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Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurs’

Riverstone and Interpret the Future team up again with OpenKnowledge at the Social Business Forum 2016

06 Jul

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Now in its ninth year, the Social Business Forum, Europe’s premier speaker and networking event dedicated to social business, will take place in Milan on the 6-7 July 2016. Organised by OpenKnowledge, the management consulting company focused on social and digital transformation, and held once again at the Marriott Hotel in the capital city of fashion and design, SBF16 will bring together features a unique offer of visionary keynote speeches, success stories and discussion panels organized in a Free and Premium Conference. The Free Conference includes the keynote speeches in the mornings of July 6th and 7th delivered by outstanding and internationally-known experts.

The theme of this year’s Social Business Forum is the Platfirm Age: Plug your Business – Play your Future. The focus of many of the keynote presentations will be on how platform-companies, such as Airbnb, Facebook and LinkedIn, have revolutionised traditional business models and developed continuously-evolving structures where value is co-created with users / customers.

All the keynotes will be simultaneously translated by Interpret the Future, the Social Business Forum’s longstanding specialist interpreting partners. This year, the team includes ItF founder members Loredana Nano and Alice Bertinotti. Daniela Negru will also be in the booths helping the team to provide a highly professional conference interpreting service. The project is managed by Robert Dennis, director of Riverstone Language & Communications.

Find out more…

by Robert Dennis

Robert has created an online Business English course on WiziQ. Sign up for the free edition!

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Franglish: the language exchange event for native Italian and English speakers

01 Apr

Franglish France

There’s an exciting new way to practise your language skills in Milan. It’s called FRANGLISH and we spoke to Franglish co-founder Steven Annonziata to find out all about it…


NetworkMilan.com: What is Franglish?


Steven Annonziata:
Franglish is a language exchange event (Italian/English exchange in Milan and Rome) taking place every week in some of the best venues across your city. The goal of FRANGLISH is simple: to learn a foreign language in a relaxed atmosphere and to improve your language skills in a great environment where you can start meeting locals and forming friendships! It’s more of a social event than a language lesson. Our experience abroad taught us that the best way to learn a language is to talk about things we know and like. With FRANGLISH you can talk about anything and everything without the fear of being judged.

 

Franglish MeetUp


Network Milan: How does Franglish work?


Steven:
Firstly, you start by registering through the website http://www.franglish.eu, then the participants meet up in a bar or restaurant with a floor or room dedicated to Franglish, from 7pm to 9pm, for the price of 10 euros including one drink. After the welcome drink, they start their first one-to-one mini-conversation. Each session lasts for 15 minutes; Italians and anglophones alternate half of the time in Italian, half in English with at least 5 different people. After the 15 minutes is over, they switch tables and meet a new partner! Out of inspiration? If needed, a bilingual organiser is there to help people break the ice and guide them via conversation suggestions.


Network Milan: Where do Franglish events take place?


Steven:
Franglish events take place in bars and restaurants, usually on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from 7 to 9pm. A room is dedicated to Franglish.

Franglish Milan 2


Network Milan: Which cities / countries does Franglish operate in?


Steven:
We organise Franglish events in Italy (Milan and Rome), France (Paris, Nice, Lyon, Lille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Grenoble), Belgium (Brussels), the UK (London and Cambridge), the USA (Chicago and San Francisco) and Canada (Toronto).


Network Milan: Where did you get the idea for Franglish?


Steven:
I founded FRANGLISH with a friend, Nicolas Saurel. We have lived abroad, and back in France we started thinking about how we had only had a few opportunities to practise English with native speakers: it is not that easy to meet and create friendships with anglophones in France. We had tried many options spanning from very formal and quite expensive lessons to big parties where it can be sometimes difficult for attendees to overcome shyness. In essence, we couldn’t find a happy medium, so we decided to create it ourselves and came up with FRANGLISH.


Franglish is about making progress while having fun. In the friendly atmosphere of the best venues we offer anglophones and italians the opportunity to discover and share their language and culture while having a drink together. Not hidden behind their computer screens, but in person, in real life.

 

Franglish France 2


Network Milan: Is Franglish speed dating? If not, what are the differences?


Steven:
FRANGLISH is not an ‘aperitivo’ or a new approach to speed dating: it is a social event that allows you to (re)discover a language and a new culture. Franglish aims to create a link between communities that have a lot to learn from each other. So if your goal is to practise a language while making new friends, Franglish is made for you. If you’re looking for the love of your life, then I’m sure there are plenty of events made for you, but not Franglish I’m afraid.


Network Milan: What sort of people is Franglish aimed at?


Steven:
Franglish is aimed at people looking to improve their language skills. Practising is the key, and practising with native speakers is even better.


Network Milan: Are there any language levels / minimum language skills required, etc?


Steven:
Not really, all levels/ages are welcome at Franglish. Of course, it will be easier if you’re able to hold a conversation in the language you’re learning, but it’s not a necessary requirement of FRANGLISH.

 

Franglish Milan


Network Milan: How much do the events cost (typically)?


Steven:
The average cost is 10€ and it includes a welcome drink.


Network Milan: Why is Franglish different from / better than straightforward language exchanges / lessons (classes), etc


Steven:
Franglish is different from any other language exchange because of its format/organisation. The one-to-one conversations allow people to practise their language skills during the two-hour-long event. You sit with a native speaker in front of you and you have no choice other than talk to them! So even if your language skills are not that great (at least if that’s what you think) or if you are a bit shy, it won’t be a problem at Franglish.


People come back every week and we get great feedback so we’re pretty sure they really like it!


Network Milan: Franglish is already in a lot of places. Do you plan to expand it even further?


Steven:
Yes. Within a year we are aiming to launch Franglish in a lot of new places, especially in Europe and the USA.


Network Milan: How can I find out where Franglish events are taking place in my area?


Steven:
That’s quite easy. Just visit our website
www.franglish.eu and select the city where you live. All the information is updated every week. Signup is mandatory on the website so don’t forget to do it.


Network Milan: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us!


Steven:
Thanks for the interview and I hope to see a lot of expats, students, language enthusiasts and people who just want to practise speaking English or Italian at Franglish soon.

 

Logo-Franglish


Interview for NetworkMilan by Robert Dennis.


You can discover more Franglish events in Milan on the Club Tutti Expats International of Milano MeetUp group, including dates, locations and photos of recent events.


If you would like to attend a Franglish event, however, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you register with Franglish via their website http://www.franglish.eu.

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Delivering on its promise: e-commerce in Italy is growing – and now even comes with free coffee

10 Sep

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Report by Sonia Trubia and Robert Dennis

“E-talia” bucks the downward trend

At their annual “E-commerce in Italia” conference, held earlier this year at the Milan Chamber of Commerce, Casaleggio Associati, presented their regular snapshot of the state of the mouse-driven marketplace in Italy (pdf available here, in Italian). It certainly makes for interesting reading; despite the continuing economic crisis and generally disappointing growth in the economy, e-commerce in the Bel Paese is growing, with the market for online sales in 2014 showing an 8% rise on the previous year. However, when set against the bigger picture of the global e-commerce market, with growth worldwide expected to reach just over 20% this year, it is clear that there is still room for improvement.

