Archives For Education

Since last July 15, seven Italian startup have been “training” at ERA – the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in New York. They are into an intensive three months training, mentorship and networking program that is curated by the co-founder and managing partner of ERA, Murat Aktihanoglu.

The seven startups are part of the Global Startup Program that was created by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and the Italian Trade Agency to support innovative Italian startups interested in entering the US market and, as such, foster new business opportunities and attract international investments in Italy.

The program in NYC will finish on October 4. On September 17, from 6 to 8 PM at the Italian Consulate in NYC 690 Park Avenue – the seven startup will show & tell what they have accomplished so far. It will also be the occasion for a discussion about the tech community in New York, and the opportunities it offers to startups from abroad. These are the panelists: Iynna Halilou, ERA’s Global Program Manager; Jeffrey Libshutz, a managing partner at the private equity firm ArmaVir and vice chairman at the Italian Italian fixed wireless broadband provider Linkem; and Valentina Corbetta, a digital entrepreneur with strong Italian roots based in New York, founder of C.R.E.W Collective and co-founder of Family Collective and Hhype Collective.

Here you are the seven startups:

Avatr is a Personal Artificial Intelligence tool that combines different data streams from individuals and creates a single digital representation for each person, the Avatr profile. Patients can share their digital profile with doctors and health professionals, benefiting from highly personalized and enhanced medical services.

Caracol is a 3D Printing and Robotics Automation Systems company, able to work above the limits of traditional 3D printing using an extensive range of technologies and services, combining design and innovative materials to hardware and software for the industrial and the design sector.

Criptalia is an investment and crowdlending platform based on a peer-to-peer blockchain technology, serving companies and banks. This platform helps creating, exchanging and managing traditional financial assets such as debt, equity and commodities, and tokenizing them on a public blockchain.

Cydera is an innovative startup aiming to bring health services closer to the people, using new technologies and telecommunications. It operates in the healthcare industry, with the expertise of specialists, technicians in the medical and IT sectors, and collaborations with leading partners in the supply of hardware-software systems applied to healthcare. is an e-commerce platform focussed on Made in Italy jewelry. Customers buy directly from goldsmiths (jewelery artisans) without intermediaries. Doralia works with a large number of Italian producers offering, both in the European and US markets, a comprehensive service and competitive prices for the most refined jewels in the world.

Plus Biomedicals is a biomedical startup offering an innovative new hair wash basin that, thanks to a multi-leaning arm, effectively addressing the needs of people with reduced mobility.
The main market for this product are healthcare companies, nursing homes, retirement homes, home care providers and end users.

Gardenstuff and Soluzioni Tirinnanziis study and develop environmental integration systems while creating a sustainable urban ecosystem. Via the portal, an online sales platform for innovative gardening products, this start-up offers its own branded products featuring and inspired by IOT (Internet of Things).

Happy birthday to Kickstarter that has just turned 10! In ten years this NYC company has helped bring 160,000 creative projects to life together with 16 million backers and creators.

Among the projects that were funded on Kickstarter: the game Cards against humanity; Beryl, a bike light laser that makes cyclists more visible at night; the investigative journalism outlet Bellingcat.

The project that I’m backing right now is “My Love Affair With Marriage“: Signe Baumane’s new animated feature film that infuses music and neuroscience into a personal story of love, gender and marriage.

This is the story of how Kickstarter was born, as we told it in “Tech and the City” (2013): <<The idea of founding it came to Perry Chen while he was trying to organize a concert. Chen, a fan of electronic music, in 2002 lived in New Orleans. He realized he needed a few thousand dollars, which he did not have, nor did he want to borrow money with the risk of not having enough of an audience to pay back his expenses. The solution would be—he thought then—to know beforehand how many people were willing to pay for tickets. Seven years of “wandering” went by from idea to startup, during which Chen was between New Orleans—the city of music and artistic entertainment—and New York—the city of “ambition,” as 36-years-old Chen likes to say. He found his partners by accident, while he was working as a waiter at a restaurant in Brooklyn: Yancey Strickler, a music journalist, and Charles Adler, a designer. The first investor was the actor David Cross, a cousin of a friend of Chen’s, who was followed by other friends in the arts.

