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New York and Milan have so many things in common. They are both their country’s capital of finance, fashion, and media. Moreover, they are very dynamic cities at the forefront of innovation in many fields, from medicine to technology. So it makes sense that NY startups would look at Milan as a good place to expand and vice versa, and that both cities would partner together on the NYCEDC Global Business Exchange — Milan to make that happen.

Let’s start with Milan, often overlooked by Americans as a destination for fun and business. In reality, Milan is the Italian version of NYC: it has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and has become the largest startup hub in Italy in the last few years, in part because of the impetus and increase in vitality that followed the city’s hosting of the World’s Fair, Expo 2015, last year.

In the next ten years, the Human Technopole will rise where the Expo stood last year. It will be a research campus that could become home to as many as 1,600 researchers focusing on medical genomics, agriculture and food science, big-data analysis, and nanoscience. The plan will be developed by the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, which has a great record in nurturing startups.

According to StartupEuropeClub, “Milan has the best environment in Italy for Startups”, with 22% of all Italian innovative startups, 53% of institutional investors, 35% of crowding platforms, 21% of incubators and accelerators, 13% of science and technology parks, 31% of co-working spaces, and 17% of fab-labs.

Milan has a strategic location, very central to the European market, and its business community is very international. It is the home to some of the top European universities, including Bocconi University, rated among the best for business and finance; and Politecnico, the engineering university that hosts its very own startup incubator.

One major player in the Milan tech community is Digital Magics, which was founded in 2004, has a portfolio of almost 60 startups, and has been listed on the Borsa Italiana stock exchange since 2013. Another important player is P101, a venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments in the digital sector, which is well connected to the whole Italian and European ecosystem.

Fintech is particularly strong in Milan, where Moneyfarm, an online investment advisor and one of the biggest digital wealth management companies in Europe, was born. Moneyfarm also has offices also in London and Cagliari.

In Milan, innovation also flourishes in other “hard” industries such as aerospace. It’s where D-Orbit is headquartered, with subsidiaries in Portugal and California. Founded in 2011 by a team of experienced aerospace pros, it aims to mitigate the problem of space debris, removing them through a decommissioning device that is installed in new spacecraft before launch.

So from genomics to fin-tech, from fashion to aerospace, Milan offers great opportunities to US companies for expanding their business to the whole European market.

For Italians, New York City is already a very popular holiday destination. However, very few people know that it is also on its way to overtaking Silicon Valley as the center of attraction for talent and capital from all over the world. In fact, during the last few years more and more foreign entrepreneurs have been coming to the Big Apple looking for opportunities in the tech industry. They have found a very welcoming environment, which is one of the ingredients for New York City’s success as a tech hub: there is a strong sense of community, everybody feels part of it, roots and works for New York City to become a startup capital. Members of this community are generous with their time and available to share their experience and knowledge with newcomers, foreigners included. That’s why the city is home to NY Tech Meetup, the largest organization in the world bringing startups together, with over 60,000 individual and institutional members. The NYTM monthly meeting is a good starting point to make connections and network with other entrepreneurs.

Another strength of New York City is the diversity of its economy and social life. Besides Wall Street, there are the Mad Men of the advertising industry, Broadway and the show business, booming real estate, fashion and media, an incredible restaurant scene, as well as new manufacturing. New York City is also home to a number of excellent research centers and higher education institutions, such as the Cornell Tech, whose new campus is opening in 2017, totally devoted to raising a new generation of tech leaders and innovators. All these industries are interacting in a creative way, and startups have been created to take advantage of this huge background, and they are all sectors where Milanese entrepreneurs can be very successful.

The high concentration of people in New York City, as well as their ethnic, cultural, and social diversity, is appealing because it makes the city a laboratory to test new products and services aimed at the global market. If you make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere, as the saying goes. It’s true also for the tech business.

And of course there is the money, of which there is plenty in NYC, with so many VCs and the most active organization of Angel Investors in the US. In the first half on 2016, $3.1 billion were invested in NY startups, more than anywhere else except Silicon Valley.

With all this in mind, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the City of Milan have partnered together to give companies the opportunity to expand between these two international cities. Through the NYCEDC Global Business Exchange — Milan, up to 20 companies can get started with their cross-Atlantic growth. If you’re interested, you need to hurry up! APPLICATIONS CLOSE AUGUST 31ST. Find out more information here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

P101, the “first desktop computer”

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.

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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 )

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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!

I read three interesting articles this weekend around new tech communities.

The first one was a very well written article in The New York Times Magazine by Yiren Lu, a Silicon Valley-raised, East Coast (Harvard and Columbia) educated Computer Scientist, titled “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem,” in which she tackles the differences between “older” generation engineers and the current crop of “restless” engineers and computer scientists who want to change the world and build the next great technology company. The two don’t seem to mix.