Growth 2014

The fact remains that online shoppers play an increasingly significant role in the Italian economy (with total turnover for e-commerce worth just over 24bn euros last year) and this is being driven progressively by mobile, which now accounts for 13% of online sales (up from only 5% three years ago).

The two online behemoths, eBay and Amazon, with their vast and ever-expanding range of products to tempt the consumer, their competitive pricing and above all their reputation for reliability – essential for wary purchasers flexing their plastic or using online payment services such as PayPal – continue to dominate the Italian e-commerce market. (63% of Italian online shoppers use Amazon while 57% of customers use eBay.) Despite their relatively much smaller presence, other players, such as the French Pixmania (PixPlace) and Buy-me.it (part of the Mail Boxes Etc. group) are making themselves felt. Additionally, China-based Alibaba and Etsy (which focuses on handmade and vintage items) are gaining a toe-hold.

casaleggio-associati-e-commerce-italia-2015-i-mark

 

We called while you were out…

Overall then, the proportion of consumers using e-commerce in Italy is up and the trend is set to continue. But making purchases online is actually only half the story. The really tricky part is getting those products into the hands of the consumer after they have pored over the screen selecting from all the desirable goods on offer and clicked on the final “PAY NOW” button. Completing orders and delivering the merchandise should be straightforward, but this is often where the real frustration begins – both for the vendor as well as the consumer. Most couriers, for example, only deliver parcels during working hours, which, obviously, is inconvenient for most people, especially workers who won’t be at home to take the delivery. If no one picks up the parcels after several visits, then the courier the has to return it to the closest post-office or the delivery centre where it was dispatched from – and the hapless online buyer will have to go and pick it up themselves.

What’s Indabox?

logo_IndaBoxThis was exactly the dilemma that two friends from Turin, Giovanni Riviera and Michele Calvo, wrestled with – and came up with a uniquely Italian solution to the problem. At the end of 2014, they launched an app called Indabox, which allows users to look for a convenient delivery spot in their area and have the parcel delivered there, without having to worry about anything else. Indabox now has a steadily expanding network comprising more than 2400 drop-off points, including bars, supermarkets (they are in a partnership with Carrefour) and tobacconists. These business were chosen as drop-off spots because they can be found throughout the country, thus giving users a much greater chance to find a convenient place to have their purchases delivered. Bars are the most popular option, because, unlike other shops or supermarkets, they often close at 10pm, if not later. RelaisColis, the French equivalent of Indabox, is a very successful enterprise, and has a huge network of drop-off  and pick-up points (over 4000).

Come_funziona

The service offered by Indabox is also affordable. The first Indabox pick-up is free, but from the second time onwards you have to pay a €3 fee (€1,50 goes to the business and €1,50 to the startup itself) each time you pick up your parcel. It’s a price users are willing to pay for the added convenience.

Of course, Indabox is not the only option e-commerce customers have. A less personal alternative is that of using a “locker”, similar to the luggage lockers that used to be a feature of every central station and airport. In Italy, the most active network of lockers is operated by Inpost. Inpost is a “click-and-collect” service allowing online buyers to have deliveries made at specific locations with automated lockers, where they can collect them 24/7. However, while in other countries the locker system works very well, in Italy it hasn’t proved that popular or practical. Inpost, for example, only works with one courier and its network is not as extensive as that of Indabox.

Inpost

Moreover, Indabox and RelaisColis have a twofold advantage over other apps such as Inpost.  On the one hand, they have an interesting social angle, which is not only a key component in disruptive technology startups but also a critical factor in this highly socialized country. Popping in to your local bar to pick up a package naturally enough leads to personal contact, however short or shallow, with shopkeepers, bartenders and other customers. But most importantly for the drop-off points themselves, they can have a knock-on effect in terms of sales. As one of the Indabox founders recently told Wired Italy:  “Maybe someone decides to pick up their parcel, which was dropped off at a bar, during their lunch break, and then perhaps they decide to eat a sandwich there or to have a coffee, hence boosting the bartender’s turnover and making a contribution to the domestic market.”

Thanks to startups like Indabox, gaps in the online shopping experience are being filled and the whole process of buying and receiving goods is becoming that much more comfortable and convenient – it certainly avoids the need of staying at home in case you miss the courier or making an unnecessary to pick up your products from an out-of-the way warehouse or post office. And if collecting your online deliveries is also an excuse to enjoy a drink and chat, then so much the better. (Indabox even has an “IndaCoffee Card” which allows you to get every fifth coffee free from participating bars in the network.)

(c) Milan Business English Network, 2015

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About the authors:

Sonia Trubia is a freelance writer and translator based in Genoa. She speaks Italain, French and English and is currently completing an MA about the British novelist A.S.Byatt.

Robert Dennis is the founder of the Milan Business English Network and Director of Riverstone Language & Communications, which provides English language training and translations.

 

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SPECIAL FEATURE SERIES: People and Wine

11 Feb

This month on Network Milan we are focusing on people whose businesses are connected to wine. We talk to Isabella Poggesi, a freelance translator and young mother whose uses her background in winemaking to provide a specialised language service for her clients. We also chat to Bradley Mitton, a man who has built a successful career from bringing the wines of the New World to Europe. Bradley has also created a number of wine tasting and gourmet food clubs which host regular networking events. And we will also be speaking to Helen Fish of Riverstone Language & Communications who combines her work at the fast-growing English training and networking organisation with promoting a range of Italian fine wines and luxury holidays.

Interviews by Robert Dennis, Milan Business English Network founder
and Head of Innovation at Riverstone


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A Club Vivanova event organised by Bradley Mitton, who talks to Network Milan…

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Translating the experience of making wine into a successful language business: Isabella Poggesi talks to Network Milan

Isabella Poggesi, a busy freelance translator who specialises in the wine industry and agriculture, draws on her background in winemaking while balancing her family commitments as a young mum. She takes time out from her work – and her hobby, rockclimbing – to talk to us about her life. 

Click here to read the interview…

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Bringing New World wine to Europe: how Bradley Mitton is building networks through wine tasting and gastronomy events

Bradley Mitton, founder and Managing Director of Mitton International Wines talks to Network Milan about his specialist importing business and wine tasting clubs that introduce wine from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to various European trade and private markets.

Click here to read our interview…

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COMING SOON…

Helen Fish of Riverstone Language & Communications explains how she is using her marketing skills to help a traditional family-run Italian winery to access new markets.

 

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CLUB VIVANOVA IN MILAN!

The Milan Business English Network is delighted to be involved with Bradley Mitton and Club Vivanova in publicising this exclusive pre-Valentines day event:

Club Vivanova
WORLD CLASS Australian New Zealand Degustation
Chateau Monfort Hotel, Milan

Five Boutique Australian and New Zealand Wines

Wednesday 13th February 2013, 7pm
Exclusive Tasting with Sommelier Michele Garbuio
EUR 48 per person, fully inclusive

Join us for a gourmet night of boutique Australian and New Zealand wines and exceptional Italian contemporary cuisine in the exclusive wine cellar of the charming and deluxe five star Chateau Monfort in Milan, the fashion capital of Europe.

