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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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The Milan Business English Network and Riverstone team up for a networking aperitivo this Thursday…

23 Jan

Come and develop your  professional network with us this Thursday 

How can you develop new contacts and use your English skills too? What’s the best strategy for advancing your career and extending your professional network? Where can you spend a great evening in sophisticated surroundings with interesting people who share the same approach to doing business as you?

The answer is simple: come to this event – and give your business a boost!

The Milan Business English Network – in conjunction with Riverstone Language & Communication – is holding a business networking aperitivo at the elegant and comfortbale Fiori Oscuri bar in the Brera district. The evening will start at 7:30pm and anyone who has signed up on the event page or belongs to the Milan Business English Network is welcome. You may also bring friends and colleagues. (However, space is limited so please let us know if you plan to come with a group.)

Not only will have a great time, but you will also have the opportunity to make some useful contacts.

For more details, please contact Robert Dennis or Helen Fish.

Why should you join the Milan Business English Network?

We are a rapidly-growing group of professionals with an interest in using, learning or teaching business English. Our members include people from a wide range of business sectors and backgrounds. The Milan Business English Network was founded and is managed by Robert Dennis, a freelance business English teacher and co-founder of Riverstone Language & Communications. You can read articles and interviews about business topics and developing your professional profile here in our online news magazine, NetworkMilan.com. We also have two active online groups which you can connect to via facebook and LinkedIn. The Milan Business English Network organises regular networking events and is a great way of meeting other professionals who want to improve their communication skills and meet new people in Milan and beyond.

How can Riverstone help you extend your network?

Making connections

Success in business today is all about making connections: finding the right people to build great teams, locating new customers and clients – and sourcing the best suppliers and freelancers to help you grow your business.

Riverstone can help you develop the network of contacts you need, especially international contacts in the English-speaking countries.

In order to help companies and individuals make the right connections and contacts we are organising a programme of networking events where you will have the opportunity to meet people and organisations you can do business with.

In collaboration with the Milan Business English Network and other partners we will be hosting a series of business networking events, seminars and workshops.

Register for the event on the Riverstone facebook event page!

Date: 24 January 2013
Time: 7:30pm
Location: Fiori Oscuri, Via Fiori Oscuri 3, Milano, Italy

Visit the Riverstone website to discover how they can help your business…

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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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Blended learning maestro Pete Sharma set to make an impact on Milan at the PSA Symposium

31 Aug

Pete Sharma, one of the world’s leading experts on integrating technology into learning, will be “in the shadow of the Madonnina” this autumn as part of the PSA (Pete Sharma Associates) Symposium. The event on October 4th 2012 in Milan is being hosted by the British Consulate-General and sponsored by SMART Technologies, Richmond ELT and Little Bridge. UK Trade & Investment are also supporting the Symposium.

The title of the Symposium is “L’impatto delle nuove tecnologie sull’insegnamento delle lingue straniere” (“The impact of new technology on foreign language teaching”). This symposium builds on the success of similar events in Spain.

The speakers will include Pete and representatives from the sponsors. The exact topics and content are still to be confirmed, but here is a preview of the programme:

Keynote Presentation

Pete Sharma, Pete Sharma Associates Ltd
“New developments in Language Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age”

Pete speaking at a recent ICT Conference
(Photo: British Council)

Technology has changed the teaching and learning of languages. However, technology changes quickly and it is sometimes difficult for teachers to follow new developments. It is not always easy to use new  technology well inside and beyond the classroom. In his talk, Pete Sharma will describe some of the most important recent advances in new technology including m-learning, commercially produced digital materials, the interactive whiteboard and the virtual learning environment in the 21st century

Pete started his EFL career as a business English teacher in Madrid, moving to Finland before returning to the UK. He worked as teacher trainer, Director of Studies and school manager before becoming the Group teacher training and development manager for Linguarama, a business English organisation which is now part of the Marcus Evans group. In his capacity as a member of the Group Pedagogical Unit he inspected schools, taught writing seminars in the Middle and Far East, and helped create and run trainer training courses. He has written extensively about technology in language teaching. Pete recently changed from ESP to EAP, and currently divides his time between lecturing at Oxford Brookes University and on the Warwick University pre-sessional courses, and writing. He keeps a blog on using technology in ELT with co-author Barney Barrett. See: www.te4be.com

