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.



Responding to the pandemic: what’s required is a (new) industrial policy

The ongoing pandemic is bringing the global economy to its knees, but history teaches us that it is possible to recover from the blow: the essential stepping stones to starting afresh are attention to new business opportunities, flexibility and innovation, backed by an active industrial policy


Massimo G. Colombo, professor of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Finance
School of Management Politecnico di Milano


The coronavirus pandemic promises to bring the world economy to its knees, with devastating consequences for the GDP of every country, no matter how developed.
However, scientific literature analysing the economic impact of previous “perfect storms” gives us some hope. The capitalist system is resilient, and rapid collapses in demand and production are more or less quickly followed by recovery, which can be more or less vigorous (see the Economist, 21-27 March, “Free exchange: From v to victory”).

What should the Italian government do to make the post-pandemic recovery as quick and vigorous as possible?

First of all, regardless of the measures that the European Commission will put in place, we must not repeat our past mistakes and we must be prepared to do “whatever it takes”. The first essential step, on which everyone agrees, is to support those suffering from a significant decline in income, in order to sustain aggregate demand and avoid the country’s social disintegration. Italy’s production must also be ensured the liquidity required to avoid closing down healthy firms facing temporary difficulties, thereby preventing a long-term reduction in production capacity. The loan guarantee facility supporting access to finance by SMEs is a step in the right direction. The important thing is to reopen the taps should this facility be insufficient.

However, we must go further still and draw up an active industrial policy for recovery. Apart from the negative shock on supply and demand, the pandemic also generates exciting new business opportunities, connected with transformed consumer models and new ways of doing business. Clear examples are the unique advantages of teleworking and the increased, albeit forced, interest in home shopping and entertainment services.

In this situation, small businesses, especially young ones, are ideally positioned to capture these new business opportunities, due to their flexibility and the spirit of initiative of the entrepreneurs who manage them. Moreover, they can prove to be a fundamental element of strength and dynamism in the national production system. However, to express their growth potential, they must be able to restructure and alter their resource portfolio, investing with a long-term perspective in innovative products and services and in the ability to market them globally. A study on the strategies of a sample of 340 high-tech Italian start-ups during the global crisis of 2008, carried out by the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano and coordinated by Professor Colombo, confirms this point of view. Despite the average decline in demand that these firms experienced between 2008 and 2010, start-ups that invested massively in product and service innovation and in market internationalization experienced a 20% higher than average growth in turnover during this period.

It is the responsibility of the Italian Government to support and facilitate the transformation processes of such companies. On the one hand, the government must ensure that these companies have access, at competitive conditions, to the financial resources – in particular in the form of risk capital – necessary to support these processes and to scale their business. The CDP Innovation Fund is ideal for this purpose.

On the other hand, it is likely that high-skill human resources (managers, technicians) will have to leave large and small businesses adopting business models rendered obsolete by the pandemic, and will become available on the labour market. These human resources are invaluable for the growth of innovative small businesses. The government can facilitate their absorption into such firms, for example by temporarily suspending social security contributions for newly recruited qualified personnel.


The entrepreneur born on the benches of the MIP: the history of TMI and Stefano Urbani

For many of our students, the graduation ceremony is not just the launch pad for a new adventure. This was the case for Stefano Urbani, who laid the foundations for Medical Tourism Italy with the MIP Executive MBA. A project that has now become concrete.

As is appears from the name of your company, today you deal with medical tourism. How was the interest in this sector born?

It all started in 2012: at that time I was employed in the automotive sector and I was in Turkey for work. By chance, during that trip, I came into contact with a well-known ophthalmologist Azerbaijani, who introduced me to another aspect of Turkey, that of medical tourism.
Several patients from Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, from the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the area of the Commonwealth of Independent States, were choosing Turkey to treat diseases and undertake various types of health or cosmetic treatments.
In fact, when we talk about medical tourism, we refer to those people who go to foreign countries for improving their health or physical condition, for example, cosmetic surgery procedures, dentistry, cardiac surgery, oncology, transplants…

In Italy, this type of market was not yet developed – except for in an unstructured way. So, as I was interested above all in the social value that is the basis of medical tourism, or to offer to a patient the possibility of finding a solution to his problem not only in his country of origin but also abroad, I started to wonder if Italy too could be competitive in this market.

TMI is a project that has become reality thanks to the Executive MBA. How?

I am an Alumnus of Management Engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan and I chose the Executive MBA of MIP, the Business School dell’Ateneo, as a tool to deepen my idea.

In fact, since 2013, I started participating in B2B events and trade shows in Europe, Arab countries, Asia and the United States.
In this way I was able to increase my network and explore the ground with both foreign facilitators – who asked me for information about Italy as a possible destination – and with Italian hospitals – interested in understanding what medical tourism was.