This fun, informal, networking evening is being promoted in conjunction with Riverstone Language and Communications and the Milan English Business Network. Attendees will be guided through a fabulous viticultural journey presented by New World wine professional Bradley Mitton and chef sommelier Michele Garbuio.

Premium Wine Selection
Sliding Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
Bellvale Chardonnay 2009, Gippsland, Victoria
Sliding Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand
Two Brothers Cabernet Merlot 2010, Margaret River
Hundred Tree Hill Shiraz 2007, Pyrenees, Victoria

Gourmet Flying Buffet
Olives . Amuse Bouche
Cream Cheese . Vanilla Madagascar Pears
Polenta Cubes . Cod Fish Mousse
Parma Ham . Parmesan Cheese
Beef Tartare . Capers and Pickled Onions
Milanese Risotto . Crispy Sausage

Reservations
Tickets will cost EUR 48 per person. The ticket price is subsidised by the organising partners (normal price EUR 85) and includes all wines, menu, coffee and water. Please book by sending an email to booking@vivanova-newsletter.com. You can also contact Helen Fish (helen@riverlang.com) or Robert Dennis (robert@riverlang.com) at Riverstone.

Please note that members and non-members alike may book for our events, which are always well attended; early reservations are recommended.
…………………………………………………………………………….
EXCLUSIVE OFFER for members of the Milan Business English Network and friends of Riverstone Language & Communications…
Enjoy a free cocktail or glass of champagne – and an invitation to join us later at a VIP party in the sumptuous Japanese-themed surroundings of the Armani Privé nightclub.
…………………………………………………………………………….

Club Vivanova Membership
Our annual membership fee is EUR 68.00. If you would like to join then please send an email to club@clubvivanova.com. Membership runs through until the end of 2013 and is then automatically renewed.

Find out more about this event and see who will be attending from the Milan Business English Network and Riverstone Network on the facebook event page:

 

 

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Bringing boutique New World wine to Europe: how Bradley Mitton is building networks through wine tasting and gastronomical events

10 Feb

Bradley Mitton, MD Mitton International Wines

Bradley Mitton is the founder and Managing Director of Mitton International Wines GmbH, Berlin. He supplies various European trade and private markets with carefully selected, hand made, value for money wines imported from family-owned, boutique wineries in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. To develop his customer base and support sales of wine, Bradley has established a number of innovative and very active event-based networks, including Club Vivanova and the twelve. Originally from the UK, Bradley has established his business in five European countries and aims to become the leading international boutique New World wine importer and premium wine club organiser for gastronomy in Central Europe.

In this exclusive interview with Network Milan, Bradley talks to Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network about his background and how he developed his business. He also explains what makes Mitton International Wines unique and talks about the importance of finding new business and understanding the needs of his customers. We ask Bradley about his marketing strategy and how the wine tasting events he organises relate to his main business, selling wine. He also gives his insights and advice on becoming an entrepreneur and building a business., especially through networking. Finally, Bradley considers the challenges posed by operating a business during a recession – and he looks forward to the future, outlining his strategy for Mitton International Wines.

Network Milan: Bradley, we are delighted that you have agreed to do this interview. I wonder if we could start off by getting you to tell us a bit about yourself and your business. How did you get into wine and wine tasting events? 

Bradley Mitton: Bradley Mitton: Thanks for asking me, Robert – I’m happy to oblige. Well, I left the UK when I was twenty and trained as a Chef in Australia, Hong Kong and Greece  – and then started my first major restaurant management position in Manila in the Philippines in 1995. In 1996, I opened my own restaurant in Manila called The Wine Press with an affluent wine importing partner and developed my skills for marrying food and wine. Subsequently, I moved to South Korea and ran the marketing and sales for Seoul’s leading private restaurant group. After two years and a desire to return to central Europe, I moved to Berlin to develop a European wine importer’s portfolio with New World products. In 2002, I noticed a great opportunity for introducing specialist boutique New World wines into leading five-star hotels and restaurants – and so I opened up Mitton International Wines. We now operate in five countries selling and marketing terroir-driven Australian and New Zealand wines into leading gastronomy locations – mainly restaurants and hotels. The distribution channels are supported by our in-house educational programmes to inform European wine drinkers about the great styles of wines and the related wine-making traditions of the New World. We now have three wine clubs which hold regular events that support our core business of selling wine. These are Club Vivanova, the twelve and APERITIVO Wine Bar.

Club Vivanova: Wine tasting, a gourmet experience and excellent networking opportunities

Network Milan: Can you explain what makes Mitton International Wines special? How does it differentiate itself from its competitors?

Bradley Mitton: Let me start by saying that during my fifteen years working amongst the best food and beverage industry outlets in Asia and Europe I have developed a very good understanding of what clients expect, want and require from a supplier. And I bring this knowledge and experience to our clients through Mitton International Wines. We train our key sellers at the restaurants we sell to and we acquire clients through our wine clubs as well as by word of mouth. I am able to understand which products will work best in the outlets we sell to as each restaurant and hotel has a certain style of client and food concept. Understanding the market is key for us and knowing our clients’ individual tastes and requirements is absolutely crucial. Delivery and efficient service are key. In fact, we run our business like a finely-tuned engine; everything is co-ordinated to give our client a product that fits his or her concept exactly and which they are perfectly comfortable in offering to their clients in turn, we then make sure they have immediate stock and we furthermore go in and help them sell and bring them clients through our club. I think this is a fantastic and complete service package and we have a great reputation through servicing in this way.

One of our main USPs is that we sell exclusively on-trade which means we only supply hotels and restaurants, leading gastronomy operators and five star hotels prefer that. They don’t want a wine on their list that is available in a supermarket around the corner and so we strictly don’t sell to shops and supermarkets or on the internet. If private customers would like to buy our wine, they have to contact us directly. Our main selling points are that we offer:

1.  Direct, exclusive imports from small, family-owned New World wineries.
2.  Sales to trade only (hotels don’t like to list supermarket products)
3.  After-sales support with employee training for up-selling and event activities.
4.  Supportive club event activities where we bring new clients to the locations that we list in.

Mitton International Wines specialises in wine from the New World Wines, in particular Australia and New Zealand (Image: Redbank Winery, Australia)

Network Milan: How do you find new clients?

Bradley Mitton: Well firstly, we use traditional marketing techniques to canvass, target and then approach all of our potential clients. But in addition to that activity we also acquire a number of new clients through our clubs and events. We are active on social media networks and we also publish a widely-circulated newsletter. A client may also contact us about hosting an event. We have a policy only to host events where we have our wines listed so we work on a win-win basis when we promote and run our events.

Network Milan: Could you tell us about your clubs and wine tasting events?

Bradley: OK, so we have three clubs – each of which has a distinct character and focus, but all of which are aimed at supporting our main business of selling wine. We have three clubs:

Club Vivanova, an international business networking and premium wine club based in Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Monaco -and now Milan. Vivanova stands for life and new experiences. Each event is a normally medium priced, gourmet wine dinner. We bring together interesting business people and entrepreneurs to unique locations to sample the finest things in life: great food, outstanding wine – and excellent company, of course.