 

Luke Baxter & Cathy Smith
Richmond ELT
“Convergence”

This is a term that encompasses many of the most important trends in the “digital world” today. Important examples include how tools, entertainment and work have converged onto a single device, so a person can have, say, a compass, a radio and a spreadsheet on their iPad. Another example and one which is very much at the forefront of digital predictions is “the cloud”, where content and computing converge and become accessible “anytime, anywhere and on any device”.

Using examples from Richmond’s Digital Books and Learning Platforms, this presentation will aim to show how convergence is already affecting ELT publishing. Luke and Cathy will show how many of the traditional components of a publisher’s course offering have already converged in a Digital Book that includes the Student’s Book, Teacher’s Book, Workbook and Class Audio. They will also look at how students can access the Learning Platforms to play games, comment on blogs and communicate with their teacher, who in turn can assign trackable tests and homework activities.

Finally, they will attempt to look forward and hazard some guesses as to how convergence will continue to affect ELT publishing. Can every course component converge onto a single device? Will the divide between paper and digital make any sense in the future? Will this mean the end of the printed book? Should ELT publishers view themselves solely as content providers and thus endeavour to provide this content in whatever way best suits the needs and situations of each individual customer?

 

Valeria Mordenti
Marketing Manager Italy & South East Europe at SMART Technologies
The Interactive Whiteboard and Language Teaching”

SMART created the world’s first interactive whiteboard in 1991 and they remain the world’s leading provider of interactive whiteboards. Incorporated in 1987, SMART has been committed to innovation and excellence for more than 25 years and has provided solutions for the education, higher education, business, government and military communities. More than two million SMART Board interactive whiteboards are used by over 40 million students and their teachers, and SMART products are used in more than 175 countries.

 

Paul Rogers
Little Bridge
“Making English Irresistible to Young Learners!”

Paul is an award-winning author of over forty books for children, as well as of many well-known materials for the teaching of languages, including for teaching English. He’s an experienced linguist and has been both a primary and secondary teacher, as well as a lecturer in Education (at Goldsmiths College, University of London). Taking examples from Little Bridge, Paul will show how an innovative digital resource can:

1.       build a bridge between the learner and the English speaking world, setting the language in context through 3D animations and virtual reality

2.       build a bridge between traditional teaching methods and the latest computer technology, dealing with grammar, for example, in a painless, natural way.

3.       bridge the gap between work and play by making learning fun through a wide variety of motivating games, songs and activity types.

4.       build a bridge between home and school by providing activities that children will do for pleasure, whilst allowing the school to keep track of everyone’s progress.

 

Registration and Contact Details

Entry to the Symposium will be free but by invitation only. Delegates will also need to register with the British Consulate-General. If you would like to attend this event, please contact Byron Russell at PSA:

byron.russell@psa.eu.com

Check the Events page on the PSA website for further details and updates about the Symposium: http://www.psa.eu.com/event/psa-symposium-milan

You can find out more about Pete Sharma and PSA on their website: http://www.psa.eu.com/

 

About PSA

Pete Sharma Associates Ltd was founded in October 2008. PSA is an educational consultancy and training organisation for language teachers. PSA runs courses worldwide for teachers of English as a Foreign Language, teacher trainers and academic managers on how to successfully integrate educational technology into their language courses. PSA also advises institutions on hardware and software for language teaching.

PSA has a core team of four directors who are responsible for ensuring that all PSA courses meet the highest standards of quality. The directors keep abreast of educational technology and liaise with the major hardware and software manufacturers and publishers. They use a number of associate trainers, specialised in integrating technology into language courses. Their activities are supported by many associate organisations including The Pyramid Group.

