Con 1,5 milioni di dollari in tasca e ambiziosi progetti di allargare il mercato globale della sua startup, Alberto Pepe sta preparando le valigie per andare a Parigi. La sua startup è Authorea, fondata insieme a Nathan Jenkins nel 2013 «per far tornare sexy la scienza», mi dice ridendo, mentre mangiamo la pizza in un locale italiano doc a Williamsburg, il quartiere di Brooklyn dove vive. Seriamente, si tratta di una piattaforma web che sta rivoluzionando il modo di fare ricerca scientifica: permette di scrivere, condividere, discutere online in tempo reale i risultati della ricerca, rendendo più aperto, trasparente e veloce tutto il processo.
Il milione e mezzo di dollari è il secondo giro di finanziamenti raccolti, appena chiuso (il primo era stato di 600 mila dollari nel 2014, forniti da un gruppo di New York Angels, con leader Brian Cohen e Alessandro Piol, incontrati da Alberto a un evento di VentureOutNY. Leader di questo round è stata Lux Capital una società di venture capital che investe soprattutto in startup tecnologiche e scientifiche non convenzionali. Hanno partecipato al finanziamento anche la John S. and James L. Knight Foundation e ancora i New York Angels.
Forte di questo sostegno, Alberto va a Parigi, alla fine di febbraio, perché Authorea è una delle otto startup basate a New York che hanno vinto il concorso NYC-Paris Business Exchange, lanciato dalle due amministrazioni comunali per facilitare la collaborazione e gli scambi fra l’ecosistema innovativo delle due città. Oltre 100 startup newyorkesi avevano fatto domanda.
A Parigi Alberto si fermerà solo per la prima settimana del programma, che dura sei mesi. Poi continueranno a lavorarci alcuni suoi colleghi e collaboratori. «Parigi ci interessa come base per il marketing verso tutta l’Europa – mi spiega Alberto -. Abbiamo già importanti contratti con istituzioni europee come l’EPRFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne), il Max Plank Institute in Germania e il CERN, dove Nathan e io ci siano incontrati quando io facevo ricerca là (2004-2006). Abbiamo buoni rapporti anche con i Politecnici di Milano e Torino, le Università di Bologna e Padova. C’è un ampio potenziale di sviluppo in Europa e vogliamo sfruttarlo».
Da Manduria a New York, l’ascesa di Alberto
«Del resto l’Europa è nel DNA di Authorea» sottolinea Alberto, nato 35 anni fa in Puglia, a Manduria («dove tutti fanno il vino Primitivo, compresa la mia famiglia»). «Nathan è americano ma vive in Svizzera. Il nostro chief scientific officer, Matteo Cantileno, è un toscano che da nove anni lavora alla University of California a Santa Barbara. E un altro nostro impiegato chiave è bulgaro».
«Finito il liceo nel 1998 avevo deciso di andare a studiare a Londra – racconta Alberto – Non sapevo nulla di Internet, o di come far domanda a un college britannico. Così, quando sono andato a UCL (University College London) nel mese di settembre, pensando che avrei potuto subito iscrivermi e iniziare le mie lezioni, sono sembrato molto naif. Ma è piaciuto il mio spirito e mi hanno accettato, a condizione che avrei trascorso un anno a studiare inglese. A UCL ho ottenuto la mia laurea in Astrofisica (2002) e il mio Master in Computer Science (2003)».
«Poi sono tornato in Italia dove ho lavorato per sei mesi presso il CINECA (Consorzio Interuniversitario, Bologna) con il gruppo di Scientific Computing e Data Visualization. Dal 2004 al 2006 ho lavorato a Ginevra nel dipartimento di Information Technology al CERN (Centro europeo per la ricerca nucleare). Al CERN, ho avuto a che fare molto con gli archivi e ho iniziato a coltivare l’idea di un accesso aperto alla scienza».
Dal 2006 in California, come ricercatore. E dalla ricerca l’idea di una startup
«Nel 2006 mi sono trasferito in California, dove ho ottenuto il mio dottorato di ricerca in Information Studies presso la UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). La mia tesi di dottorato era intitolata ‘Structure and Evolution of Scientific Collaboration Networks in a Modern Research Collaboratory’. È stato il fondamento scientifico per Authorea».