Then there’s the twelve. We take twelve distinctive wines accompanied by exceptional menus; twelve carefully chosen individuals and twelve discreet locations including Berlin, Monte Carlo, Prague, Warsaw, Paris and London. It’s my pleasure during these events to introduce our guests to the exceptional character and charm of New World wines – and to share a fine dining experience in exquisite surroundings with people who appreciate the finer things in life. Each event is a premium priced, small volume wine dinner with winemakers who we fly in from Australia and New Zealand.

Finally we have the APERITIVO Wine Bar. These events are after-work wine bar evenings organized for business networking and wine tasting. The relaxed, chilled-out atmosphere offers an informal alternative to our Club Vivanova events. We select locations throughout Europe including Berlin, Monte Carlo, Prague and Warsaw where people can enjoy a relaxing drink after work with some interesting networking.

We are very pleased to be holding our latest Club Vivanova event in Milan, as well. We will be presenting some fantastic Australian and New Zealand wines and amazing contemporary Italian cuisine at the five star Chateau Monfort on February 13th. I will be joined by chef sommelier Michele Garbuio and we have a great offer for members of the Milan Business English Network as well. [See below for details – Editor.]

We have developed the concept of wine tasting events coupled with gourmet food and networking. Attendees are offered a first-class experience at very good value prices with premium wines, first-rate cuisine and excellent networking. By varying the locations and concepts, for example one month we will do a sit-down gourmet dinner, the next a boat trip, etc – and carefully targeting just the right people, we believe that our events offer a truly unique experience.

Network Milan: How can people discover more about your events or contact you if they want to buy wine?

Bradley Mitton: Well, you can find out all about our Club Vivanova events on our website, www.clubvivanova.com. And you can always email us at info@mittonwines.com for any wine-related enquiries. 

Network Milan: Let’s talk a bit about wine and wine appreciation in general. In the UK wine often has associations with snobbery and status. It can also be very intimidating and technical. What would you say to someone who is curious about wine but doesn’t quite know where to start?

Bradley Mitton: Yes, first of all – that’s a very British thing. People in other parts of the world are much more comfortable with wine – it’s just part of the culture. I would suggest you just dive in at the deep end. Wine is very personal; no-one knows everything as there is so much to learn. Wine is such a special subject, so you have to really open yourself up to it and try not be intimidated by it. My advice would be to buy some bottles, write down what you think and start a collection: everyone has their own taste and so nobody can be wrong wrong in regards to what they themselves taste and think of a wine. There are some fairly well-established guidelines though and these can be studied and practised. Of course, appreciating wine is much more fun and far more rewarding if you do it with other people. So, I would recommend that if you want to experience wine in the best way possible – come along to a Club Vivanova event (or the twelve or an APERITIVO Wine Bar, of course)!

Network Milan: Bradley, Mitton International Wines specialises in bringing wine from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to discerning clients in Europe. Why have you chosen to focus on wine from the New World?

Terroir, Redbank, Australia

Bradley Mitton: We supply leading hotels, clubs and restaurants in Central Europe with carefully selected, hand-made, value for money wines imported from family-owned, boutique wineries in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. We have selected regionally-diverse wines from important wine growing regions that highlight the styles of these varied terroirs and winemakers.

Our wines are imported directly from the wineries with no middle agents or corporate costs and thus we offer “value for money” with all of our products and guarantee reliable service. Our exclusive portfolio is focused and we are committed to our wineries offering carefully selected, hand made, value for money wines imported from Australia and New Zealand.

My passion for excellence was generated through working with and meeting great vintners in particular Robert Mondavi, Trimbach of Alsace, Drouhin of Burgundy, Chapoutier of the Rhone Valley and other iconic new world wine figures.

The three locations we focus on are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Australia benefits from winemakers experimenting with new technologies and unconventional methods of producing wine, although the general methods typically go back to the conventional old world styles of production. Many people feel that the wine makers of Australia embody a mixture of creative enthusiasm and sound technical knowledge, helping to make some of the most individual wines of the world with the most intense flavours.

The Marlborough region in New Zealand can lay claim to starting the modern wine industry in the country. Here in the late 1970s, Marlborough produced Sauvignon Blanc, among other varieties, which first led to confidence that New Zealand could produce interesting wine. Today, the Marlborough wine region represents 62% of total vineyard area in the country. The king varietal here is Sauvignon Blanc, closely followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The strong contrast between hot sunny days and cool nights help vintners extend the ripening period of their vines like nowhere else, resulting in unique expressions of their grapes. For example, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough offers unique aromas and flavours, which rightly earns them a lot of praise.

As for South Africa, the Paarl wine district lies to the north of Stellenbosch, and is bordered by the town of Wellington to the north east, and the mountains of the Groot and Klein Drakenstein and Franschhoek ranges to the south east. Paarl accomodates the headquarters of the South Africa Wine Industry, the KWV, has adequate co-operative cellars and wine estates in its immediate vicinity to justify its own wine route. Cabernet Sauvignon, port and Shiraz wines have established Paarl’s place on the global wine map and the region has repeatedly received international awards for these wines. 

In Europe wine has been traded for centuries, of course, but I discovered that nobody in Central Europe is picking specialist terroir-driven wine from Australia, for example – but we do. It’s a similar story with the wines we sell from New Zealand and South Africa. It’s not easy to get it right, but after ten years we have a fine selection that excites most of the leading sommeliers in Europe.

Network Milan: Bradley, I’d like to turn now to a topic our readers are always very interested to hear about: setting up and running a business. What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an entrepreneur? What are the challenges and rewards that make being an entrepreneur so motivating but also so demanding?

Bradley Mitton: OK, those are some big questions. Let me answer you based on my experience and some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way. Firstly, pick your product carefully. Always treat it is a business. Never pick something just because you like it or it’s your hobby. Of course you should be passionate about what you do – but always evaluate carefully if there’s a viable business there and a market for your product.

Secondly, never dabble in your products: develop a strategy and stick to it – but always be ready to adapt your strategy to the changing conditions of your market. And don’t underestimate the amount of time and effort you need to invest into building a successful business: you only get out of life what you put in. One of the best books I have ever read and whose insights I have used to run my company is Advanced Selling Strategies: The Proven System of Sales Ideas, Methods and Techniques Used by Top Salespeople Everywhere by Brian Tracy. (One of my favourite Brian Tracy quotes is “An average person with average talent, ambition and education, can outstrip the most brilliant genius in our society, if that person has clear, focused goals”.) There’s also the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s something of a golden oldie now – but still has some good tips on developing the all-important personal and professional connections that a successful entrepreneur needs to develop their brand. It’s also full of nuggets of wisdom, such as “So the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it”. That’s just as true today as when it was written.[First published 1936 – Editor.]

Network Milan: Do you have any practical tips on how to build a business and a brand?

Bradley Mitton: Yes: stay focused; don’t be greedy; watch your costs; use your head, not just your heart. You don’t need a flashy office, and expensive marketing. You just need good products that provide real value and benefit for your customers. And the more you know about your customers the easier it will be to provide them with they need and want.

Network Milan: How important is reputation and networking to your business?

Bradley Mitton: It’s our absolute number one priority: reputation is everything. We market extensively – especially through our wine-related events. But word of mouth is key – especially in the luxury world.