Not surprisingly, music or movie production projects are the most popular on Kickstarter. (…) The mechanism is simple: anyone who has a project that fits Kickstarter’s guidelines (excluding investments, philanthropy and now some product categories) can submit it on the site explaining how much money it needs to raise and what it expects to give in return for the patron’s support (an autographed and personalized copy of the book being written, for instance); the idea has 60 days to collect enough commitments and, if it reaches its goal, the project is funded and the supporters’ credit cards are charged. Transparent and without risk for everyone involved. The average project costs $10,000, and the most common donation is around $10. But some initiatives have already collected over one million dollars. (…)

Chen describes Kickstarter as something between altruism and capitalism. People commit to contributing money not hoping for a gain, but because they like the idea or the people behind it; as compensation you expect an enjoyable experience or the satisfaction of having participated in the birth of a cool product. Kickstarter, on the other hand, is not a nonprofit organization: it is in the black, collecting 5% of the funds raised. And it counts among its backers the cream of American angel investors and venture capital funds, from Scott Heiferman of Meetup, to Jack Dorsey of Twitter, to Fred Wilson and Union Square Ventures, for a total of $10 million.

At the moment design and technology projects offered on Kickstarter account for only 5% of the total, but that number is growing quickly. It is a way for inventors to test their prototypes while minimizing risk and costs, turning directly to consumers and skipping traditional middlemen such as banks, who are more and more reluctant to provide funding. (…) >>

Our friend Paolo Merialdo, professor at the Engineering Department of the Roma 3 University, is the co-founder of InnovAction Lab, a program for college students who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs: in 4 years more than 800 students have been part of this program and more than 40 startups have been founded thanks of it. InnovAction Lab has evolved and is now an incubator: “Dock3 – the Startup Lab”.

Paolo almost every year brings some of his students to New York to learn about our startup community. 

Giuliano Iacobelli (third from left) with co-founder Nicola Mattina (fourth) and the team of Stamplay, the Italian startup bought by Apple

It’s great to know that one of the startups that were incubated by Dock3 was recently acquired by Apple. The startup is Stamplay and its focus – according to the co-founder Giuliano Iacobelli – is “Lego for APIs,” enabling a business’ developers to more simply connect both internal and external APIs to apps — effectively, enabling one app to offer features supplied by different developers. 

Stamplay won Visa’s Everywhere Initiative API contest in 2016, and it was entrusted with an unspecified development project for the payments giant. Its experience in the financial payments industry may be the reason why Apple bought it (paying 5 million euros, according to rumors) , because digital payments are part of the services that are getting more and more important for Apple.

We wish all the best to Giuliano, who is in San Francisco: maybe he has already met the most important Italian working in Cupertino, Apple CFO Luca Maestri, and he has asked him some good advice…

New York was one of the top five global destinations for venture capital dollars in 2017. The number of venture capital deals in the city grew by 256 percent, and the amounts invested by 439 percent, since 2008. The analysis –released by Comptroller Stringer and based on data from Crunchbase – also detailed venture capital’s impact on the New York City economy, as venture capital flows to a wide range of businesses in and outside of the city’s legacy industries of finance, advertising, media, and culture that support roughly 355,000 jobs – building on the city’s existing economic foundations to modernize and reshape the way those industries will do business in the 21st century.

New York-based companies closed nearly 1,000 deals valued at a total of about $9.4 billion in 2017, up from $1.7 billion in 2008. That left New York behind only Silicon Valley and San Francisco in terms of total domestic capital raised.

Orin Herskowitz, executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures at Columbia University, said to the WSJ that the growth of accelerators, incubators and an increased focus on raw innovations by research institutions have helped the city develop a robust startup community.

“It’s completely true that the rise of venture capital availability in New York in the past couple years is truly breathtaking,” Mr. Herskowitz said. “I think it goes well beyond access to capital, though, in the sense that this is a much broader story about the way New York City has pivoted to become a truly world-class place to start and grow a company.”