«Nel giugno 2010, dopo aver terminato il mio dottorato, ho incontrato Alyssa Goodman, professoressa all’Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dopo dieci minuti di conversazione mi ha assunto. Così ho fatto la mia ricerca post-dottorato ad Harvard, dove sono rimasto fino alla fine del 2013, quando mi sono dimesso per concentrarmi sulla mia startup».
Come sempre, una startup ha successo quando risolve un problema reale, di solito sentito in prima persona dai fondatori. E così Authorea è nata dall’esperienza di Alberto e Nathan, insoddisfatti dal modo lento, inefficiente e obsoleto con cui i lavori di ricerca sono scritti e diffusi.
«Facciamo una ricerca da 21° secolo, ma scriviamo e diffondiamo i risultati con strumenti del secolo scorso, creati prima dell’invenzione di Internet – spiega Alberto – Ancora peggio, confezioniamo i risultati in un formato da 17° secolo, lo stesso che Galileo ha inventato per comunicare con la sua comunità scientifica e con le autorità ecclesiastiche. Tuttavia, Galileo nei suoi articoli scientifici comprendeva tutti i dati delle sue osservazioni. Questo è impossibile oggi, perché la mole dei dati è diventata enorme, quindi si pubblica solo una versione molto superficiale dei dati usati, dando un collegamento a un server in cui è disponibile tutto il materiale. Ma tutto il processo è molto statico».
Cosa fa Authorea, e come è riuscita a convincere 85mila scienziati
Authorea invece è una piattaforma che permette agli scienziati di creare un articolo come un progetto dinamico, in cui tutti i risultati sono trasparenti e comprendono non solo il testo ma anche immagini, dati e analisi. L’università di Harvard è stata fra le primissime istituzioni ad aderire alla piattaforma, che ora ha 85 mila utenti nei campi scientifici più diversi, dalla fisica alla gnomica, dalle scienze ambientali alla biologia computazionale. La usano anche alcuni professori universitari per far svolgere i “compiti” ai loro studenti.
Alberto ha scelto New York come base della sua startup, perché ci era arrivato nel 2013 con Visiting Researcher in Astrofisica e Cosmologia presso la NYU (New York University). «Mi sono innamorato subito della città», dice. La prima sede era a Williamsburg, ma adesso occupa uno spazio dentro ThinkRise, a due passi da Eataly a Manhattan. «È uno spazio molto bello, diverso dai soliti co-working spaces – dice Alberto – Una volta al mese ci ospitiamo un evento del New York Open Science Meetup, un gruppo che abbiamo fondato per discutere di scienza anche con i non specialisti: invitiamo un ricercatore a parlare del suo lavoro in modo divulgativo, secondo la nostra filosofia open».
Intanto Authorea continua a crescere: sta assumendo nuovi collaboratori. «Arriveremo a una decina entro marzo – dice Alberto – I candidati ideali vengono dai nostri stessi utenti, che conoscono come funziona la piattaforma. Cerchiamo anche qualche stagista per Parigi». Se siete appassionati di scienza, fatevi sotto!
(storia pubblicata su StartupItalia! )
NYC tech startups in 2015 received $5.95 billion in venture-capital funding up 62% from 2014. “Startups are increasingly seeing the city as a viable place to put down roots, citing a growing pool of talent and an urban environment attractive to young developers,” the WSJ points out.
Of the 395 venture-capital deals in 2015, 143 were in software, 83 in media and entertainment, and 60 in information-technology services, according to the the last report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and the National Venture Capital Association’s MoneyTree. Among the smaller industry categories, 10 deals were in biotechnology, two in health-care services and one in medical devices and equipment.
Indeed biotech and life sciences are the two industries where NYC potential has not been developed yet. That was one of the most interesting issues emerging from “Hacking NYC: Beyond the Rise of the NYC Startup Ecosystem”, the conversation organized by the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center, Columbia Technology Ventures and Columbia Entrepreneurship, which took place last January 12.