Network Milan: A lot of businesses have been through some tough times recently. Can I ask you how the recession changed the way you operate? Has it forced you to do anything differently or make changes to the way you run your company? What lessons do you think entrepreneurs can learn from trading in difficult conditions?

Bradley Mitton: That’s another good question! Yes, the recession has forced every successful business into refocusing themselves. They have had to cut out the frills and focus on what is important, but they also still have to drive their business forward aggressively. In fact, for dynamic, innovative companies the recession has actually created opportunities to react faster and respond better to their customers’ needs. It has tended to favour those businesses that are truly focused on the client and that can deliver value.

Network Milan: Here’s a question we always like to ask people: are there any interesting or unusual facts about your business that you can share with members of the Milan Business English Network?

Bradley Mitton: Well, there are lots! But one that might interest your readers in particular is that we supply Prince Albert of Monaco’s hotel group Société des Bains de Mer, which is also the largest employer in Monaco. We’ve also just supplied our wines to a huge film party this weekend for George Clooney and Matt Damon at Soho House in Berlin. Probably the most unusual fact is that the business all started from one very small delivery of ten boxes of wine in 2002, we delivered to the Grand Hyatt in Berlin and we grew from there, as my father always told me, from little acorns grow monumental oak trees.

Network Milan: Finally, we would like to invite you to peer into the crystal ball. How do you see the future of Mitton International Wines?

Bradley Mitton: Well, we currently operate in five countries – that’s enough for now. We’re going to continue building up our activities to be Central Europe’s leading wine club and international New World wine importer for gastronomy – and I thinnk we are already well on the way to achieving that.

Network Milan: Bradley, thank you for talking us. We wish you and Mitton International Wines all the best.

Bradley Mitton: You’re very welcome. I appreciate the opportunity of talking to you – and good luck to the Milan Business English Network as well!

Bradley Mitton with the New Zealand Ambassador to Germany, His Excellency Peter Rider and Australian Ambassador to Poland, His Excellency Jean Dunn at a Club Vivanova event in Prague, Czech Republic, where both ambassadors also represent their respective countries.

Interview by Robert Dennis, Milan Business English Network

If you would like to contact Bradley to discover more about Mitton International Wines, send an email to info@mittonwines.com or visit the company website: www.mittonwines.com.

You can find also find out more about the wine tasting, gourmet food and networking events Bradley organises by visiting www.clubvivanova.comthe twelve and APERITIVO Wine Bar.

…………………………………………………………………………….

CLUB VIVANOVA IN MILAN!

Club Vivanova
WORLD CLASS Australian New Zealand Degustation
Chateau Monfort Hotel, Milan

Five Boutique Australian and New Zealand Wines

Wednesday 13th February 2013, 7pm
Exclusive Tasting with Sommelier Michele Garbuio
EUR 48 per person, fully inclusive

Join us for a gourmet night of boutique Australian and New Zealand wines and exceptional Italian contemporary cuisine in the exclusive wine cellar of the charming and deluxe five star Chateau Monfort in Milan, the fashion capital of Europe.

This fun, informal, networking evening is being promoted in conjunction with Riverstone Language and Communications and the Milan English Business Network. Attendees will be guided through a fabulous viticultural journey presented by New World wine professional Bradley Mitton and chef sommelier Michele Garbuio.

Premium Wine Selection
Sliding Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand
Bellvale Chardonnay 2009, Gippsland, Victoria
Sliding Hill Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand
Two Brothers Cabernet Merlot 2010, Margaret River
Hundred Tree Hill Shiraz 2007, Pyrenees, Victoria

Gourmet Flying Buffet
Olives . Amuse Bouche
Cream Cheese . Vanilla Madagascar Pears
Polenta Cubes . Cod Fish Mousse
Parma Ham . Parmesan Cheese
Beef Tartare . Capers and Pickled Onions
Milanese Risotto . Crispy Sausage

Reservations
Tickets will cost EUR 48 per person. The ticket price is subsidised by the organising partners (normal price EUR 85) and includes all wines, menu, coffee and water. Please book by sending an email to booking@vivanova-newsletter.com. You can also contact Helen Fish (helen@riverlang.com) or Robert Dennis (robert@riverlang.com) at Riverstone.

Please note that members and non-members alike may book for our events, which are always well attended; early reservations are recommended.
…………………………………………………………………………….
EXCLUSIVE OFFER for members of the Milan Business English Network and friends of Riverstone Language & Communications…
Enjoy a free cocktail or glass of champagne – and an invitation to join us later at a VIP party in the sumptuous Japanese-themed surroundings of the Armani Privé nightclub.
…………………………………………………………………………….

Club Vivanova Membership
Our annual membership fee is EUR 68.00. If you would like to join then please send an email to club@clubvivanova.com. Membership runs through until the end of 2013 and is then automatically renewed.

Find out more about this event and see who will be attending from the Milan Business English Network and Riverstone Network on the facebook event page:

 

 

 

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Riverstone: a new approach to learning business English, networking and social media marketing

23 Jan

Integrating language activities in a company helps achieve success.

Traditionally, language learning has been seen as either a service (or duty) provided by companies to their employees, while communications activities such as translation and providing content for the company website have been seen as separate tasks that can either be done in-house by the marketing team or outsourced to an agency.

Riverstone Language & Communications takes a totally different approach.

A dynamic, new organisation for business English, Riverstone believes that all language-related activities in a company should be integrated and harmonised: the way employees answer the phone and write emails; the language used to present the company in sales meetings with customers; the tone and content on the company’s corporate website and social media presence; and even its advertising media – all of these should resonate with one clear voice that is easy to understand, inspires trust and promotes the core brand values of the business.

By raising the quality of the entire company’s language skills and ability to speak directly to customers and clients, Riverstone can help any organisation achieve its business objectives and assist in building strong, lasting relationships.

Riverstone are also active in helping companies and professionals in a wide range of sectors to put their English language skills into practice by attracting new business and extending their network of contacts. With a programme of regular business networking events and specialist language workshops, Riverstone can enable any company or freelancer to give themselves a competitive advantage in the market place – especially in key foreign markets where communicating in English is essential.

Changing the way companies use English

While many companies have embraced the benefits offered by social media, Riverstone also understands that businesses need to be able to tailor and target their message effectively on a variety of social media platforms, such as facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services. They have developed sophisticated language-based training programmes that help companies focus on the key objectives of communicating effectively via social media: establishing trust; conveying a sense of professionalism and integrity; engaging customers with a clear, compelling message; and building communities based on brands, as well as B2B networks.

Riverstone is owned and managed by Milan Business English Network founder Robert Dennis and entrepreneur Helen Fish. Together they are redefining the role of business English training and communications inside a company. Their model is one of collaboration and discovery: allowing management, employees and customers to speak to each other in a shared, inclusive dialogue that is both natural and productive.

“I would like people in business to think of Riverstone as a single solution for all their language needs: training, internal and external communications, and a stepping-stone towards accessing new markets and customers,” says Helen.

If you would like to discover how Riverstone is shaking up the business English world – and how they can help you business to maximise its potential through an integrated approach to language and communications – please contact either Robert Dennis (Robert@riverlang.com) or Helen Fish (Helen@riverlang.com). They will be delighted to provide you with information about their training programmes, workshops and business networking events.