 

Interested in blended learning? Robert Dennis attended the recent “Digital Transformation in the English Teaching World” event co-hosted by Pearson Longman and the British Council. Read the full  report on the Milan English blog:

The perfect blend? Pearson and the British Council team up for “Digital Transformation in the English Teaching World” 

 

 

 

 

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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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From Cape Town to the Cotswolds: how EduVacation mixes a unique English learning experience with the holiday of a lifetime

15 Jul

Learn English in the Cotswolds, the UK's largest "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty"

NetworkMilan is always happy to talk to people who have started their own business – especially entrepreneurs that are finding innovative and unusual ways to teach English (such as Lorna Allen of Live and Learn Homestays Ltd, who we interviewed last year). Today, we feature another homestay provider: EduVacation a small, privately-owned English language company that offers full immersion courses in the Cotswolds region of England.  (They also arrange English learning tours to Cape Town, South Africa.) The company was founded and is managed by Dean and Sue Erasmus, a married couple who are both qualified English-speaking school teachers with extensive teaching experience. (Both Dean and Sue love cooking and students can look forward to a barbecue – depending on the often-unpredictable British weather, of course!)

In this interview with NetworkMilan they describe the services they offer and explain why EduVacation is very different from studying at a typical language school. They also talk about their experience of welcoming Italian learners to the Cotswolds and discuss the unique benefits of being immersed in an English-speaking environment when you are learning the language.

Dean and Sue also agree to share their experiences and insights of running a business. They talk about what motivates them and describe some of the challenges they face as entrepreneurs. And they have some useful advice for anyone considering starting up a company.

Finally, Dean reveals that he once took part in a reality television programme on national TV in South Africa! Using his business skills, ingenuity and charisma, he had to compete for the top cash prize with a group of very determined contestants. Find out what happened in the end…

NM: Dean and Sue, welcome to NetworkMilan. Can you tell us about EduVacation?

Dean and Sue Erasmus

Dean and Sue Erasmus: We started EduVacation to provide learners of English as a foreign language with an experience where they can fully immerse themselves in the English language and enjoy a memorable holiday in the beautiful Cotswolds of England. If you don’t know it already, the Cotswolds region is situated in the southwest of England and is the country’s largest officially designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. A major tourist attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year, the location is easily accessible by rail, road and air.

Most speakers of English as a foreign language have the basic skills to read, write and speak but lack the confidence to do so freely. Learners of English as a foreign language are often under pressure to learn English for various reasons and the process can become a negative experience. EduVacation uses a holiday format to provide a relaxed and friendly environment with lessons and activities designed to encourage our guests to feel at ease when practising their English language skills. Our courses are designed and presented to improve our guests’ fluency and confidence in the English language.

What services do you offer?

As an owner managed business, we are very flexible with regards to our courses and can tailor make a course/holiday to suit the requirements of corporate and private clients. We welcome prospective clients to contact us to discuss their specific needs.

We do, however, offer standard courses. These courses are designed according to the relevant English proficiency levels of each participant and group. They include:

Standard weekly English learning holiday in England:

• 6 nights with accommodation in Cotswolds holiday cottages including 3 meals a day

• Up to 40 hours of English lessons, related activities and daily cultural outings to popular Cotswolds tourist sights

• All coursework and the services of two qualified teachers

English learning tours to Cape Town, South Africa:

• All-inclusive, guided tours combining a 7 day holiday with a tailor-made immersive English programme

• All meals, accommodation, daily sightseeing tours, English lessons and activities, all entrance fees, transport, services of a knowledgeable guide and English teacher

Extra services can be offered or incorporated into our courses including:

•  Corporate training

• Introduction to working and living in the UK

• Team-building

• Business English and skills

• Student summer courses

• Weekend conversational courses

All our services are explained in more detail, by the way, on our website (www.eduvacation.co.uk) including examples of the themes and activities for our standard courses.

Family life and comfortable accommodation will help you to learn English in a relaxed environment

What makes EduVacation different from conventional language schools?