“Biotech and life sciences startups are growing in NYC”, said Orin Herskowitz, VP of Intellectual Property and Tech Transfer for Columbia University and Executive Director of Columbia Technology Ventures, who moderated the conversation and mentioned impressive data about the city’s ecosystem (he also said that “Tech and the City” is his “bible”: thanks!). For example there are now 150 incubators and co-working spaces in the city, and at Columbia there are 400 requests per year for tech transfer.
“NYC has so many big hospitals and medical research centers, but not so many startups in this field. Maybe biotech and life sciences startups will lead the next boom”, observed Steve Blank, recently named Columbia University Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship, and author of the bestseller “The Startup Owner’s Manual”.
Maria Gotsch, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership Fund for New York City (PFNYC), agreed: “Medical research is the asset most undervalued and underutilized.” That’s why the PFNYC has launched programs that can help seed new industries, such as the New York Digital Health accelerator and the BioAccelerate Prize, as Maria Gotsch explained already in “Tech and the City” (chapter 19, “Beyond Consumer Web, What Other Technologies are Promising in NY?”).
Maria Torres-Springer, the President and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), stressed the continuity between the Bloomberg and the de Blasio administration in fostering the tech community in NYC. “The only difference is that the current Mayor wants to give New Yorkers more opportunities to take advantage of this boom”, she told me. Hence his emphasis on tech educations in schools, so that young people can be ready to work in the city’s tech companies.
Congrats to New York City, the city where tech is sexy! And it fuels economic growth with nearly 300,000 jobs in the tech industry!
According to a new study from Accenture, Nesta and Future Cities Catapult – “City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (CITIE) – <<Making innovation and entrepreneurship a priority to attract and aid the development of young, technology start-up companies has earned New York City the top spot in a global comparison of 40 cities>>.
The secret? <<New York City made innovation and entrepreneurship a priority earlier than did comparable cities, and it has taken an extremely active stance towards its startup and tech communities. The city provides support for local startups across a wide range of activities, from funding and branding to community building and skills development.>>
Among other things, the report notes that New York demonstrates top tier performance through its online, interactive map of startup activity across the five boroughs: Digital.NYC. Moreover, the report names New York City as a leading example of how strategic branding can position a city and accelerate entrepreneurial development. Between 2003 and 2013, the New York City tech scene raised $3.1 billion in funding, with capital availability growing twice as fast as that in Silicon Valley. New York City also invests in tech talent by actively sponsoring technology apprenticeships for young people. The city’s school district has added coding classes to the curriculum and trains teachers to deliver these classes.
Celebrate the past in order to look at the future knowing that we can do it: Italy can grow again also thanks to its tech ingenuity.
Here are some moments of the panel discussion “What’s next for Italian creativity in technology?” moderated by Maria Teresa Cometto and Riccardo Luna, with: Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino Project; David Avino, founder of Argotec; Riccardo Delleani, CEO at Olivetti; Alessandro Piol, co-founder at AlphaPrime Ventures; Enrico Dini, founder of D-Shape; Gianluca Galletto, Director of International Affairs at NYCEDC; and with remarks by Giorgio van Straten, writer and Italian Cultural Institute’s Director, Joseph Sciame, President and Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York.
Full house at the Italian Cultural Institute (ICI) of New York for the opening of the exhibition “MAKE IN ITALY – 50 YEARS OF ITALIAN BREAKTHROUGHS: FROM THE FIRST PC TO THE FIRST SPACE-BOUND ESPRESSO MACHINE”, on November 12, 2015. More than 200 people showed up. Giorgio van Straten, writer and ICI Director (standing in the photo above), welcomed the audience and said he was happy the exhibition would be visited by hundreds of American students who learn Italian in the NY-NJ-CT schools supported by IACE (Italian American Committee on Education). They would learn that Italians are excellent not only in arts, fashion and food, but in technology too.
Joseph Sciame, President and Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York (in the photo above, holding the poster), dedicated the month of October to “Italian creativity in technology”, the same theme of the exhibition. He said that celebrating Italian contributions to progress in technology was very important for the Italian-Americans like himself, feeling proud about it.