NEW! The Milan Business English Network in association with Riverstone Language & Communications is holding a business networking event at Fiori Oscuri bar in Milan this Thursday. To find out more about this event, please visit the Milan Business English Network facebook event page or see the Riverstone website for details.

Find out more: http://riverlang.com/

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Cracking the mobile payments code: Danielle Dalkie of Network Roma scans the horizon to discern the shape of things to come

25 Sep

Danielle Dalkie

It’s never easy predicting which technology will win out in a fast-growing and ever-changing sector crowded with players who are all touting their latest innovation as the future. And that’s especially true when it comes to working out exactly how people will eventually use their phones to pay when they shop. In this article, specially written for NetworkMilan, entrepreneur and social media strategist Danielle Dalkie considers the implications of PayPal’s ongoing tech spending spree. She also hovers her iPhone over the current state of QR codes and scanning technology to take a snapshot of developments in this rapidly-evolving market. Her conclusions may surprise you…

PayPal’s recent tie-up with Discover Card barely a month ago was yet another in a long line of strategic moves which show the growing importance of mobile as a payment option. Discover (which has just agreed to pay back $200m to millions of consumers who were charged for add-ons such as such as credit score tracking and identity theft protection), allows customers to access their PayPal account in-store by using their mobile phone number and PIN.) PayPal also snapped up credit card scanning service card.io earlier this year. However, while Paypal (which is owned by eBay) would like to think it is leading the mobile payments space their strategy so far seems to be more about acquiring interesting bits of technology to supplement online payments while trying to make it “mobile”. And let’s not forget Zong, another of their acquisitions last year, which also allows consumers to pay using their phone.

Card.io is just one of the many different mobile payments technologies PayPal is pinning its hopes on

Card.io provides mobile software that lets consumers use their smartphone cameras to scan credit cards for information, thereby simplifying the process of loading those cards into a digital wallet. Many mobile payment application developers have partnered with card.io to take advantage of its card scanning software, and according to PayPal’s Hill Ferguson those developers will continue to be given access to card.io’s technology.

Rather than backing one technology, PayPal is hedging its bets by backing various players. It’s also keen to head off competition by either controlling the technology used or matching it with something similar, if not indistinguishable, in all but name (and shape). PayPal’s Here, for example, allows merchants to accept a payment on any mobile phone using a detachable card-reader. The service presents a head-on challenge to Square, who have a virtually identical technology. The two systems are so close I think we will leave it to them to hash it out amongst themselves to see who wins this particular battle.

Early last year PayPal endorsed peer-to-peer NFC [Near Field Communication, which allows customers to pay by tapping or holding their phone near a counter-top device. Editor’s note.] Then came the big announcement towards the end of 2011 of their closed loop solution for the consumer, which seemed subsequently to have been completely refocused. Their agreement with Discover seems to complicate the picture even further.

PayPal’s NFC solution for mobile payments can hardly be called agile. Paying with your phone is supposed to be streamlined – so why would I want to have five different apps for my favourite stores? And then the scanner app as well?  It’s clunky. This is where Google Wallet shows itself to be the true leader in the field. The NFC wallet is simple and really does cut down the time spent at the check-out. That said, the prospect of NFC as a universally-available function of the mobile phone is still a few years off. So we have two options: QR codes or tags? Whilst the code solution is much cheaper it is not that secure. The problem is that QR codes leaves users vulnerable to hackers who may use the code to lead them to a malicious website or application. And with less than 5 per cent of people having any form of security on their mobile phones, it potentially leaves them wide open to fraud.

This type of technology allows for closed loop solutions – a topic which I covered in a recent blog post here on NetworkMilan, explaining that this is good for merchants but makes it more complicated for the user. So, regular readers will already know I don’t think the current payments systems and solutions on offer are ideal. However, there does need to be a universal solution.  The fact that your Google Wallet has Visa – which is accepted worldwide – is convenient. And until the industry can settle on an alternative, multiple closed loop solution, any challenger will always come second to the Visa and MasterCard network.

While scanner apps and barcodes are not without risks or issues, around 21 million American adults used mobile barcodes in 2011, a figure that grew by 147 per cent from the previous year, according to a survey carried out by eMarketer. This positive trend expected is expected to continue over the next few years and it tracks, of course, with the wider take-up of smartphones. (Around a quarter of smartphone owners use mobile barcodes, a figure which is set to continue rising, reaching nearly 40% by 2014). In this survey, consumers said they would use the technology to access discounts, offers or coupons, whereas only 23 per cent of respondents said they would want to use mobile barcodes to actually complete a purchase.

Since the number of consumers using the technology is growing, it makes sense that the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) has developed a standard for handling 2D barcodes that it hopes will direct mobile phone users to websites more easily. By standardizing the specification for encoding, decoding and the resolution of 2D barcodes, the OMA has said it wants to stimulate the usage of the codes.  Hopefully, standards like this will help to protect consumers and reduce the inherent security risks of these payment solutions. For the consumer, such an initiative can only be of benefit to them.

Ultimately, it really all comes downs to the basic economics of supply and demand. Consumers do want to be able to make mobile payments, but the technology we need to provide a universal, seamless and secure service is still a good few years off. I am not saying that QR Codes and scanners are not a great bit of technology; they are. However, it is just not a viable long-term solution.

QR codes for mobile payments? Consumers are not yet sold on the idea (Image: Frank Edens via Wikimedia Commons)

Online retail sales increased by 14% last year to more than £50bn, with predictions that the growth will continue to hit high streets, according to a new report. The increasing popularity of mobile devices, combined with the growth of mobile-based retail sites, is directly related and affected by the increase in online sales generally. Mobile really is the “missing link” between online and retail stores. It is going to be key, and business is fully aware of this. The challenge remains, however, to find a solution that is reliable not only in terms of technology and security, but one which also meets consumers’ increasingly important demands for services that don’t add unnecessary complication to their already busy lives.

Danielle Dalkie is the co-founder of Waspit, an innovative mobile payments service that provides social banking for students. She is based in Rome and works with clients based in Italy, the UK and the US. Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a LinkedIn group dedicated to facilitating networking opportunities and collaboration among freelancers and companies with a Roman connection.

Still confused by the plethora of mobile payment technologies out there? Check out The Most Important Mobile Payment Infographic Ever created by MobilePaymentsToday.com.

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Nothing ventured, nothing gained: Danielle Dalkie finds the rules for raising startup capital are (gradually) changing

01 Aug

Fuelling the digital economy: options for startups (Image: Stock.xchang)

I have first-hand experience of raising capital; pounding the pavement and listening to people tell you that something you have put your heart and soul into doesn’t really interest them: sorry. Then, just when it seems you are about to give up , when you have spoken to every investor – twice – you suddenly stumble across someone who is actually willing to invest.

In the current economic climate it seems this process is even more arduous as people are less willing than usual to part with their hard-earned cash.  When it comes to venture capital, the conventional wisdom has been that if you want money the Americans are pretty much giving it away. Finding investment in Europe, however, while far from impossible, isn’t exactly easy either (particularly in Italy). Take for example the Italian startup wunderkind, Mashape, an API marketplace for cloud-based services: they spoke with every VC and investor in Italy – all without success. And then (miraculously) after just 19 days in the USA they found funding in San Francisco.