When we established EduVacation, our aim was to provide a service and concept that differed from the majority of those on offer in the UK. Let me explain the main differences that I believe set us apart from the majority of schools and services on offer:

Firstly, we offer fully immersive and all-inclusive English learning holidays:

  • We understand that it is very difficult for people to find the time to attend language courses in a different country so we decided to combine our courses with an all-inclusive holiday so that our clients get value for their money. The courses are suitable for groups of friends, family, colleagues or students.
  • We want our participants to hear, speak, read and write as much English as possible during their EduVacation course/holiday. We therefore instruct, teach, discuss and chat in English and encourage our participants to do the same. We want them to enjoy their experience and have a positive attitude towards learning and practising their English skills.
  • Our guests are accommodated in beautiful holiday cottages that we rent according to each group’s requirements. This means that, although the group is fully immersed in the English language and culture, they still have their own time and privacy in the evenings after the final meal or activity.

Personal attention and a professional approach

Secondly, we own the business: we are hands on managers and we present the courses ourselves:

  • Our guests and participants get our personal attention during their whole experience
  • We know exactly what service and level of professionalism our guests are experiencing as we provide it ourselves.
  • It is in our personal interest to provide a memorable experience for our clients
  • We can be flexible with regards to our clients’ requirements and needs
Finally, from our personal experience we understand fully what our clients as foreign language learners are experiencing
  • Sue and I both have a TEFL qualification. We are also both qualified school teachers with second language training experience.
  • I speak 3 languages including Italian and understand the challenges involved in acquiring a new language.
  • Both our sons are studying a variety of European languages and we understand exactly what they are experiencing.
  • We are well travelled as a family and have encountered many different cultures.
  • I have spent 15 years in corporate management and therefore I have a wealth of experience in training and business.

Why would someone who reads NetworkMilan be interested in booking a course with you?

With EduVacation you will be on "on the road to success"

Dean: I spent many years working in a corporate environment and travelling globally for business. I was constantly reminded by colleagues and clients of the need and importance of learning English as a foreign language.

EduVacation aims to provide an environment where our clients are encouraged to be confident and feel at ease when practising and improving their English language skills with teachers that understand the challenges that this involves.

EduVacation provides courses that a group of colleagues could attend or a family that want to improve their skills together. Our courses are suitable for a group of friends, a couple or a group of students. I also speak Italian and believe this would be helpful when dealing with Italian clients with basic proficiency levels and in general.

What experience do you have in dealing with Italian clients?

The Cotswolds will delight and charm Italian visitors

Dean: My love affair with Italy started almost 30 years ago when I spent a scholastic year in Italy as an AFS Intercultural Programs exchange student. The organisation is known as Intercultura in Italy. I lived as part of an Italian family in Ostia Lido outside of Rome and attended a year of Liceo Scientifico. I was completely immersed in the Italian culture and language for 10 months. We are still in constant touch with my Italian family and I had the opportunity 8 years ago of introducing my wife and sons to all the family on a holiday to Italy. Since then we have had numerous holidays to Italy and my love for the country, its people and culture is shared equally by my family.

The year I started my studies to become a teacher, I started working as a freelance tour guide in South Africa, registered with the South African Tourist Board and for the next 10 years on weekends and during school holidays, I escorted numerous groups of Italian tourists on guided tours of South Africa. I met many fantastic people and as the tours were exclusive, got to know and make friends with a variety of Italian visitors to South Africa, including Italian members of parliament, businessmen, honeymooners and families.

Cape Town and the stunning Table Mountain: a suitably dramatic backdrop to an incredible English course and a truly memorable holiday in South Africa

As a business, what opportunities and challenges do you face? (especially in the current economic climate?)

Our biggest challenge as a new business is marketing and presenting our company, services and concept to potential clients. This can become very expensive with no guarantee of ROI (Return on Investment).

Our concept is also quite different to the majority of English learning methods used in the UK, e.g. formal English schools and lessons, and it takes time for people to understand what we offer and how it is beneficial to their English learning journey.