Gianluca Galletto, Director of International Affairs at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (standing with blue tie in the photo above) spoke about how Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration wants to create the best business environment for tech entrepreneurs. He said that startups can grow having operations both in Italy and in NYC, and taking advantage of the best of the two worlds.
Riccardo Luna, the Italian Digital Champion (standing with a mike in the photo above) and Maria Teresa Cometto (same photo) were the curators of the exhibition and the moderators of the panel discussion at the opening. Luna remembered that on October 14, in Rome, he went to visit the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi with Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino Project, and with Giovanni De Sandre and Gastone Garziera, two of the creators of P101, “The first personal computer in the world”. It was exactly the 50th anniversary of the P101 launch in NYC. “Why remember all this? – asked Luna -. It’s important to define the identity of a community and find a mission. We must remember to the Americans what we accomplished, but also to ourselves. In order to tell us that we can make it also in the future.”
Massimo Banzi (talking in the photo above) told the story of how the Arduino Project was born in Ivrea ten years ago. It was created for students of the Interaction Design Institute, at Olivetti’s “Casa Blu” in Ivrea, as an easy tool for fast prototyping without a background in electronics and programming. Arduino is an open-source platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. “With it, you don’t need anybody’s permission to innovate!”, said Banzi.
“Everybody in the US knows the story of Microsoft and Bill Gates, and of Apple and Steve Jobs, because America celebrates success stories. In Italy we should do it too”, said Alessandro Piol (talking on the photo above), co-founder at AlphaPrime Ventures and son of Elserino Piol, the Italian “father” of venture capital. Alessandro reminded that there are many excellent Italian engineers, educated at great universities, but too often they move abroad looking for better business opportunities.
“Olivetti is still operating, and engaged in the new digital technologies”, said Olivetti CEO Riccardo Delleani (talking in the photo on the left). In fact in the exhibition there was a new 3D printing machine made by Olivetti. And talking about 3D printing, Enrico Dini (talking in the photo on the right), aka “the man who prints houses”, promised that in 2016 he’ll print a whole house upstate New York to showcase the technology he developed with his startup D-Shape.
David Avino (talking in the photo on the left), the founder and CEO of Argotec, explained why he made the ISSpresso space-bound coffe machine with Lavazza. “It’s not a publicity stunt – he said -. Its sophisticated technology will be applied to products for everybody on Earth. And NASA is buying ISSpresso because it is a way to keep happy the astronauts, who live for months in a small room and need to relax and recharge”.
And talking about Italian coffee and food, Oscar Farinetti, the founder of Eataly, made a surprise appearance (talking in the photo on the right). Actually, he is an innovator too, because the formula of Italy’s marketplace & restaurant is totally original showcasing the best of Made in Italy.
At the end there were refreshments, courtesy of Beretta and Lavazza.
And a lot of enthusiasm for possible future initiatives in NYC about innovation by Italians.
Did you know the first personal computer was invented by an Italian? As well as the first microchip and many other breakthroughs in technology. You will find out this and much more, when you visit the new exhibition “MAKE IN ITALY – 50 YEARS OF ITALIAN BREAKTHROUGHS: FROM THE FIRST PC TO THE FIRST SPACE-BOUND ESPRESSO MACHINE”, open at the Italian Cultural Institute (ICI) in New York from November 13 to November 25, Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm.
The opening is on November 12, at 6 pm, with the participation of many prestigious speakers: Giorgio van Straten, writer and ICI Director; Joseph Sciame, President and Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York, which dedicated the month of October to “Italian creativity in technology”; Alessandro Piol, co-founder at AlphaPrime Ventures and son of Elserino Piol, the Italian “father” of venture capital; Massimo Banzi, David Avino, Riccardo Delleani, protagonists of three of the innovations showcased in the exhibition. The panel discussion “What’s next for Italian creativity in technology?” will be moderated by Maria Teresa Cometto and Riccardo Luna, The Italian Digital Champion.
