of the same calibre. «My experience was fantastic», concludes Le. «I would recommend the choice of an MBA to anyone. What attracted me most was the emphasis on tech and big data, but more generally I felt the need to learn something new in a new environment, not just to improve and fine-tune the skills I already had. Further value added is provided by the heterogeneity of the class: the students came from 20 different countries, and this allowed us to be exposed to new points of view. An invaluable wealth».

Entrepreneurship in an interconnected world: now online the new issue of SOMeMagazine

SOMe Issue #2 has been released.

SOMe is the eMagazine of our School born to share stories, points of view and projects around key themes of our mission.

The title of this issue is “Being entrepreneurial in a high tech world“, in which we discuss the change of approach to entrepreneurship in an increasingly interconnected world, but also dealing with the most serious health crisis of the last century.

First we present an interview with Andrea Sianesi, President PoliHub, Innovation District and Startup Accelerator of Politecnico di Milano, who tells us how entrepreneurship is evolving in this scenario and how the role of incubators is changing.

We then deal with some specific elements – such as strategy, leadership and business models – with editorials by Federico Frattini, Antonio Ghezzi, Roberto Verganti.

Finally, we tell stories of Alumni who turned their ideas in successful business initiatives.

To read SOMe’s #2 click here.

To receive it directly in your inbox, please sign up here.

Previous issues of SOMe:

• # 1 “Sustainability – Beyond good deeds, a good deal?”
• Special Issue Covid-19 – “Global transformation, ubiquitous responses”

Entrepreneurial Strategy: how to navigate the new pandemic and digital normal

Entrepreneurship arises from the recognition of an explicit or hidden problem, often from exogenous shocks. But an entrepreneurial mindset is not enough: it needs an overall strategy, a framework and the tools to navigate this new pandemic and digital normal. In the end, it is a process based on a scientific and experimental approach.


Antonio Ghezzi, Associate Professor of Strategy & Marketing, Hi-tech Startups and Digital Business Innovation
School of Management Politecnico di Milano


Entrepreneurship is commonly defined as a constant search for new business opportunities.

What’s an opportunity? Opportunities can arise when exogenous shocks reveal competitive imperfections which leave some space open for intervention and action. They might also happen when resources and competencies, owned by you or some else, appear or acquire a new value (such as when they are recombined to deliver a new solution or when old problems are resolved in new ways). Sometimes, opportunities are created by visionary minds who challenge common assumptions or who see a light in the darkness.

How do you take advantage of an opportunity once it is discovered or created?

Taking advantage of an opportunity involves creating new organisations. These may be traditional new ventures or more highly innovative start-ups, which build viable business models around the business opportunities. Entrepreneurs must formulate an entrepreneurial strategy, by: defining their vision, mission and purpose; creatively analysing industries, looking within and outside traditional market boundaries using a Blue Ocean Strategy or using a lean start approach by designing innovative business models and validating them on the market by acquiring customer feedback through experimentation.

These are the main entrepreneurial steps, which make it a restless force that challenges and creates traditional industries, and constitutes the major growth thrust in mature economies like Italy’s.

What is the relationship between today’s mega trends and exogenous conditions and entrepreneurship? How do the “new normal”, born of a fast-spreading pandemic and a growing digitalisation trend, affect entrepreneurial action? And can entrepreneurial action help overcome current threats?

Entrepreneurship is born and naturally thrives in uncertain market conditions and turbulence. New ventures and start-ups either emerge from discontinuities or create them, through disruptive initiatives and business models. You need an entrepreneurial mindset when sailing troubled waters.

Entrepreneurship is about turning threats into opportunities. As a common saying goes, in entrepreneurship everything starts with “pain” which is the recognition of an explicit or hidden problem, that the entrepreneurial team strives to solve in an original and effective or efficient way. This is something we clearly experienced when investigating start-up responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Not only did several start-ups perform interesting pivots of their business models to restore viability, but others were created to help overcome the crisis.

Entrepreneurship constantly looks to design and bundle new tools into compelling value propositions that can rapidly scale. This is the case with digital technologies, which display a strategic and entrepreneurial side beyond their technological dimension and should be seen as enablers for new products, services, business models and whole industries.

Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset to catalyse entrepreneurial action and make it practical within an overall entrepreneurial strategy provides the framework and tools to navigate the new pandemic and digital normal. This applies to start-ups and innovative projects inside well-established organisations, where “intrapreneurial” endeavours are needed for business renewal.

At Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management, our close ties with the Italian and international startup ecosystem allow us to design theoretically sound as well as practice-oriented research, and convey its main takeaways into an enriching and action-learning teaching experience.

This theory-teaching-practice virtuous loop allowed us to address a key point often puzzling would-be entrepreneurs: entrepreneurship can be taught and learnt.

Entrepreneurship is not only about individual creativity and passion: it’s a process based on and sustained by an experimental and quasi-scientific approach that can be framed and transferred.

Will learning this process result in a bulletproof recipe for undisputable success? For sure it won’t. But whenever going through the famous – or better, infamous – startup’s Valley of Death, with failure rates as high as 90%, be knowledgeable of the right models and approaches will definitely come in handy.


Disruption? No, thanks. Innovation and Leadership in the New Normal

Whatever the post-Covid future, the new normal will require a fundamental change in the leadership of companies. What kind of mentality should leaders have to do business and innovation in a world that will be completely different? In a period in which the temptation will be to be increasingly competitive due to the scarce resources available, learning to share may be the only strategy that can guarantee survival.


Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation
School of Management Politecnico di Milano, Stockholm School of Economics, Harvard Business School


Many executives wonder about a fundamental question: how to get ready for the “new normal”? How markets will look like when the main wave(s) of the Covid-19 pandemic will recede? How to redesign products, services and operations to address potential structural shifts?

The start line to rethink how we operate is getting close. Those who get ready now, will start with the right foot. Those who wait, will look like dinosaurs from an old era (though that era was just a few months earlier).

Magazines, futurists, consultants, organizations. Everyone is trying to picture how the scenario will look like as people open up their doors to a new normal life. And everyone agrees on two things: first, the world will look different than before. Second, this transformation will not be temporary. Even when Covid-19 will be fully defeated (and hopefully it will be), our attitude towards socialization, our openness towards the world, our need for health (and anxiety for new infections), will be radically different, for the bad, but also for the good.

Yet, as we move closer and try to get into the details of how life will look like, how markets and operations will work, the real challenge emerges: the phenomenon we are facing is so unprecedented, disproportioned, and swift that capturing the essence of what will happen is implausible. A simple figure to explain the rapidity and magnitude of the discontinuity: in March 2020 more than 7 million Americans have filed for jobless claims per week. This is about tenfold compared to what happened during the financial crisis in 2008. So, regardless to the intelligence and effort we invest to predict what will happen, we need to admit that the answer to the question “how the world will look like?” is: no one really knows. This is a bit of a dismay for the classic way we picture leaders (and experts), who are supposedly those who always know. Yet, in this context, “pretending to know” is the most dramatic mistake we could do.

Amy Edmondson illustrates in her book The Fearless Organization that when a person admits that she does not know, then she opens the doors to learning. To understand how to do business in the new normal the mindset we need therefore is not to guess how it will be, but to get prepared to learn.

How? Being the context completely new, we cannot rely on past experience. We will need to learn “on the fly” through continuous experiments and adaptation. There are two ways to experiment and learn: by competing (learning by trying) or by collaborating (learning by sharing).

Learn by Trying. This the classic way of learning. The purpose here is to learn by yourself in order to beat your competitors. In this approach, organizations compete by conducting different experiments. Each organization tries its own ideas, fail, learn, adjusts the direction, and iterate. As companies aim to disrupt their competitors, they do not share their findings and insights with other organizations, nor the data that fuel the learning. This implies that every time an organization has an idea, it needs to explore it by only relying on its own resources.

Learn by Sharing. In this approach organizations conduct again different experiments. They generate their own ideas and iterate. However, they share the data and findings of their experiments. Why? Because this way they can leverage the trials of other players. If an idea has already been tested, and fails, others can avoid this unpromising path and focus on other options. And if the idea succeeds, others can build on top of it, instead of having everyone starting from scratch. Of course, this path reduces distances among competitors. Disruptions with one big winner and many losers are less likely to happen. But the advantage, however, is that that this approach requires less resources (individual and collective) and less time to get to good solutions. This increase in overall productivity and speed facilitates the growth of demand for solutions, which fuels returns to each player. In other words, this mechanism of learning replicates the mechanisms of the prisoner’s dilemma: cooperation between players leads to higher yields than what players would earn if they would maximize their own individual returns.

