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A focus on startups with a mentor and business angel

An interview on startup world with Elia Bellussi, mentor, and business angel, focused on Design Thinking, Data Strategy and Scenario Planning.

Let’s meet Elia Bellussi, business angel and mentor

Elia Bellussi is a Technology expert, Business Angel and Mentor of the Italian scene.

He is passionate about technology and innovation, working in relationship management, IT architecture, and project management with different kind of stakeholders from Italian Public Sector to manufacturing, banking and telecommunication. He is specialised in the complex environment and technological innovation, digital transformation, emerging technologies, pre-sale strategy, and open innovation. He is active in helping startups, making their strategy through scenario planning, data strategy, and design thinking.

Hi Elia, tell us a little about your story in the field of technology and how your passion for the world of startups was born.

Hello everyone and thank you for the interview. Everything started when I was a child. Since I was a little kid, I was in direct contact with technology because my father worked for a research centre for the biggest Italian automotive company. Surrounded by engineers and scientists, I started immediately to approach computers. Moreover, I love reading science fiction (mostly Asimov, but Silverberg and Gibson too) and a natural outcome was studying computer science at the university. At the same time, with my passion for technology and its impact on society, I made the decision of opening a computer history museum, organising events about how it influenced, influences and will influence the life of everyone. At some point, I decided to pursue a dual degree and now I possess an MBA and MSc in Disruptive Innovation where I studied at HULT International Business School, in London, Dubai, Shanghai, and San Francisco gaining the ability to approach and understand different cultures, as well as specializing in project management with a focus on marketing and sales and expanding my knowledge of upcoming trends such as EV and renewables energies, as well as frameworks about design thinking, co-creation, and leading digital transformation. Furthermore, I am currently enrolled in a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Tourin, gaining knowledge in natural language processing, and big data, allowing me to further develop my analytical and technological knowledge.

We know that you are mentor for Impact Hub Network, SIT PoliTo/PoliMi, and for Startup Geeks, so we would like to know more about your contribution to the creation and development of Startups.

Well, it is an interesting question. Before moving abroad, I had already connection with people related to startups. Since I come back from the USA, I started immediately to approach the Italian network. In the USA I had the opportunity to be in direct contact with people from Skydeck Berkeley, Plug & Play, and Mind the Bridge. Being a member of Angels4Impact and having already connection here, I started to reinforce and increase my contacts with people in this sector.

A funny fact is that a contact of mine immediately called me after my come back. He needed to validate his idea for a new startup. We revised everything applying design thinking and the platform business model canvas to produce all the documentation needed for a startup: business plan, pitch deck, investor deck, and financials.

At the same time, I joined as mentor many hackathons for startups, and I began joining accelerators to offer my time and knowledge pro bono. This helped me to became part of the Italian community and, at the same time, to improve my skills. In one year, I think I helped at least 15 startups on different topics, from agriculture to fashion, from fintech to music industry.

Another interesting contribution is about the creation of network between my contacts in the US and in Italy. This is just for incubators and accelerators or for corporations that wants to investigate the startups market.

In 2020 you conducted live webinars for the “Rinascita Digitale” project on topics such as Design Thinking, Data Strategy, Scenario Planning and so we would like to know how this experience was for you.

I met Stefano Saladino in 2011 and, since then, we collaborated in many projects so, when we talked about Rinascita Digitale I immediately joined the project contributing with some webinars. It helped me to revise my knowledge and to practice teaching to other people. The webinars were based on my specialisation since I studied them in the US, getting certifications too (Design Thinking). After the first webinar, the feedbacks from the listeners were good so I started to prepare more webinars on different topics. Stefano was nice, giving me the opportunity to continue with other proposals. Since then, I started to participate in other webinars with different stakeholders.

Can you explain us what Design Thinking is and why it is important for startups?