According to Marco Palladino, one of the founders of Mashape (along with Augusto Marietti and Michele Zonca) it’s entirely cultural. He told TechCrunch: ‘in Italy, the investor community is smaller and has less money than in Silicon Valley. Therefore, they don’t want to take a risk by investing in a new and innovative model – they want to invest in something proven and secure. Thus, they fund models that already exist, which ends up slowing down local innovation as a consequence’.

However, you can find venture capital if you’re in the right industry.  A recent report states that there has been a 37 per cent increase in investments in the US this quarter. Not surprisingly companies in the mobile sector have been the main beneficiaries, including seed funding for startups. In fact, 22 per cent of all deals have been at the seed stage this quarter.

Even though the Italian investments market still trails its main European counterparts it has been growing and an increasing number of opportunities are available.  In the past three years, 183 startups have received financing, according to a survey by “Startup Numbers”. The combined investment capacity of the funds for 2012-13 is about 320 million euros, aimed at supporting around 160 new businesses. The average lead time between the issuing of the business plan and the actual investment is about 6 months. Some firms can manage it in 3 months, while others need up to 10 months. The average share of capital controlled by investors is 30%.

There is also growing interest in the Italian startup sector, attracting not only homegrown VC funds, but also foreign money. Government support in the form of a Task Force to propose new laws more favourable to startups has also helped to spur optimism, as we reported on NetworkMilan recently.

Kickstarter: the world's largest funding platform for creative projects

However, while the traditional funding route for startups remains hard just about everywhere there is a new trend in the form of online funding networks.  Depending on which site they use a startup can raise whatever amount they need to get their business off the ground.  Whether you’re a one-man-band with a brilliant idea, or a small company seeking further development funds, this seems to be where most people are getting angel funding. Kickstarter is the one most people have heard about, creating a community for people with money to invest: anything from $10 up to $1 million, as was the case for Nano Wristbands (which convert an iPod Nano into a watch).

I also came across Payable.com as well, which takes a slightly different approach.  You share your idea on the site, which then gets funded by the ‘investor/s’.  Payable’s own developers step in to get you up and running and the software is sold via their online store, which is how the investors make their money back.  One disadvantage with this model is that you don’t own the IP.

And there’s Kabbage.com, which, according to its website can ‘provide working capital to online sellers to help their business grow in less than 10 minutes‘.

I like the idea of startups funding startups.  It makes sense; they understand the risks involved and are generally more in tune with the way entrepreneurs think.  And it is these companies that have been the driving force behind the growth in seed investment, as I mentioned above.

Certainly, the times they are a-changin’ for the investment sector. I personally do not believe you can say one location or market is better or worse than any other, especially since the dire economic outlook affects everyone equally (at least in the West, still languishing in recession). (According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. government spending relative to GDP is 36%, which is very close to that of Spain. And the US debt-to-GDP ratio is 103% whereas Spain’s is 68%.)

But while times remain tough, the growing diversity of funding sources for startups is one of the factors helping to get new high-tech businesses through these tough times.

By Danielle Dalkie, Social Media / PR Consultant and Co-founder of mobile payments startup Waspit.

BREAKING NEWS: Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a sister group of the Milan Business English Network. You can become part of Network Roma by joining their group on LinkedIn.

Racing ahead: venture capital is available for startups with real potential that explore every funding route (Image: Formula One by Mark McArdle via Wikimedia Commons)

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Growing Italy’s startup sector: private investment and timely government intervention combine to create fertile ground for growth in difficult times

30 Jul

Nurturing tomorrow's successful companies (Image: Theornamentalist via Wikimedia Commons)

With each day bringing ever-gloomier financial and economic news for the Eurozone and especially for Greece, Spain and Italy – bailouts, euro meltdown and the dreaded “spread” – this would not seem like the best time to start a company. Certainly not in a highly-speculative sector with few established precedents and even fewer proven business models. And yet the Italian startup scene is showing signs not only of life – but even of optimism and an excitement that flies in the face of the impending doom nearly everyone assumes is about to befall the Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country, Italy – not the cheese, of course).

Special report by Robert Dennis of the Milan Business English Network

Last month’s issue of Italian business magazine Capital featured on its cover Federico Marchetti, the founder and CEO of Yoox, the innovative online fashion retailer and the headline “Invent the future: How to become an e-commerce leader and beat the crisis”. Yoox is one of a crop of successful Italian startups that are bucking the downward trend in adverse business conditions – and providing an alternative vision for an economy in crisis.

In an upbeat feature article the magazine also described the recent visit of Corrado Passera, Mario Monti’s Minister for Economic Development and former CEO of banking group Intesa Sanpaolo to H-Farm, the Venture Incubator whose headquarters is located near Treviso in the lush countryside of northern Italy’s wealthy Veneto region. With an atmosphere that was ‘almost a happening, with an air of optimism and so much positive energy that it felt surreal, considering the times we are in’, the minister listened to the ideas and concerns of the audience of 200 mainly young entrepreneurs. The purpose of the event at the countryside retreat and embryonic tech hub, founded by Riccardo Donadon and Maurizio Rossi, was to send out the message that the Italian government is serious about its plans to support and incentivize startups. It aims to do this by working closely with industry figures who can bring their knowledge and passion to help foster the right environment for young businesses (especially high-tech ones) to grow.

Passera and Donadon at StartUp Italia Open Day (Image: italiastartup.it)

The visit was the highlight of the Open Day (May 26) organised by StartUp Italia, an independent association formed by six leading players from the startup sector to promote innovation in Italy’s digital economy. The founders of StartUp Italia – Riccardo Donadon, Giorgio Carcano, Paolo Barberis, Luca De Biase,  Enrico Pozzi and Mario Mariani – are also part of the 12-strong Startup Task Force assembled by Passera to identify the practical measures needed to create a favourable environment for startups in Italy. (The Task Force, whose other members are Selene Biffi, Annibale D’Elia, Alessandro Di Camillo, Massimiliano Magrini, Giuseppe Ragusa and Donatella Solda-Kutzmann is co-ordinated by Alessandro Fusacchia, Adviser to Minister Passera for European Affairs, Youth, Merit and Innovation.)

The recommendations of the Task Force will feed into a proposed package of legislative measures also to be called Startup Italia. This package of new laws will complement the existing government  “decrees” of Save Italy, Grow Italy and Simplify Italy (Salva Italia, Cresci Italia and Semplifica Italia). However, it should be noted that Italians will be choosing a new government in 2013, which could have an impact on the existing legislative framework.

Capital’s article also focuses on how Italy’s main Venture Capital funds are continuing to invest in startups despite of – or even because of – a generally unfavourable outlook in the wider economy:

• Startups that are not yet ready for investment can be nurtured by incubators such as I3P, Innovation Factory, Toscana Life Science, TechNest (University of Calabria), Polo Tecnolgico di Navacchio, Consorzio Arca (University of Palermo), Acceleratore d’impresa del Politecnico di Milano and the Technopolis (University of Bari).