<<“Last year, when I was raising my seed, this guy was like, ‘It must be really difficult for you to raise money, Shannon, because men dissociate intelligence from attractiveness,’” said Shannon McLay, 40, who has started a chain of financial coaching centers called Financial Gym. (…)

“I’ve heard, ‘I really love you, Chanel, I think you have an amazing company, but I think I might want to date you,’” said Chanel Melton, 31, the founder of a hair-extension company called RoseGold Pro. >>

These are just two examples of how difficult is raising money fo startup female founders, according to the New York Times article “When Women Control the Money, Female Founders Get Funded“.

The Wing, a women-only co-working club in New York

Fortunately New York is the most friendly city to women entrepreneurs, as we wrote in “Tech and the City”: startups founded by women here are twice that in Silicon Valley or in London, as a percent of the total; out of 100 New York new high-tech companies, 20 are founded by women and 80 by men only, in Silicon Valley and London the ratio drops to 10-90.

Among other things, there is a women-only co-working club, The Wing, and there is Able Partners, a NYC venture capital firm that was started three years ago by Lisa Blau and Amanda Eilian as an early-stage investor in a number of female-founded companies. For example Able Partners has invested in The Wing and Goop.

According to the venture-tracking site Crunchbase, as of October 2017, women made up just 8 percent of investing partners at the top 100 VC firms. And last year, female founders received only 2.2 percent of the $130 billion in venture money invested in the United States, according to the analytics firm PitchBook and the advocacy organization All Raise.

One way to change this scenario, is for successful women to do what men do. “We need the old girl’s network,” said Linnea Conrad Roberts, the chief executive of Gingerbread Capital and a former partner at Goldman Sachs, as she waved to Ms. Blau. “If you think about the ecosystem that guys have, a Silicon Valley founder will make hundreds of millions of dollars and he doesn’t go home and retire; he starts putting it toward funding other companies.” Instead too often women like Ms Roberts, after retiring from Wall Street or similar powerful jobs, just do philanthropy.

On the other hand, I’m not sure NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy is right: he has just announced that the City will invest $30 million in women-led start-ups through a program called WE Venture, in coordination with private venture capital firms that have a track record in the area. It is exactly what former Mayor Mike Bloomberg avoided, rightly so: Bloomberg didn’t bet public money on startups, because it means choosing winners/losers; he developed the environment, the infrastructures, the “mood” that are vital to a startup ecosystem where the entrepreneurs themselves – women & men – are the most important protagonist. Bloomberg’s recipe was very successful. We’ll see about de Blasio’s.

With this single investment I’m done. As soon as I get my liquidity event I will party like there’s no tomorrow.” This is what Brian Cohen told us in 2012, when Alessandro and I interviewed him for “Tech and the City”. The investment was in Pinterest, the popular social network used to share photos, organized as collections of pictures on a pin board. Founded in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley, by three youngsters under 30, and launched in March 2010, Pinterest has become one of the most visited sites. “I helped them start and guided them as a mentor to become what they are,” said Cohen, who is Chairman of the New York Angels since October 2011. He was one of the very first investors in Pinterest.

    Now Pinterest is valued $12 billion or more and has just confidentially filed paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering that should happen in the next few months.

   So, congrats to Brian Cohen! Can’t wait for a toast with you! 

   The New York Angels are the most active group of this kind of investors in the US. It’s very risky and tough job, Cohen explains: “I call it a contact sport. You have to be in contact with the business and the industry, so that you can really sense it. I used to say that I have a nose for news. I think the same way about angel investing: you develop a nose for it; you can smell it. There are many studies that say that there is a positive correlation between the amount of due diligence and the success of companies. Duh, you do more homework; you get better grades.” Cohen calls angel investing a “contact sport” also because those who practice it can get hurt and bleed, lose a lot of money due to the high rate of failure of startups and because it takes a long time, even ten years, before they can sell the shares. That’s why Cohen is against crowdfunding for startups.