The current economic climate is also a stumbling block to a business model such as ours as people and companies still understand the importance of learning English as a foreign language but are looking at ways to cut their costs. However, one of the reasons we structured our courses as they are, is so that people wanting a fully immersive experience can get value for their money by not only having a full day of lessons and activities but also an all-inclusive holiday as well at very competitive rates.

New direction? EduVacation's strategy is to make your English learning journey as effective as possible

What motivates you as entrepreneurs? Why did you choose the language education sector?

Dean: Anybody that is making money from a consumer whether it be private or corporate, should be striving to offer the best service, product and experience if they hope to be or continue to be a success.

Working for yourself enables you to be fully responsible for the success or failure of your business. Your personal effort will relate to your personal gain. I have always wanted to start my own business and particularly with my wife as we have different strengths and talents that we believe complement each other.

Making you feel at home: relax after an intensive day of studying and visiting places of interest

Being self-employed, especially, and establishing a business and concept from scratch, takes a lot of courage and faith. I have always given 100% to the roles I have previously held and felt that if I did the same for my own business, I would make a success of it. It also eventually gives you the opportunity of finding a good work/life balance.

I have been fortunate as I have worked as a teacher and also in the private sector in sales and marketing management. EduVacation gives me the opportunity to use my skills and experience in both fields for my own company. Working internationally and for multi-national companies and clients, I continually saw the necessity of learning English amongst my colleagues and clients and the idea for EduVacation was born from this experience.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs and startups?

Dean: Many people say that you should not give up your job to start your own business but do it as a sideline until you are established. This is good advice but not always practical. I tried but realised that if I wanted to make a success of EduVacation, I had to give it 100% of my time and effort.

My advice to entrepreneurs would be the following:

  • Research your sector well, both locally and internationally.
  • Try not to jeopardise your family and their well being by taking a huge risk with your assets – we are still experiencing a very unstable economic climate.
  • Take a calculated risk.
  • Believe completely in your business and concept.
  • Put in 100% effort into making it a success.
  • Don’t be proud – use contacts.
  • There are so many cost effective ways of building your business from website building to social networking sites.
  • Use all the negative experiences in your working life as learning opportunities for your own business.
  • Use any available time that you now have to pursue other opportunities that you have never had time for e.g. designing a product, writing a book or course, consulting, charity work, etc.

Dean and Sue are 100% focused on providing students with the best learning and holiday experience

We always like to find out if there’s anything unique or surprising about our guests on NetworkMilan. Anything you would like to share with our readers?

Dean: 9 years ago, I was working as the International Sales and Marketing Manager for a company in Cape Town. I applied as a contestant on a reality television programme on South African national TV. The programme, the Sanlam Money Game, was to promote entrepreneurship and was sponsored by one of South Africa’s leading financial services groups. [Editor’s note: The global Sanlam group includes Sanlam UK, a wealth management fund.]

The competitors were subjected to a comprehensive and rigorous selection process and assessed on everything from confidence, intellect, enthusiasm, ambition and the ability to express themselves. The focus was on outstanding entrepreneurship and thinking as far outside the box as possible.

Contestants were given an amount of money, dropped off somewhere in the country they were unfamiliar with, given three days to survive and make as much money as possible with their starting capital with a cameraman and monitor following them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Each week 3 contestants competed against each other – with the winner taking all. There were very strict rules including not dealing with any known contacts and certain trading challenges included.

I won my week and was in the top 3 money makers when the season ended resulting in a grand finale with the top three money makers competing against each other with double the starting capital and various extra challenges and rules. I ended up winning the final and being named the SMG Entrepreneur of the Year on national television and the prize being allowed to keep the profits made during trading. I believe that my success was due to excellent preparation, hard work, persistence, treating people with respect and keeping a sense of humour which are all traits I can carry over to EduVacation.

My only regret was that it was not in the UK or elsewhere as the hype at the time would have been a lot more lucrative I am sure!

Dean Erasmus: Reality TV show contestant and winner of the "Sanlam Money Game"

NetworkMilan: Dean and Sue, we really appreciate you taking the time to tell us all about EduVacation and your experiences as language entreprenuers (and TV star, Dean!). Thank you. We would like to wish you all the best and hope that you enjoy continued success with EduVacation.