• Budding startups that require seed capital of less than 1 million euros can then approach investors such as dPixel, Working Capital, Italian Angels for Growth, Annapurna Ventures, Enlabs, Digital Magics, Club degli Investitori and H-Farm itself.

• Early stage venture capital of more than 1 million euros is provided by funds that include Principia SGR, Innogest, 360 Capital Partners, Vertis, TT Venture/Fondamenta, Next Fund Lifescience, Atlante Ventures and Aladin Venture/Friulia.

Italian banking groups UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo (via its StartUp Iniziative) also invest in startups.

Another sign that Italy is being taken seriously as a good location for startup companies is the arrival of TechCrunch in Rome this autumn. A one-day conference on September 27th will bring together the leading lights of Italy’s digital media and technology sectors. The event will throw a spotlight on some of the country’s highly innovative and dynamic startups.

So, while the outlook for the economy as a whole may be grim at least there is a ray of hope in the form of some exciting and creative new ventures that could kick-start growth as well as provide a significant return on investment for those with a longer-term vision.

Startups could yield a good return on investment (Image: Sunflowers via Wikimedia Commons)

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Money in motion: how mobile payments technology is changing the face of retail

18 Jul

Danielle Dalkie is a Co-founder and Director of Social Commerce & PR at Waspit, the groundbreaking mobile payments service. In this series of blog posts for NetworkMilan she will be writing about  mobile payments technology, social commerce and trends in the tech startup sector with a focus on the Italian/European market. To kick off the series she Danielle starts by looking at the big picture of what the mobile payments environment looks like from her uniquely well-informed perspective!

Danielle Dalkie

Payments and mobile technology in Europe have always been ahead of the American market. I am not sure when the idea started that the US is better known for adopting technologies at an early stage: stateside mobile networks are about 10 years behind those of Europe – and their payment methods also lag those of the “Old World” by a decade, too.

US society still seems to be largely cash-based. Compare that with Europe, where today 6 out of 7 transactions are made using a card. But the difference goes even deeper. The technocrat government of Italy, in particular, has declared a war on cash: Prime Minister Mario Monti wants the country’s vast army of self-employed entrepreneurs, including landlords, plumbers, electricians and small businesses to stop making large transactions in cash, which critics say simply facilitates tax evasion. On 4 December 2011, the Italian government reduced the maximum limit for cash payment from 2,500 euros to 1,000 euros. The rationale for this reduced limit on movements of cash is that Italy desperately needs to increase its tax revenues and views its anti-cash measures as a means of cracking down on tax evasion, which “costs” the government an estimated €150 billion annually. However, with an eye-watering €1.9 trillion of public debt to its name, some commentators have described this kind of punitive measure as “too little too late”.

Against the backdrop of a general tendency towards the “cashless society”, the recent announcement by American Express that they have just released their roadmap for Europay MasterCard Visa (EMV) got me thinking about the state of the payments environment and how this technology could develop in the coming months and years.

Now, let me stick my neck out and say that I for one didn’t actually think the US should have made the switch over to EMV, since it has been used in Europe for the past six years and the technology itself – at over 10 years old – is well past its sell-by date. It would have made much more sense for the US to bypass EMV altogether and move straight to near field communication (NFC), which allows consumers to make electronic payments by simply waving their NFC-enabled phone near a payments terminal . Yes, EMV has security benefits, and it has helped to substantially decrease fraudulent transactions throughout Europe, but this should have been apparent to the US retailers and federal authorities 6 years ago. Why wait until now when more flexible and innovative technologies have superseded it?

One saving grace is that at least this switchover will force merchants to upgrade their terminals. Each of these upgraded system devices will also accept NFC and mobile transactions, which is a fantastic opportunity for companies operating in this space, especially startups and smaller, independent companies who (unlike the credit card giants) do not have the funds or capacity to influence terminal and Point of Sale (POS) technology or upgrades.

Waspit: social banking for students

The innovative startup company I have been involved with over the last 18 months, Waspit, uses MasterCard PayPass technology and will be accepted by card-capable merchants in the US by 2017, by which time the proposed switch-over will be completed. This is clearly great news not only for consumers but for mobile payment startups, such as Waspit, generally. With merchants on board, socially-oriented financial services like ours will be able to focus on winning new customers and offering a wider range of related services and benefits

However, not all mobile / NFC payments technology are problem-free. PayPass, for example, and other card networks for mobile and micro payments, charge merchants 0.15% plus 0.025 Euro in the interchange every time a transaction is made. This means that if you’re buying a relatively low-value item , such as a 2 Euro ice-cream, the merchant is not actually making a profit. These increased costs may force small businesses to raise prices, or face margins being squeezed as they are unable to compete with larger retailers who enjoy greater economies of scale. (The European situation could also be affected by the recent $7.25 billion settlement by Visa and MasterCard of a class action brought by retailers in the US over interchange fees.)

From the merchant’s point of view it makes sense to bypass the credit card networks completely and go with the closed loop solution. The market has woken up to this fact with every tech company and startup offering some sort of mobile wallet, or mobile payment solution. You can now buy a latte with your Starbucks app , and even use your PayPal account in selected stores. But here’s the irony: all of this cashless technology is supposed to be making life simpler – except it’s not!

Behind the scenes, the situation is even more complicated, with the reliance on technologies such as those of the Trusted Service Manager (TSM) and over-the-air personalisation. When NFC handsets go mainstream and there is no longer a need for plastic at all, that is the moment when we will truly be in the era of mobile payments. But at present TSM is also in a state of flux. The mobile networks themselves are going to be the main players, but will Vodafone, Three, Orange (3 of the main UK operators) and the others be more flexible than the credit card companies, who currently control the scene? And the system will still rely on the infrastructure of the credit card companies, so interchange is still a factor. It is going to take a lot of hard bargaining, regulation and hammering out standards the key players in the industry can all agree on. No-one can say for sure how the situation will pan out – or how smaller players are going to get access to the chips that are vital for mobile payments to become the norm.

Mobile payments

Consumers want to use electronic and mobile payments – and when the technology is fully rolled out I don’t think it will be hard getting them on board. However, in the industry we have been talking about this for a while. The flip side is that this is not good for merchants , especially small ones. Either the credit card companies need to come to the party or something needs to shake up the whole space. There needs to be more unity and maybe regulation, but this should not be dictated by the giants who dominate this space.

Consumers are clearly voting with their smart-phones: there is increasing demand and enthusiasm for making mobile payments more widespread and easier. Retailers – especially smaller, independent ones – could stand to benefit; and even government revenue-collecting agencies governments would welcome the introduction and greater use of this type of technology (with concerns over privacy being taken seriously, of course). There is also an urgent need for business itself, trade and consumer bodies, as well as national governments and the EU to co-ordinate their efforts to ensure that the consumer has a choice of easily accessible, safe and efficient payment methods to choose from. And, of course, there needs to be a level playing-field for innovative creative startups such as Waspit to develop services that give consumers the flexibility and freedom that this revolutionary technology could bring to people’s lives.

Read Danielle Dalkie’s next blog post on NetworkMilan – coming soon!

UPDATE (AUGUST 2012): Danielle has recently founded Network Roma, a sister group of the Milan Business English Network. You can become part of Network Roma by joining their group on LinkedIn.

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