She attributes this fact to cultural aspects of older generation companies (Cisco, HP) vs. newer ones (Dropbox, AirBnB): an older engineer would probably not fit well in a Gen-Y-founded company mostly because of lifestyle reasons and partially because some have failed to keep their programming skills up to date (her arguments are more refined than my exposition and I recommend you read the article). I partially agree with her logic, but I think it boils down to the “cool” factor (which she also mentions): some companies have been able to stay cool and are attractive for both generations of engineers (i.e. Apple, Google) and some have lost it and are trying to regain the cool factor (Cisco, Microsoft), and are not very attractive to the younger generation, at least right now.

But she also talks about another point, which I fully agree with: starting new companies today is dramatically different from 15-20 years ago, and skills that were needed then are not needed now. When I used to invest in Silicon Valley companies in the 1990s (typically early growth companies, “Series B” rounds and beyond) I would visit an outfit in the midst of Silicon Valley, with 30+ employees in a relatively large office space that could host a computer/data room with the technicians and admins to maintain that and other facilities like the internal data network and infrastructure; a hardware prototyping lab (if the company was involved in hardware); a large programming team with experts in many aspects of system software development, because you had to build everything from scratch; a storage and “manufacturing” room (for software companies as well) where you would package your CD-ROMs, insert your manuals, shrink-wrap the box, ship (many of these companies required a loading dock). In addition, if the company was involved in developing sophisticated hardware products you had to pick your locations well. Did you have to be close to a prototyping lab or a fab? Did you have your own factory?

Today, this way of doing business has largely disappeared. It has been a while, of course, that we have moved away from the need to write software onto CD-ROM, package it and ship it: the Internet has optimized that process and now we download software every time there is an update, which is incredibly more efficient compared to the past. We don’t need the large computer rooms, the internal network infrastructure and personnel to go with it, because you are likely to use outsourced services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) as your server cluster, and all you need to think about is making sure that your office is well served by broadband service providers and wifi. By the same token, you don’t need large development teams anymore: you just need the domain experts that are important to what you are building. The rest (the database administrators, the developers of all the standard functionality in your system) are gone: AWS gives you a set of services for your use, open-source software is available for free, and there are enough APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) out there that you can connect to, in order to “mash in” the functionality required, from login scripts to credit card protocols, to integration of “nice to have” functionality like search, maps, weather etc.

Even if you are in the hardware business you can get so much more done and get to the prototype level much faster than in the past: off the shelf motherboards (Arduino, Rasperry Pi), a variety of inexpensive sensors, 3D printing, prototyping labs that you can access inexpensively (TechShop). You can do all of this inexpensively while creating final designs that conform easily to volume manufacturing facilities elsewhere in the world. Standardization creates important economies in hardware and software.

The bottom line is that in order to start a company today you don’t need the large office space and large development teams anymore: a small team with laptops in a shared space can accomplish all of this. You have to develop your core technology and mash in, plug in, borrow and rent the rest. It takes less than 5% of the investment that was required in the 1990s to develop a comparable software product. And to loop back to Lu’s article, if you are starting a company with a bunch of Gen-Ys and no one else, it is likely that the culture of the company will be very much modeled around that generation. Hence the difficulty to insert older generation engineers until the company is more mature.

All of this brings me, in somewhat lengthy fashion, to the other subject of this post: the new urbanization. In fact, the technology shift is also having an effect on where people are starting companies. If I don’t need to look for large office space and resources, which would typically be in large suburban office parks, I might as well focus on working in a location that I enjoy. Young people like to live in cities, where they can find social life and culture, as we discussed in our book, Tech and the City. Hence there is no reason not to live in cities: all I need is a desk, laptops and my team.

Fred Wilson touches on that in his blog post of today: Revitalizing Urban Cores, a must read like most of Fred’s posts. In it he makes the point, which I fully agree with, that to build new ecosystems you need to start with “lifestyle,” not tax incentives or government driven programs. Ecosystems start with entrepreneurs, as Brad Feld often states, and then the rest follows. You can accelerate the development of an ecosystem by offering incentives, but you still have to build a place young entrepreneurs are willing to move to and settle. Fred also discusses the development of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappo.