Learn by Trying is the kind of learning that has been prized in the past decade by many innovation thinkers and epitomized by the motto “fail often to succeed sooner”. It worked as long as the environment changed rapidly but in a linear fashion, so that learning from one experiment could be applied to the next one without the context being changed dramatically meanwhile. The change we are facing now with Covid-19 is however discontinuous and unprecedented. If in this context everyone conducts experiment by itself, each player has not sufficient time to explore this uncharted space of solution and then iterate before the context evolves again.

To innovate in the new normal we need to learn by sharing. This strategy is the only one that can guarantee sufficient scope, speed and productivity of the experiments. In fact, data sharing enables a larger community of players to participate to the experiments, from a larger variety of settings. And the sharing of findings enables to avoid unproductive trials.

Learning by sharing is already practiced in scientific research connected to Covid-19. Foer example, PostEra, a start-up based in Santa Clara, CA, and London, UK, is coordinating a massive collaborative project, Covid Moonshot to rapidly develop effective and easy-to-make anti-Covid drugs. The focus of the project is to design inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease (the enzyme that enables the virus to replicate). The project leverages data shared by experiments conducted in a synchrotron radiation facility, Diamond Light Source, that has identified 80 fragments of molecules that might attach to the protease. A community of scientists and manufacturers use those data to design compound inhibitors, which are submitted through the PostEra website. The start-up then runs machine learning algorithms in the background to check for duplications and prioritize candidates for testing. More than 3’600 molecules designs have been submitted with only 32 duplications in the designs.

Shared learning is getting its way also in ordinary business not connected to Covid-19. Microsoft has recently launched an Open Data Campaign. The Open Data movement promotes the sharing of data, similarly to what Open Source does for sharing of software code. Microsoft will develop 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022, including, for example, publishing a Microsoft’s dataset around broadband usage in the US.

Note that shared learning does not imply that different players collaborate on the same idea or solution, like in consortia. On the contrary, organizations explore different ideas and experiments. This enables to explore the entire space of solutions. What is shared, instead, are the data that feed the experiments, and/or the insights and findings they generate.

Learning by sharing is built on a will to cooperate. Which is not easy to achieve. Especially in a period of scarce resources. The temptation is to look inward, and behave even more competitively, to secure the few things left, instead of focusing, collaboratively, on building more. What kind of culture and mindset will innovation leaders need to promote learning by sharing in their own organizations?

Whatever the future will look like, the new normal will require a fundamental change in the way we create innovation and lead our organizations. Whereas the innovation mantra of the pre-Covid era was to “disrupt competitors”, this is not really the moment to disrupt. This is rather the moment to collectively re-build a new economy and a new world. The real heroes, in business and society, will not be the disruptors, but those catalysts who will foster a cooperative mindset. Which, in innovation, it means to share data and learnings from the experiments everyone conducts. Organizations will need to try different competing ideas, but they will also benefit from sharing insights, in order to avoid unpromising avenues, improve collective productivity, and rapidly build a new society. Covid-19 is the moment of truth for leaders: where they can prove their authentic orientation to lead organizations around purpose and meaning.

The future of business schools between innovation and entrepreneurship

International business schools are competing in a situation which is undergoing a profound and rapid transformation. The need for increasingly specialised managerial training, competition from new players and building a more inclusive and sustainable future, requires a rethink of operating and business models.
What are the transformations required for greater entrepreneurship and innovative capacity of business schools?


Federico Frattini, Dean MIP-Graduate School of Business, Politecnico di Milano


International business schools are competing in a situation which is undergoing a profound and rapid transformation. This requires a thorough rethink of business schools’ “standard” business and operating models.

Some of the trends that have recently emerged are the shift in demand for managerial training from “general management” programmes to “specialist” programmes, and stronger competition in the management training market owing to the entry of new players. Consulting and executive search companies are expanding their service to include training for the development of human capital. New “edtech” players are entering the training market, and global technology giants (e.g. Microsoft, Google, Amazon) and increasingly seeing the training world as a possible new frontier to sustain their growth.
The demand for life-long learning services is growing rapidly, due to the fast obsolescence of skills that are learned in “standard” management training courses. Extra-curricular activities and what we call “campus life” are becoming increasingly important in students’ choices. Finally, there is a “crisis” of academic institutions’ social value as they swiftly lose reputation, especially in the eyes of the younger generations.