Another exit for a NYC startup: Authorea, co-founded by the Italian astrophysics Alberto Pepe, has been acquired by Atypon, the leading online scholarly publishing technology company.
“I want to bring sexy back to science”, Pepe said when he launch his startup in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins. “Our mission – Pepe now explains – has been the same from day one: to improve the ways in which researchers write and publish their work. We’ve felt that science writing and publishing are not as modern as they could be, which is why we built Authorea, so that research documents can exist on an open, online, data-driven, interactive platform.”

Alberto Pepe

Atypon’s parent company is Wiley (listed at NYSE) that is pioneering Open Access, linked data, streamlined editorial processes, and HTML-first publishing among its authors. “Thanks to the acquisition – says Pepe – Authorea will receive a line of investment that will help us build stronger team and product. In short, Authorea is about to get a lot faster, more robust, and ultimately more valuable to all researchers.”

Authorea was the first startup created by an Italian that was able to raise money among NYC investors, thanks to the VentureOutNY program. “We raised a $600,000 seed round with a term sheet from New York Angels, with Brian Cohen and Alessandro Piol leading the pool of investors – remembers Pepe -. I met them at the VentureOutNY event on December 3, 2013. Cohen has a Master of Science and Technology Journalism and was interested in my scientific background; together with Piol he helped me elaborate a business plan, which was a difficult task for me”.
Born in Manduria, where everybody, including his family, makes wine (the Primitivo), Pepe has always been fascinated by math, astronomy, astrophysics. Here is his story, as he told me: “After high-school, in 1998 I decided to go and study in London. I knew nothing about the Internet, or about how to apply to a British college. So when I went to UCL (University College London) in September, thinking I could immediately enroll and start my classes, I looked very naïf, but they liked my spirit, and they accepted me, provided that I would spend one year studying English. At UCL, I got my Bachelor degree in Astrophysics (2002) and my Master in Computer Science (2003).”
“Then I went back to Italy where I worked for six months at CINECA (InterUniversity Consortium, Bologna) with the Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Group. From 2004 to 2006 I worked in Geneva, Switzerland, in the Information Technology Department at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). At CERN, I dealt a lot with archives and I started cultivating the idea of an open access to science.”
“In 2006 I moved to California, where I got my Ph.D. in Information Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). My Doctoral dissertation was about “Structure and Evolution of Scientific Collaboration Networks in a Modern Research Collaboratory”: it’s the scientific foundation for my startup.”
“In June 2010, after finishing my PhD, I met professor Alyssa Goodman, professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts : after a ten minute conversation she hired me. So I did my Postdoctoral research at Harvard, where I stayed until four months ago, when I resigned in order to focus on my startup (Professor Goodman is on Authorea’s board as Senior Scientific Advisor). I founded Authorea in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins, whom I met in Geneva.”

Why did Pepe leave research at the university? “It was fun – he explains -, but sometimes the academic world changes very slowly. I’ve been doing research for the last 14 years, and I’ve published a couple dozen scientific papers, besides my Doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the prize as the best one in the fields of Info science and technology. So I know very well how the scientific publication business works and what’s wrong: we do 21st century research, but we write and disseminate the results with 20th century tools, which were created before Internet was invented. Even worse, we package the results in a 17th century format, the same that Galileo invented to communicate with his scientific community and with the church authorities. However, Galileo in his scientific articles included all data from his observations. That’s impossible today, with huge data, so we publish only a very superficial version of our data, giving a link to a server where the whole data are available. But that’s very static.”
That’s why Pepe created Authorea, “a platform that let scientists create an article as a dynamic project, where all the results are transparent and include not only text but also images, data, and analysis”, he stresses.
Authorea is based in NYC because in 2013 Pepe came to New York as Visiting Researcher in Astrophysics and Cosmology at NYU (New York University), and he fell in love with the city”.

Cornell Tech Welcomes Amazon to NYC”: I totally agree with them! and totally disagree with criticism against Amazon’s decision to bring their new headquarters to Long Island City, Queens.

Some activists even proposed to boycott last Amazon’s Black Friday: it was ridiculous and failed, of course. 