Interview by Robert Dennis

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you would like to discover more about the benefits of a full-immersion English language course – as well as a Cotswolds (or Cape Town) holiday you’ll always remember – then visit the EduVacation website: http://www.eduvacation.co.uk/

You can also contact Dean and Sue Erasmus at EduVacation by phone, email or skype:

Tel: +44 (0) 1451 822 307

Mobile: +44 (0) 7810 442 470

Email: info@eduvacation.co.uk

Skype: suedean.erasmus

EduVacation: Talk it, experience it, live it!

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NetworkMilan welcomes Danielle Dalkie, mobile entrepreneur and PR /Social Media expert

12 Jul

We are delighted to introduce our first guest blogger, Danielle Dalkie, who has a fascinating background as a mobile payments entrepreneur and is currently planning a strategic move to Rome. In this article she talks about her experience in setting up Waspit, a social banking service, and how she plans to use her PR and social media skills in her new life in Italy.

Danielle on the Digital Mission Stand at ad:tech NYC Conference and Expo 2010

Ciao! I am really pleased to be writing for NetworkMilan.com – and I am looking forward to sharing some of my ideas and business experiences with you. I’m also really excited about coming to Italy! I am an Australian who grew up in New Zealand and for the past two years I have been living between London and New York. And now I am moving to Rome!

I am Co-Founder of a startup called Waspit, a social banking platform for students. More specifically, it combines traditional banking features with social platforms to create a more intuitive and enriched experience for users. In essence, Waspit is “Banking 2.0”, and I have been involved in product development (right from the conception of the company) and more recently realigning the product to suit the target market: I have also been doing some business development and I aided the company in raising its first round of venture funding in New York.Waspit is designed not only to provide all the latest banking capabilities including mobile payments, but to enable for the first time a dynamic communication between users, their friends and the merchant on how and where they choose to spend their money.

Waspit lets you plug in all your social media platforms into one place so that you no longer have to manually check-in on Facebook and foursquare or post separate reviews to Yelp, Twitter and your other networks.

Social banking for students

For the more traditional ‘bank-like’ transactions Waspit is accepted in-store and online anywhere MasterCard is accepted; cash can be withdrawn from most ATMs; and students can pay their bills using ACH (Automated Clearing House) or Billpay. The FDIC* insured account also has a traditional routing and account number so students can receive their wages and allowances.

In the social world, students can easily, securely and instantly send and receive money between friends via Facebook, Twitter or mobile phone. Making quick payments in store is as simple as tapping your mobile phone over any MasterCard PayPass terminal. Students can even use the iOS, Android or Facebook apps to split restaurant bills or request money from their parents.

My own background is in public relations and social media, however. I have been involved in developing and implementing customer acquisition strategies in the tech, digital and social sectors. My skills include traditional PR such as managing press releases, publicity, social media, online content, corporate events, conferences and creating brand awareness.

I also specialise in social marketing and developing viral strategies (including guerrilla marketing efforts), as well as many successful viral and online campaigns in the both the US and UK. In addition, I develop comprehensive campaigns which rely heavily on social media and social marketing.

Rome calling (Image: Trevi Fountain by Fod via Wikimedia Commons)

But the big news is… I am relocating to Rome this year and I am currently looking for a suitable position and some cool social media projects to work on (so please get in touch with me if you have something I might be interested in!)

I am also involved in setting up the Rome Business English Network – the first sister group of the Milan Business English Network to be based in another Italian city. (Visit Network Roma for all the latest news about events and networking for people speaking, learning and doing business in English in the eternal city.)

NetworkMilan.com have invited me to write a series of blog posts on how mobile commerce is changing the way we interact with companies and its wider implications for the digital economy. I hope you enjoy these articles and find them useful, too!Read Danielle Dalkie’s next guest post, coming soon on NetworkMilan.com:
Money in motion: how mobile payments technology is changing the face of retailClick here to find out more about Waspit and social banking.

*Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: A US federal agency that insures deposits in member banks.

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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