In addition to these transformations, there are others that have been profoundly accelerated by the consequences of the Coronavirus health emergency. Business schools need to redefine their purpose and clarify their contribution toward building a more inclusive and sustainable future. But they cannot delay the start of a deep digitisation of their processes, teaching methods and approaches.

Responding to these challenges requires a profound rethink of business schools’ business model. Some of the relevant changes that should be carefully considered by international business schools’ leadership include moving from “disciplinary” to “transversal” skills, including entrepreneurship, digital skills, sustainability, critical thinking. There needs to be a move from “separate from practice” training models to “hands-on” training based on a growing interaction with managerial and entrepreneurial practice. Undifferentiated approaches for training for “homogeneous populations of students” need to move to “customised” training, in a “one-to-one” perspective from “intermittent” and time-concentrated training to “on-demand” training, and continuously mixed with students’ professional activity and private life. We need to move from Face-to-face vs. digital training to “omnichannel” training models. The focus on the production of knowledge through research and its transfer through a portfolio of training products must change to the research and integration of knowledge available outside the business school boundaries (for example availability of high-quality training content on MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses platforms).

These transformations have a scope and potential impact that clash with the “bureaucratic” culture of business schools, their consensus-building processes, and governance mechanisms that require time to approve decisions fail to meet the above conditions. It is essential for international business schools’ leadership to promote a transformation of organisational culture, processes, staff skills, and organisational structures for greater entrepreneurship and innovative capacity. This means borrowing the management solutions and approaches which business schools teach and applying them to their management models. For example, to manage “radical” innovation projects, which require profound changes to established routines and operating models (e.g. the launch of distance learning platforms, or life-long learning services enabled by digital technologies), many business schools are creating spin-offs to place these projects in a more agile and entrepreneurial organisational background. Many business schools are creating positions among their Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) staff to promote a process of continuous digital innovation and transformation of operations and training. Coopetition models in business schools are becoming widespread. These aim at reaching a higher critical mass and sharing the risks and costs that radical innovation projects entail (such as the development of innovative Learning Management Systems).

Many of these transformations will take time to manifest in the world of business schools, but they will be fundamental to sustain their competitiveness over time and ensure their survival.

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, 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.



«With the MBA growth is personal, not only professional»

Achille Balestrini, new Ceo and Global brand manager of Nava Design Milano and MH Way, talks about his professional and educational background, marked by his time at Politecnico. And he explains the importance, even for those who already have experience in the field, to better structure concepts learned with a master’s degree.

From architecture to management, via an entrepreneurial initiative. This is the professional trajectory of Achille Balestrini, alumnus of the part-time international MBA programme at MIP Politecnico di Milano and recently nominated as the new Ceo of Nava Design Milano and MH Way, two companies that are part of the Smemorando Group.
His path was marked by three extremely important elements for those who have decided to make their way in the world of business: passion, competence and resourcefulness. But also from his experience at the Milanese university: «If I chose MIP’s MBA, it’s also because I also got my architecture degree from the Politecnico», says Balestrini. But between graduating and the master’s he pursued a path made up of intuition and personal bets.

Architect, entrepreneur, manager

After his degree and the start of his career in architecture, Balestrini decided to indulge his passion for casual sportswear. «I couldn’t stop thinking about an idea that at the time seemed decidedly innovative, that of a brand that was customizable». It was a winning intuition, because Balestrini devoted his energy to that project for about seven years. «A period of time in which we opened a single-brand store in Milan, different temporary stores and an online shop. All thanks to enthusiasm and a spirit of sacrifice». Yet, these achievements weren’t what Balestrini aspired to, they’re not enough. «I decided to interrupt that entrepreneurial experience. In the meantime, I received an offer from Marco Boglione, founder and chairman of BasicNet, a group that owns brands like Kappa, Superga, K-Way». That’s the moment Balestrini abandoned the entrepreneurial path to become a real manager. «I fell deeply in love with this project I had to follow. This phase lasted from 2011 to 2019. Then, in 2020, I was nominated CEO and Global Brand Manager of Nava Design Milano and MH Way».

An MBA to reinforce skills

In the middle, however, there’s another important passage, that of the MBA. «I was motivated by a personal, more than a professional, need to learn. I had acquired a wealth of empirical knowledge, experimented and learned in the field, but with no study behind it», explains Balestrini. «The master’s helped me, first of all, to put my skills in order, structuring them in a more coherent, organic and strategic way. It was encouraging and motivating to see that many ideas that were formed during my experience were confirmed in lessons». As far as lessons are concerned, the MBA allowed Balestrini to test notions learned in the classroom through project work and group work. «It’s a modality that I have found to be very effective. On one hand, it’s perfect for those who are already at ease working in a group, as in my case. On the other hand, those who have a less pronounced inclination to discuss with others are also encouraged to take part. They are truly formative and stimulating moments».