Photo by Max Touhey

I think that the more the better. A great city like New York can and should make room for more and more people and companies, as Nobel laureate Paul Romer would say…


“The new headquarters is sure to boost the already growing tech ecosystem in New York City sparked by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s vision when in 2010 he launched the competition for an applied sciences campus that led to the creation of Cornell Tech,” reads a Cornell Tech press release. “By choosing Long Island City for HQ2, Amazon will join one of the world’s fastest-growing and most diverse tech communities – said Josh Hartmann, Cornell Tech’s chief practice officer -. Cornell Tech is spinning out hundreds of graduates each year as well as groundbreaking, impactful research, and through key partnerships with CUNY and K-12 public schools, we are expanding the city’s pipeline of skilled tech talent. New York City has emerged as a destination for tech and innovation, and Amazon’s arrival will accelerate growth and success for the city and for Cornell Tech.”

After Amazon, also Google plans to add more employers to its already large workforce in New York City: “Google is gearing up for an expansion of its New York City real estate that could add space for more than 12,000 new workers, an amount nearly double the search giant’s current staffing in the city,” writes the Wall Street Journal.

A rendering of St.John’s Terminal in New York City’s West Village neighborhood. PHOTO: COOKFOX ARCHITECTS

If rumors are confirmed. Eventually Alphabet/Google will occupy, besides its NYC HQ at 111 8th avenue: St. John’s Terminal, Chelsea Market, 85 10th avenue, and Pier 57, for a total of more than 20,000 staff. It will strengthen NYC status as a tech capital, and also require more and more engineers and software developers in the city.

Can you imagine that when Alessandro and I wrote “Tech and the City” in 2012 there were only 3,000 Googlers in NYC? This was the story:

<<For three weeks straight in April 1951, without sleeping and without eating, only kept awake by gallons of coffee and other not so legal stimulants, Jack Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road in one go. At least so says the legend of the Chelsea Hotel where the beat generation poet lived at the time, and where for decades, artists, musicians, actors and writers have enlivened the bohemian life of its namesake neighborhood.
Kerouac’s typewriter is one of the images in the mile-long mural of Chelsea’s history that wrapped the scaffolding on Google’s New York headquarters in the spring and summer of 2012. An artistic way—thanks to the work of Dark Igloo design studio of Williamsburg (Brooklyn)—to make something as monotonous as periodically checking the façade of high-rises, as required by municipal law, into something entertaining.

According to Google’s website, which boasts of the records and the beauty of its building, it takes nine minutes to walk around the building and see the whole mural. You start out at 111 8th Avenue, and walk north to 16th street, then west to 9th Avenue where the main entrance is located at number 76. Then you continue south to West 15th and you’re back at your starting point. It is an Art Deco building that dates from the 1930s, occupies a square block, and has 17 floors, many as big as two football fields, for a total of 2.9 million square feet. Until the 1970s, it housed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Google moved into the building in 2006, at first only occupying a few offices and then, as it continued to grow, it decided to buy the whole building in December 2010 for $1.9 billion.

Today, just under 3,000 Googlers work in the building in a creative environment where the hip lifestyle of the twenty-to-thirty-somethings who come to work in shorts and flip-flops meet the rigor of the algorithms that are at the heart of the Internet giant’s business. Nothing is boring, everything is in motion, each detail scrutinized to stimulate the minds and the imaginations of the people who work there. Parked at the entrance to each floor, a fleet of scooters is available to move employees from one part of the immense office space to another. What is more, each floor reveals its own interior design theme linked to a particular idea. The fifth floor theme for example, is “old New York.” The large dining room is designed as if it were on the roof of a building, including the typical wooden water tower that is part of the New York skyline, and even fake pigeons. A puzzle that goes from one end of the room to the other has been incorporated into the flooring and only the engineers are up to solving it.