The exhibition takes its cue from 1965, when a prototype of the Olivetti Programma 101 (P101), was presented at the World’s Fair in New York. “The first desktop computer in the world”: this is in fact how America welcomed the launch of P101 in New York in October 1965. A small group of “crazy” young Italian engineers led by Pier Giorgio Perotto created that machine at Olivetti, the Ivrea company then famous for its mechanical typewriters. In the ’60s computers were few, gigantic and available only for experts. Instead P101 could fit on a desktop, was friendly, and it could be used by a secretary; its success was so huge, that the US space agency NASA bought it and used it for the first mission to the moon. The P101 will be on display together with four other objects.
The second is Intel 4004: the first commercially available microprocessor in the history of computing, “a computer on a chip”. It was developed by Federico Faggin, a physicist who in 1968 went to Silicon Valley to work at Fairchild Semiconductor. There, Faggin invented the Silicon Gate Technology (SGT), which was crucial for the manufacturing of smaller, more reliable logic circuits. In 1970 Faggin was hired by Intel to build a new family of microchips. The idea was that the CPU (central processing unit) could be built on a single chip. Faggin not only used his SGT technology to create the microchip, but also designed the necessary methodology: a random logic, very different from the logic used for a memory card. Today microprocessors are used in everything, from the smallest embedded systems and smartphones to the largest supercomputers.
The third object is Arduino, an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs – light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message – and turn them into outputs – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online. Its philosophy takes inspiration from the P101: easy to use and with a nice design – so nice, that in 2014 Arduino was introduced into MoMA’s collection. It was created in 2005 by Massimo Banzi, and four partners, for students of the Interaction Design Institute, at Olivetti’s “Casa Blu” in Ivrea, as an easy tool for fast prototyping without a background in electronics and programming. Now Arduino is used by a worldwide community of Makers: students, hobbyists, artists, programmers, and professionals.
Then there is ISSpresso, the first ever system for brewing espresso in the extreme conditions of outer space, created by two Turin-based companies, Argotec and Lavazza. The first “made-for-space coffee” was tasted on May 3, 2015, by Samantha Cristoforetti, the Italian astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA), on the International Space Station (ISS). David Avino founded Argotec in 2008, an engineering and aerospace software company, specializing in astronauts’ training. Argotec research on nutritional food for astronauts, has led to the creation of healthy and tasty products now available for all. “The space-bound coffee machine idea came as the space meal’s natural conclusion”, explained Avino. The logical partner could only be Lavazza, because innovation and research have been a cornerstone of its history since Luigi Lavazza founded the company in 1895.
The astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti sipping Lavazza coffeeon the International Space Station
Finally, there is a new product from the Canavese, the so called “Silicon Valley of Italy”. It is the area around Ivrea, the city where Olivetti was founded in 1908 and still has its headquarters. Times have changed, but the Olivetti DNA and its legacy in terms of technological skills and entrepreneurial spirit are very much alive. Today in the Canavese there are hundreds of entrepreneurs, excelling in industries such as mechatronics and IT. It is an ecosystem that the new Olivetti (now part of TIM group) wants to leverage to launch its first 3D printer, aimed at small and medium-sized companies that need a faster and cheaper way to develop new products. The machine will be 100% made in the Ivrea area, and will use Arduino.
So, the exhibition is not only a celebration of a glorious past, but it wants to show that Italian creativity continues to combine tech innovation and cool style, and it is a means to open a discussion about Italy’s potential to grow thanks to its “brains” and entrepreneurial spirit.
(previously published on We the Italians )
October is Italy Culture Month in New York. This year the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York has chosen the theme “Italian Creativity – 1965 New York World’s Fair / 2015 Expo Milano – Celebrating 50 Years of Science and Technology”. Here is why.
“The first desktop computer in the world”: that is how America welcomed the launching of the new machine “Programma 101 (P 101) in New York in October 1965. A small group of “riotous” young Italian engineers lead by Pier Giorgio Perotto had created the machine at Olivetti, the Italian calculator manufacturer. At that time there were still very few computers; they were big and available to experts only. Instead, P101 could fit on a desktop and could be accessible to a simple employee. Its success was so huge that the US space agency NASA bought it and used it for its first mission to the moon (Apollo 11). Since then, Italy has continued to make significant contributions to the progress of technology. It is great history, with many Italian heroes!
