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».

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.



From personalization to collaboration with PoliHub. The new MBA and EMBA programmes


Specific orientation towards the managerial and entrepreneurial fields. Course organization as a function of the latest trends. These are the two main elements of innovation in the MBA and EMBA courses at Politecnico di Milano’s School of Management. «These are different paths of study able to guarantee expertise independently of the work environment, whether it be in a large company or entrepreneurial firm, indispensable in the current complexity of markets» explains Antonella Moretto, deputy director of the MBA and Executive MBA programmes. «As a result of our programmes, a manager will be able to make decisions with an entrepreneurial spirit and, vice versa, the entrepreneur will be able to take a managerial approach».

One diploma, six formats. The new MBA and MBA Executive MBA programmes of the School of Management at Politecnico di Milano are also characterized by a high degree of personalization. «The individual participant can pursue a path of study that includes up to 50% of “customized” activities drawing on a completely new “library”» continues Antonella Moretto. «The final part of the courses can be defined by opting for more “frontier” subjects, so less tied to the academic path, but you can also choose what lessons to follow in the classroom and what to follow via streaming, allowing to fully personalize your use. For example, the Executive MBA can be pursued over four different platforms: evening (Monday and Tuesday evening in the classroom), part-time (weekend), Flex (distance learning through the digital platform) ) and i-Flex (distance learning in the English language). The classes are the same, but they can be accessed in different ways. The last aspect of flexibility, which I believe we are the only ones in a position to offer, involves the time required for the discussion of a student’s project work, which can be shortened compared to the traditional two-year study path».

The new FLEXA platform

Innovation also isn’t lacking when it comes to digitalization. «First, we changed classroom tools so that all our lessons can be streamed. That way we offer the opportunity to also follow lessons online or to review lessons followed in the classroom. All this with a completely new platform, decidedly more user friendly than the previous version and with a completely new library of clips. Moreover – continues Antonella Moretto – all those who use FLEXA will have a digital mentor that will accompany them from the beginning and through the entire programme both in learning and in training, but also in the start of a career path, that is in contacts with startups and companies. We offer 360-degree digital support. From the first day with FLEXA an assessment is carried out for every participant and the digital, hard and soft skills that are identified are conveyed to our Career Development Officer who, through one-to-one meetings, helps participants to define their career strategy. In the meantime, we create a series of relevant support opportunities favouring contacts with businesses and startups». This is one of the key aspects of the MBA and Executive MBA programmes of the School of Management. «To this end – explains Antonella Moretto once again – we strengthened our relationship with PoliHub, Politecnico di Milano’s company and startup incubator, to allow us to enter into contact with startups when they are in the stage of incubation of entrepreneurial ideas or to develop project work with existing startups».

The relationship with PoliHub

«We decided immediately to collaborate to offer students entrepreneurial career opportunities but also to enrich the managerial skills of our startuppers who, when they have technical backgrounds, require support from those with managerial expertise» explains Claudia Pingue, general manager of PoliHub. «In fact, startups, in particular those in deep tech, often have an initial team that is inadequate to guarantee competitive growth on international markets and a time comes when the integration of managerial skills and the strengthening of leadership is required, with the eventual presence of a CEO. It was therefore decided to make available to MBA and EMBA students the Switch to Product programme, that annually supports and awards the best entrepreneurial projects presented within the Politecnico di Milano and selected by researched centres like CNR, for example. It’s an opportunity for students, who gain access an entrepreneurial acceleration platform and thus take part in a complex experiential mechanism that allows to measure their potential».

Politecnico di Milano, a virtuous ecosystem

This collaboration with PoliHub is planned from the first year of the programme. The objective is to create a panel of MBA and Executive MBA assistants to vet the candidacy of entrepreneurial initiatives, allowing programme participants to receive feedback and join an incubation programme. The Politecnico di Milano is the only academic institution with an incubator this strong, among the best in the world, so much so that 30% of participants decide to launch their own entrepreneurial activity after classes are concluded.
Finally, considering that all career support services are valid for six months after the diploma is received, the innovative scope of the Politecnico ecosystem must be highlighted. «Projects are carried out – concludes Antonella Moretto – also because there’s the contribution of the entire system that gravitates around the university: the Technology Transfer Office, the venture capital fund link, technical support for implementation of technologies and so on».
The entire programme is illustrated to potential users in a series of open days that include a road show at university laboratories. The next appointment is 23 May 2020 at the Bovisa Campus.