Nava Design and MH Way: the objective is to relaunch

Strengthened by this experience, and with expertise reinforced and structured by the master’s, Balestrini is now handling the relaunch of Nava Design Milano and MH Way, as CEO and Global Brand Manager. «The curious thing is that they are both brands tied to the world of design and architecture, from which everything started for me. Important designers like Max Huber and Bob Noorda have worked for Nava while MH Way was created by the Japanese designer Makio Hasuike. Both of these companies, acquired by the group Smemoranda, are now looking to relaunch and reposition», explains Balestrini. «To give new life to both brands, I will have to put in practice what I’ve learned up until now. The most important and stimulating challenges involve the corporate management and commercial expansion of the brands on the national territory and, especially, on international markets».

«Good ideas aren’t enough: at MIP I learned how to develop them»

Dialogue with colleagues from the master’s programme, two years of experiments and progress and, above all, a mentality devoted to continuous improvement. Martin Leban, AMIE (now IMIE) alumnus, tells us how the idea of a shampoo contained in biodegradable marbles came about.

Training in the family business, discussions with colleagues in the master’s programme from around the world and, finally, the establishment of a startup that, inspired by principles of social and environmental sustainability, gives life to a small product, but with a large potential. It’s the story of Martin Leban, a young Slovenian entrepreneur and co-founder of the startup OneTwoThreeZero, as well as alumnus of AMIE (now evolved into IMIE, International Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship) at MIP Politecnico di Milano: «The master’s taught me that there are a lot of ideas, good and less good. What makes the difference is the effort put into developing them. And that’s exactly how I and my colleagues conceived of shampoo in biodegradable marbles».

From the idea to its implementation

Leban comes from a family that owns a small hair care product company. «An environment in which I learned a lot, observing day by day», says Leban. «Creating no waste cosmetics has been a goal of mine since I was working at my family company and saw how much plastic we produce. When Renata Alessio, Indira Pambudy and Sarra Elamin started the project of biodegradable shampoo marbles at AMIE I immediately liked it and asked them to join the team».
The ecological potential of this idea is clear: «The cosmetic industry uses a lot of plastic for its packaging, even for small quantities of a product, as is the case, for example, with the vials distributed in hotels. We started from a product conceptually like the detergent capsules used in dishwashers. In that case, however, the covering is a plastic material. For us, the challenge was to find a biodegradable material that at the same time was resistant enough to contain the shampoo inside it». A challenge taken up by his two partners and chemists, Anja Pajntar and Uros Novak. «It’s a research process that has now lasted for two years. The difficulty is due to the small percentage of water in the shampoo, 10%, which on its own is a big savings compared to the 80% of average shampoos. We could have fallen back on a product without water, but the effect on hair wouldn’t have been the same». The roadmap for OneTwoThreeZero foresaw a series of important tests in April 2020, but the current health situation has forced Leban and his team to postpone. «By now we’re there, however. So much so that the laboratory that hosted us until now is no longer sufficient; we will shortly start to produce larger quantities of our product».

The importance of not being satisfied

Leban doesn’t hide that the MIP experience was crucial for the creation of this startup. «Starting with my classmates, from 17 different nationalities. This diversity has proved to be a real value added, because it gave me exposure to different points of view and cultures, which generated a true creative flow. Now I make use of the principles of design thinking learned thanks to the master’s programme, which taught me how to set up a balanced team, evaluating the most strategic individual characteristics for the company».
The project work experience was also important: «It’s one of the reasons I chose MIP. I learned what makes up the development process, which isn’t only a matter of notions, but also of mentality. Focusing deeply on an idea, to discover its real potential and give life to a series of virtually infinite possibilities».
Finally, some advice for those are about to enrol in a master’s programme: «The best way to experience it is to try to arrive with clear ideas on what you want to achieve. And never be satisfied, but work on yourself. The level of lessons is very high, and pushes you to aim even higher, to increasingly deepen your knowledge. It’s this mentality that allows you to approach your goals, both if you want to work as an entrepreneur, or as a consultant. The job prospects tied to this master’s are manifold».