The third article I recommend is about Silicon Beach, the area around Santa Monica and Venice Beach where most of the LA tech community seems to have moved to. Titled “Network? Let’s party! Santa Monica as the new Silicon Valley,” it appears, perhaps aptly, in the Fashion and Style insert of today’s New York Times. And it is indeed a stylish article that mostly discusses the social life of LA’s entrepreneurs, not giving enough credit, in my opinion, to the technical chops of the community. LA too is growing as a tech hub and they deserve to be recognized. The article is nevertheless a good read about the culture of this community as compared to Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

The decrease in the cost of starting a company has another important effect: how companies are being funded. Seed/angel investments (and eventually crowd-funding) are replacing the early stage VCs: not much capital is needed to get to major milestones, and you can get there with seed funding. There is still a difference between building a product and building a company, and in today’s competitive environment you still need to spend a lot of money on marketing and sales, so large capital is still needed. It’s just that it is needed a little later and it is spent differently than in the past.

The entrepreneurial and VC landscape is changing and I think we can expect change to continue for the next few years. Which will give us a lot more to discuss.

 

 

swissnex is an initiative of the Swiss government and is basically a “network with nodes in the world’s most innovative hubs” with the objective of bringing knowledge back to Switzerland’s entrepreneurs, scientists and innovators. It is an interesting organization, whose main objectives are (cut and pasted from their web site):

·       Connect scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and thought leaders with inspiring peers and new ideas on either side of the globe

·       Facilitate academic programs, global innovation strategies, and knowledge exchange

·       Create and present trans-disciplinary projects in imaginative ways

·       Support internationalization efforts of Swiss academic institutions and companies, with a special focus on R&D based start-ups

·       Inform on developments in science, technology, education and innovation policies

They run a number of interesting initiatives, such as bringing groups of entrepreneurs to visit New York, Boston and Silicon Valley (areas where swissnex has presence), organize events and webinars.

In fact, my friend Pierre Dorsaz, who runs swissnex in NY, invited me last Wednesday to do a webinar for Swiss entrepreneurs and discuss both the New York ecosystem and the financing sources that exist in New York. The video was made available on YouTube, and if you are interested it is embedded below.

Start-up Webinar: Venture Investors landscape in New York (VCs, Angels) in New York (A. Piol) – YouTube.

Last week (February 28th) I had the pleasure of presenting at the 2014 NYC Pipeline Fellowship conference. The Pipeline Fellowship is an “angel investing bootcamp for women,” that since 2011 has trained women to become angel investors. In 2012, only 22% of US angel investors were women, and 5% minorities. Pipeline is one of the programs that want to change that. The very dynamic Natalia Oberti Noguera leads the organization and does a great job at putting together these programs.

I was on a panel with Ellie Wheeler of Greycroft, Tamara Gubins, an attorney with Goodwin Procter (sponsor of the event), and Shaherose Charania, CEO of Women 2.0, to discuss terms and conditions of angel/venture capital investments. While we were talking I could not avoid looking at some of the frightened and puzzled faces in front of me, wondering about some of the abstruse terms we were discussing. At the end I recalled my own experience when I started in venture capital 22 years ago.

I too was puzzled by the obscure clauses typical of term sheets and I had the mistaken notion that the “art of the deal” resided in those documents. As I told the audience, there is nothing further from the truth. At the time I had my friend and attorney Marty Levenglick, of O’Sullivan Graev and Karabell (then one of the very few, if not the only, venture law firm in New York City), sit down with me with their “chinese menu”– a pro-forma document that showed all the possible alternatives that could be used for each term. It was a very useful exercise that helped me understand and demystify the terms of a deal. It also made me understand that what counts on a term sheet are only a very few items, which you need to understand and focus on, and most of the rest is meaningless boilerplate that is almost irrelevant to an early stage investor (some of it becomes more important later on).

As with most endeavors, you learn your craft as you acquire experience, and learning about term sheets is the easy part of angel investing and venture capital. Learning how to drive was a big deal at the beginning, but after a while it becomes second nature and you don’t any longer pay attention to the dynamics of driving per se: you pay attention to traffic signals, driving conditions and those who drive around you. The same is true with angel and VC investing: terms are just a small, albeit important, mechanic. But you have a lot bigger fish to fry: checking out the founders and assessing the market opportunity, just to name a couple.

Which brings me to my other topic. I just finished reading a pre-release version of David S. Rose’s new book, Angel Investing: The Gust Guide to Making Money and Having Fun Investing in Startups, a “how to” guide that explains the whole process of angel investing.

So many times people don’t ask questions because they happen to be very basic or “stupid” (there are no stupid questions, btw). When it comes to making investments in a small, private company, and you are new to it, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where David’s book comes in. It takes you step by step, in great detail, through all you need to know regarding angel investing, starting with the basic stuff, in simple, non-intimidating language. The book is coming out in April and I highly recommend it. It would also be a great add-on, or reading material for the Pipeline Fellowship program.