In 1971, the Italian-American Federico Faggin created “Intel 4004″, the first microprocessor in the world. Faggin is one of last century’s greatest inventors , because his ” computer on a chip” sparked the digital revolution which has changed our lives. Today’s microchips are the “brain” in each of the “smart” devices we carry with us. That is why, in 2010, President Obama awarded Faggin the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the top recognition for technology innovators. In 1983, Nerio Alessandri , from Cesena in Emilia Romagna, hand built “Unica” in his garage, then started the wellness empire Technogym, the first company with Internet-embedded fitness machines . These have been used as the official training equipment at the last six Olympic games.
If FIAT , the Italian car manufacturer , was able to acquire Chrysler in 2009, it was in large part thanks to the “Common Rail”, a technology invented by Mario Ricco at the FIAT Research Center in Bari in Apulia , south of Italy, in the 90’s: it is a direct fuel injection system that lowers the emissions of polluting gases and increases performance. Since then it has been adopted by all car makers all over the world. In 2005, in Cornaredo (Milan), Benedetto Vigna, a nuclear physicist, and engineer Bruno Murari invented the accelerometer, the first of the new MEMS ( Micro – Electronic-Mechanical Systems): with the advantage of being tiny and inexpensive , they render any device or appliance “smart”, from a smartphone to a washing machine.
In the same year, in Pisa, scientist Maria Chiara Carrozza headed the creation of a new type of cybernetic prosthesis ” Cyberhand”. In Genoa, scientists Roberto Cingolani and Giorgio Metta invented the baby robot “iCub”.
In Ivrea , Piedmont, Massimo Banzi developed “Arduino”, the open source hardware and software platforms which makers all over the world have been using , thus revolutionizing manufacturing. In 2007, in Versilia , Tuscany, Enrico Dini built “D-Shape”, the first 3D printer to make very large objects, and in Minerbio (Bologna), Marco Astorri and Guy Cicognani produced the first “clean” plastic out of waste and bacteria. In 2014, the “Strati”, the first car printed entirely in 3D, was built in the USA, but had been designed in Italy by Michele Anoe . All the above mentioned Italians have in common innovation and courage, the true ingredients for the best ” Made in Italy”. And the best has yet to come!
Good news for startups! New York City ranked first in a survey of 40 global cities, in the way it utilizes technology to foster an innovative economy. Read what NYCEDC’s Blog writes:
In its first ever study of economic innovation, City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CITIE) named New York City #1 in the world for a public policy ecosystem that is supportive of startups. Placing ahead of London, Helsinki, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, New York City’s long-term investment in tech appears to have paid off. The 56-page study, sponsored by British charity Nesta, management consultancy firm Accenture, and Future Cities Catapult, analyzed 40 international cities in dimensions including “openness, infrastructure, and leadership.”
New York City’s greatest strength was its role as a strategist, developing world-class infrastructure that allows for clear, consistent development and innovation. The NYCEDC-led Applied Sciences Initiative, based at the Cornell-Tech Campus, helped carve out a physical campus that helped anchor, and demonstrated the City’s commitment to the tech sector.
“New York City prioritized innovation and entrepreneurship earlier than other comparable cities, [taking] an extremely active stance towards its start-up and tech communities over the last few years.”
The City also ranked highly as an advocate, customer, host, investor, “digital governor” (enabling citizens’ use of tech through open data programs like the BigApps competition), and “datavore” (optimizing city services and maintaining open communication with the public).
The report found New York City’s only shortcoming to be the regulation of some of the technology it otherwise encourages. Cities around the world face the common challenge of regulating newer business models in the sharing economy. Particular praise was given to New York City’s investment in its youth, highlighting apprenticeships in the tech industry and the use of coding courses in New York City school curriculums as evidence of Mayor de Blasio’s goal of making the tech sector more inclusive and accessible.
“As New York City’s relatively young tech sector continues to grow,” the report concludes, “the City can feel confident that it is doing its bit to provide the right conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish.”