Malta is hot for startups

[As seen on Times of Malta]

On the weekend 17th to 19 July, Startup Weekend (a non-for-profit event), the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) and the University of Malta TAKEOFF Business Incubator put their heads together to organise the biggest startup event to date. The event brought in reputational mentors and speakers which firmly puts Malta on the map as a startup destination.

The event began on Friday morning with a conference entitled ‘DISRUPT. STARTUP. MALTA’. The aim of the conference was three fold: to highlight to the local corporate and public world that a vibrant startup community exists; to discuss the local and international startup investing world; and lastly to bring to light a few Malta based startups that are leading the front.

“The Friday morning conference was thrilling. Not only was it well thought through in terms of content and set up, but the vibe and energy in the room was felt on all four corners. Having speakers with backgrounds working at global brands such as Amazon AWS, Citrix, Soundcloud and Seedcamp helps of course, but we managed to balance the international names with local success stories” says Simon Azzopardi, organiser of Startup Weekend.

“The event began with a clear message. What we wanted to do is explain that the startup world is not about tech or software developers. What the startup industry looks to do is disrupt business models by thinking differently, and hacking industries that have always been a certain way. We look around us and see 3D printing, sharing communities and internet of things and businesses around the world should be thinking about what effect such could have on their own businesses,” continues Azzopardi.

Bernard Agius, Business and Innovation Development Manager at the MCA argued that “it is very important that we realise that disruption brings more to our economy than mere threats. This conference has given a taste of the opportunities that may lie ahead for a small economy if it can locate its niche in a disrupted environment. Being small and nimble can give us an edge in making our economy attractive to disruptive start-ups. This is the right time to talk about disruptive startups especially when one considers the push for a European Digital Single Market amid other global technology driven trends.”

“Malta’s startup scene is still relatively new in comparison to the larger centres, but what we are seeing is that with the little effort done by the local community, we have already seen early successes. Companies like HotJar, Reaqta, DiscountIF and Oulala have already achieved impressive traction and we believe that they deserve Malta’s support and attention,” says Andy Linnas, TAKEOFF Business Incubator Manager.

The event came to a close with Reinhold Karner giving a talk on what Malta should do over the next few months to realise its potential. He spoke about attracting startups, creating a platform that nurtures businesses, retention of intellectual property on the island, as well as building a foundation of trust and reliability within the ecosystem.

The Friday morning’s event came to a close in the afternoon, only to be followed by a second startup event.

“At 6:00 pm that Friday, the internationally renowned Startup Weekend began. From the Friday to the Sunday, we provided 10 ideas with coaching and support to create business models and live the startup experience,” says Azzopardi.

The event invited mentors from global brands such as AOL, Seedcamp, Amazon AWS, Citrix and Microsoft, to support the teams during this intense competition. Moreover, the event also included mentors from the Malta-based eco-system with several reputable entrepreneurs showing up to give back to the community.

“It was great to see early ideas with little substance become viable business models in a short period of time. Not only that, we saw personalities and characters being formed, with leaders emerging from the event,” commented Azzopardi.

On the Sunday, after the final pitches, four ideas emerged as having stood out from the crowd. The wining startups included HealthHero, a crowdfunding platform supporting individuals that cannot afford or are covered by insurance for key surgeries or operations; AirMeeting was a flight search engine that looks to solve the problem of multiple dispersed people looking for a destination that makes financial sense for all; Sure Guides, a startup looking to bring the AirBnB model to tour guides; and the winner SiteProject, a startup looking to translate customer requirements of a website into a functional specification.

“The winner was selected on a single criterion that is, if the judges had EUR 100,000 to invest, which would be the ‘investable’ company. HealthHero was awarded as the startup with the greatest social impact, therefore the judges agreed that they would invest though not for the sake of return,” concluded Azzopardi.

Startup Weekend was sponsored by Altaro, V&A Investments, TakeOff and the MCA.

Silicon Valley style start ups in Malta

start up Malta venue

(As seen on Times of Malta)

What do you do if you get what you think is a brilliant idea? You can either set it aside to simmer, expecting it to lay the fabled golden egg. Or else, you can pitch it to an audience, get precious feedback from your peers, develop it and launch your own start-up business.

The latter, of course, is the option that gives you the best returns. And it’s what young entrepreneurs are doing during the Malta Start-Up Weekend, a regular event that brings together designers, developers, entrepreneurs and experts to embark on a start-up journey. Around the world, entrepreneurs are joining the movement: Start-Up Weekend is a global network and part of Up Global, a non-profit charity. It is organised in various countries, building a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs.

Simon Azzopardi, the local representative of Start-Up Weekend, is the physical embodiment of such enthusiasm and speaks about start-ups with passion.

“Developing and launching a start-up is a very exciting process,” he says. “During Start-Up Weekend, around 60 to 80 entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs meet to find out if their ideas are viable. Attendees are usually a mixed lot: some have a technical background while others have business experience.

“On Friday, they propose their ideas and the best 10 to 12 are chosen. By Friday night, teams are formed and for the next two days, they will work on how to convert an idea into an operating viable business and prepare their pitch for potential investors. Then on Sunday night, they present their start-up in a Dragons’ Den-style pitch.

“During the event, they also receive support from mentors and coaches, who are experts in their respective area,” adds Azzopardi, who apart from his involvement in Start-Up Weekend, is also the managing director of his own company, Tain & Able.

“This coming October, we wanted to complement the Start-Up Weekend with other events to attract a wider audience. Rather than just the weekend, we are inviting start-ups, entrepreneurs, investors and corporates interested in this space to join us. We will be joined by TMobile’s incubation hub, Hub:raum, who will also be conducting a series of workshops on lean start-up methodologies as well as have local start-ups share their experience with acquiring funding. The events will be open to anyone interested in this space, including corporates.”