Design Thinking, as IDEO teaches, is a process that is developed and used to help people solving problems. It is very useful for both, corporations and startups, while it is really focused on the interaction between the stakeholders as its core is human-centred. Startup founders need to design their business from scratch, mostly of the time offering products or services in the B2C market. Said that, they need to learn how to approach people that represents their consumers and customers to understand better their needs and wants and to take feedbacks from them. Another important pillar is that, usually, startup founders need to understand that a solution must follow three characteristic that are desirability (as the solution need to solve the problem of the consumer or the customer), feasibility (as the solution needs to be real), and viability (as the solution needs to be produced and there is a cost that as to be put on account). The need, to focus on the stakeholders needs and wants, helps to think about different possible solutions that will be filtered and chose to become the ones that will be tested. This continuous iterative process helps to perfect the solution. Moreover, startup founders can use it to produce the business model applying design thinking to each part of it.

What is Data Strategy, how Analytics is connected to it, and how can it be useful to apply it in startups?

Many startups are focused on providing services based on data. Knowing what you can get from them, data, is one of the most important things you must understand but you must understand to manage them too. If you are working with data, knowing who produces them, how they are produced, how they are got, how they are stored, and managed are factors that the staff needs to know and understand to get value.

Data Analytics is just a part of the data strategy and it is needed in a company to understand data and how the information you can get from them are valuable and how they can influence the managerial act. It’s like a flow, a process to address problems and find improvements to be able to steer and tackle the development of the company.

What does Scenario Planning mean and why should startups learn to use this technique?

Scenario planning is the act of thinking about the current situation, in this case for the company, and to think about the future in it will be. How will it change? Will there be changes of regulations? Will the company open new markets in other countries? Will the competitors be stronger than usual? Will there be an innovation in technology that can influence the company? These are just few questions that a startup needs to focus on as well as about the current situation, with some useful tool like Porter’s 5 Forces and PESTEL analysis, to understand better where the company is in the market.

You are also a member of Angels4Impact and as a member you participate in activities such as networking, selection, and mentoring of the most attractive startups. What does it mean for you to be a Business Angel?

I am currently learning and with the willing of giving back to the community with my contribution, I currently prefer to advise startups. I think it is more important to offer some help in focusing better on the problem and finding the proper solution. Startup founders need to be really organised and understanding which are the steps that they need to take to be effective can put in the correct direction their actions. Networking is one of the most important and valuable contribution an advisor can give them, and I love to be the bridge that can connect an investor with the team.

Elia, you are a Business Angel focused on Impact Investing, what is it?

Everyone that want to invest in companies, organisations and funds that aim to generate specific value related to environmental effect or social benefits is doing impact investment. Said so, if someone wants to do impact investing, they want to use money for positive social results.

Angels4Impact is a business angels club that is focused on these activities. Our portfolio clearly expresses it. For example, we have many companies working on reducing waste, producing other derived products. Others are focused on supporting people with different kinds of solutions, reducing unemployment, creating a positive effect on their health etc.

As Business Angel, talking about a team of a startup, what makes it a winner?

I have seen many startups that are made by people that work in business. They have an idea based on ICT, but they do not have anyone that is related to ICT. They struggle to produce their product while they need someone that can understand what their needs are, and that can explain them if the solution is feasible and how to develop it. Other teams are made by people in ICT, and they easily produce the product, but they struggle to understand the business and how to develop it. Mostly of the time, as per my experience, this second team it is keener to develop itself the knowledge needed while they are process oriented and able to understand the math beyond the business. The other one struggle a lot more but if they can raise money with the three F (family, friends, fools) they can make up for the lack. I suggest people that are from business to think more on evaluating and on the inclusion of one or more resources with ICT skills, involving them too in the ownership of the startup.

If you are interested in Startup Geeks, please read more on: Incubator online: the Startup Geeks  case and Incubator succeeded with a 170,000 euro fundraising

If you are interested in Business Angel Networks, please read more on: Business Angel Networks: the main ones in Italy

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