It was during the EMBA that I laid the foundations for my project – TMI Incoming – which was also awarded as the best project work of my course at the time of graduation.
Moreover, this allowed me to meet some of the people who are now an active part of the project, then considerably enlarging the network leading to establishing contact with Dr. Cristian Ferraris of Assolombarda. Thanks to this contact, today TMI has produced the website “”, with the objective of presenting in an institutional manner the Lombard health excellence in the global health tourism market. This work was for TMI the opportunity to develop a Minimum Viable Product – just like they taught me in the classroom! – For our current Italian virtual hospital project on which we are working thanks to the newly established capital of Medical Truism Italy Ltd (Turismo Medico Italia Srl ).

The search for the investor was a fundamental step for TMI. What were the challenges you faced and how did Cav. Lav. Nardo Filippetti influencing the development of the project?

I have to be honest, the search was not long. In fact, we came into contact with Cav. Filippetti shortly after the end of the journey with Innovits, an innovation laboratory in which we were accelerated at the conclusion of the EMBA and which allowed us to start the project on the benches of the MIP to be marketed.
This short research time, however, has allowed us to deal with some interesting challenges, above all the paradox that every startupper must face: the numbers!
In fact, investors often support an idea only when the business is considered “reasonable”, without considering, however, that an investment is necessary for the startup to reach that level, especially in sectors where the activities of Compliance & Legal, Cyber Security, Marketing and Communication have high costs.

Moreover, it was also an opportunity to understand who the right investor for TMI was. Therefore, when we contacted Cav. Filippetti in 2017, a visionary and successful entrepreneur in the hospitality sector who had been cultivating the idea of entering this market for years, he was ready to confidently communicate the vision, strategy and service of TMI.
In fact, respect for work and for people, creativity and intuition are the values that have characterized Cav. Filippetti during his entrepreneurial career and who are part of the project TMI.
Our investor, as well as President Lindbergh Hotels Srl (Ltd.), is also President of ASTOI Confindustria Viaggi and Vice President of Federturismo Confindustria. Those are prestigious institutional positions that give us the authority we needed, in addition to daily comparison that allows us to use his skills acquired over the years for the benefit of the project. Finally, I want to emphasize that his approach has been an industrial and non-financial investor, an extremely important element that allows us to think about the long term.

How do you feel as an entrepreneur? What are the things you have learned of the EMBA that guide you today?

My personal feelings changed following the establishment with Cav. Filippetti of Medical Truism Italy Ltd (Turismo Medico Italia Srl ) at the end of 2018.
If at the beginning I was moved by the enthusiasm and the desire to communicate my project to the world, today I am comforted by the trust the investor has given me, which has become a traveling companion in hard daily work.
However, sometimes, and as I believe it is natural, the right expectations of the investor can generate fear of not making it, but we must find the right balance without creating organizational stress.

For this I have elaborated the AI-KI-DO factor: thanks to the right balance between (Ai), Harmony, (Ki) Conjunction and (Do) Union, I try every day to guide TMI towards the achievement of the set objectives, eliminating the fear of failure , which I believe is human, with the gratitude of having had an opportunity!

The awareness of the present moment and the responsibility for my actions towards the project, and the people involved, myself included, allows me to manage the economic activity by assuming the so-called business risk with the right serenity.
All this is, evidently, built on the foundations of the EMBA, first of all those on organizational behavior, strategy, project management, decision making, marketing, communication and finance. These allowed me respectively to give structure to awareness, make long-term choices, manage individual development projects, make daily choices, sell, develop brand awareness, and finally take care of the ordinary administration.
Without forgetting the people who have characterized my journey, the professors I have met and the colleagues I have known.
Now our challenge will be to be able to industrialize the product, creating efficiency but keeping the quality and service levels extremely high, with a tailor-made approach for every single request. To do this, we are adopting a lean startup methodology with the aim of avoiding waste of resources, building a sustainable business and experimenting ideas with the creative process “Creation – Measurement – Learning” (Creazione – Misurazione – Apprendimento). This methodology is being taught during the master’s, too.

What advice would you give to those who want to launch a startup today?

To begin with I would recommend being honest with yourself, asking yourself questions so as not to get hurt later. Such as how innovative you are, if it’s the right time to launch it and if you have a good team. But also how to finance yourself and where to establish it.

Another tip is to talk about your idea to as many people as possible: it’s a good way to test the interest. Often, when I talk about medical tourism, I get several questions about it. This curiosity is a good sign.
Once received a positive feedback, it is good then to take the marguerite in hand and concentrate only on a few petals, focusing time and energy.

Launching a startup is an act of great responsibility towards others, towards those who believe in the project, so I can only encourage people to do what they love. Besides being a great sacrifice, which can only lead to success with passion and dedication.

At the end I advise you to bind yourself to the vision, not to the product or service.

The factors that influence a startup’s growth path are countless and sometimes not controllable; only by leaving the ego aside of the ownership of its own idea and putting the “own creature” in the conditions of going alone can one truly show that vision which is the flame that burns inside!