Two of the conference rooms have a theme. They are furnished as if they were typical New York studio apartments—one where a 20-year-old male lives complete with sofa, his bicycle leaning against the wall, and laundry strewn about; the other is meant to be that of a woman, with a kitchenette that is neat and tidy—probably because she always eats out. There is also a library with a virtual bookshelf with eBooks that can be purchased using a smartphone. And there is a wall of physical books too, but it hides a secret passage to a relaxation room.

There are normal office desks, but they are not the only places where Googlers work. In fact, hardly anyone has his or her own desk. The idea behind the design of the space is to encourage informal meetings and exchange of ideas. That is Google’s philosophy and it is the same in Silicon Valley, as well as in all Google offices worldwide. But here in New York, the second most important Google center, it has a special meaning. “It’s true, there are differences in being a Googler in New York,” states the website. “This is the capital of finance and fashion, of publishing and theater. And it makes a subtle difference in how we communicate and how fast we work. It’s difficult to put into words but you always know you are in New York.” And for many young people the idea of going to a bar on foot or walking to a gallery to enjoy an exhibit at the end of a tiring work day is much more attractive than commuting in the traffic of the San Francisco Bay area to get to and from the Googleplex, the Silicon Valley headquarters.

Google’s first outpost in the Big Apple was opened by Tim Armstrong, the current CEO of AOL, in 2000. He was selling advertising, working out of a Starbucks on the corner of 86th and Columbus Avenue. The first engineers were hired in 2003, and the first offices were in Times Square. Today half of the staff spends its time on advertising, working closely with ad agencies and the media. The other half works on creating new products and projects, from system software to applications. And the organization keeps growing: since 2008, some Googlers have had to work in the adjacent Chelsea Market (in a space of almost fifty five thousand square feet) waiting for space at 111 Eigth Avenue to free up when the current tenants’ leases expire.

New recruits are typically from East Coast universities. They are chosen through an extremely competitive process. In the summer of 2012 for example, Google held in New York the final phase of an annual contest for young programmers. Thirty-six thousand developers, aspiring Googlers, entered the contest. Eventually, the 25 surviving programmers had to challenge one another solving a variety of algorithmic problems for several hours. One of the tasks was to find the optimal way to destroy an army of zombies marching on their computer screens. The prize was ten thousand dollars, and the chance to interview with Google. A young Polish programmer, Jakub Pachocki, won. But nothing says he’ll become a Googler, given New York’s hunger for excellent coders and the stiff competition from other high-tech companies to get them. >>

Amazon’s second headquarters is coming to New York, according to rumors. If it’s true, “it’s the biggest success for New York in 10 years,” says Marcus & Millichap’s Eric Anton. The area where the new HQ2 would be settled is Long Island City in Queens, where “a forest of apartment towers sitting dark at night as a metaphor for the area’s challenge with new residential supply.” Or – like “The Real Deal – New York Real Estate News” puts it – “glut of new apartments and commercial space could have been a key selling point.”

A view of Manhattan – and of Roosevelt Island – from Long Island City

Just a five years ago – when Alessandro and I wrote “Tech and the City” – this part of Queens had a long way to go before becoming another center of New York high-tech. It didn’t have a ‘cool factor’. However Long Island City holds the record for playing host to the largest dot-com to have successfully survived the bursting of the bubble in 2000. This was none other than, a model of eCommerce in the food sector, studied and imitated by so many on both sides of the Atlantic (it has recently moved to the Bronx). Since 2012, Long Island City has also become one of the world centers for a new way to mass produce goods using 3D printers. Shapeways, the startup that wants to “make things possible, easy and inexpensive, and manufacture any object created by anyone for whomever” has a large factory here, and recently announced it got $30M in new funding led by Lux Capital, which will accelerate its expansion.

Another boost to Long Island City’s becoming a new tech area is the CornellTech campus on Roosevelt Island that is located directly opposite this bank of the river.

Savills Studley’s Jeff Peck noted that Amazon could help transform Long Island City from a neighborhood seen as a satellite to Manhattan’s office market into a destination all of its own. “The same thing happened in Midtown South and the Meatpacking District,” he said. “Tech behemoths like Facebook and Twitter made those submarkets their homes. And then the mid-tier and smaller tech companies followed suit.”