This week will serve to strengthen the local start-up scene.
“The local start-up scene is a bit dispersed. However, the community spirit is getting stronger. There is a phenomenal interest from abroad, especially from Nordic countries: entrepreneurs from these countries find Malta to be very affordable and they are also attracted to the local lifestyle.

“There is also a strong interest from other Mediterranean countries: in most of these countries, the economy is suffering, whereas the Maltese economy is doing well. Just last April, for instance, we had several start-up pitches from Italy. Other entrepreneurs from North Africa and Egypt in particular are also looking towards Malta as a potential space where to incubate their ideas.”

Failure is not the end: just a lesson learnt in the process to try again
There is a lot of value in incubating start-ups in Malta.

“Given its small size, Malta is the perfect test-bed: if you fail here, it’s not the end. We also have good quality, English-speaking human resources and enjoy access to other markets. Moreover, start-ups incubating in Malta bring fresh thinking, new skill sets and the potential for the development of intellectual property: this further generates the local economy.”

Various studies show that around 85 per cent of start-ups fail, not only in Malta but also in most countries. What contributes to the success and sustainability of a start-up?

“First of all, finance may seem essential, but it isn’t. Of course, it’s good to have the capital, but without it, you can still achieve a lot. Not doing anything because you don’t have the financial strength is just an excuse.

“For me, the two essential ingredients that contribute to start-up success are community and entrepreneurship.

“Community is everything. Locally, we tend to be very jealous of our ideas and are afraid that someone else might steal them. In fact, during Start-Up Weekends, most attendees find it difficult to share at first. But then, they see others pitching and discussing their ideas and they follow suit. We need to recognise that the community is invaluable in helping you pitch and develop an idea.

“Entrepreneurship is also important. The essence of entrepreneurship is the drive to try, fail and try again until you succeed. Failure is not the end: just a lesson learnt in the process to try again.”

Azzopardi is finalising the details for the Start Up Week, which will start on October 13.

start up Malta venue

“The event will be held at Microsoft Innovation Centre, Skyparks Business Centre and as previous years, everyone is welcome to join, irrespective of age, background or idea. All you need is drive.”

For more details, visit www.startupisland.org

Innovation, the new average

Innovation

[As seen on Times of Malta, 21st November, 2013]

Innovation is an overused and abused term. From political figures to businessmen, innovation, as a word, is thrown in as part of their remit or mission statement. Innovation has been so overused that as a term, it today has a negative effect or, worse still, means nothing more than mainstream or average.

In fact, when I read a press release, mission statement or advert and the word innovative appears, I immediately understand it to mean an aspiration rather than a fact. Even though that company might have something worth shouting about, the term simply doesn’t do anything for me.

When entities, political or commercial, use the word innovative or any of its variations, what they are trying to say is “we think it is new and worth taking a look” or “look how clever we are”. Statements such as “Our innovative solution” or “innovative design” adds little value to the subject and is a case of blowing one’s own trumpet.

Innovation in its entirety does not say much about value add. Then what is all the fuss about?

Innovation that matters exists when it is used as the tool for successful entrepreneurship. It is a process of solving a situation or challenge in a different way, even if that innovation is a minute property of the problem. The measure of innovation, would be the change or impact on positive results within the delivered solution.

Therefore, innovation is a process or tool that delivers potential new products or services that can reap financial, or otherwise, rewards. So yes, worth fussing about. A country with a culture that values innovation will most certainly increase their chances for economic growth.

An interesting challenge exists in developing a behaviour that is entrepreneurial and innovative. Such shifts in behavioural patterns to develop these qualities are often the most challenging, as a lot of its makeup has to do with culture.

Interestingly, because innovation is a process, it can therefore be planned. It most certainly is not some eureka moment, or flash of genius, while sitting in a dark room smoking an intellect’s pipe. Innovation comes about through the constant challenging of a status quo, whatever that may be.

The most important aspects of being innovative are essentially understanding how innovation is derived, and after, how it can be validated.

Eureka moments for an innovation happens after a process of recognising a potential solution to a problem that has never been done before. Commonly, the problem is seen from different perspectives, in different domains, through a rigorous challenging process of questioning and through research. Yet the key point in all this is not only the process, but the strict focus on a single idea or problem.

In fact, even when an innovation is deemed noteworthy and is launched into a market, it will most likely be a cyclical process of tweaking and re-innovating. This is due to the fact that once a solution is launched, customer data can be gathered and used to develop solutions of fit within a market, or in other terms, innovations that add value to a market.

This is no newly discovered scientific process of deriving innovation.  Sir Alexander Graham Bell was not trying to invent the telephone but rather was making improvements to the telegraph in a cyclical fashion. The interest and persistence in such improvements came about due to his mother’s gradual deafness which resulted in his research in acoustics.

The process of labelling an innovation comes with customer validation. Proving it within your market fit will deliver the necessary positive change for it to be felt, measured and therefore quantified.

The technology industry has understood this clearly. It understands that innovation is felt mostly once it is used, as value can be transposed or associated with such an innovation. Therefore, tech companies offer 30 day free trials and other taster forms in order to prove its innovation and value and then win the sale, without ever mentioning the term innovative.

So when should we use the word innovative? Innovation is like proper management. Every company needs it, though writing it all over your office walls is nothing more than cheesy.

In Malta, innovation through the entrepreneurship model is beginning to emerge. A quietened murmur of tech start-ups can be heard within the economy as well as an increasing availability of individuals with entrepreneurial spirit. It seems that the stars may be lining up for Malta’s emergence as an entrepreneurial society, which means that the likelihood for real innovation to be seen will be on the increase.