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!

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.”

2015 CITIE Study

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.”

(Originally published on StartupItalia! )

Do you have an American Dream? You may come to New York and see how difficult or easy it is to pursue it, thanks to ICE’s hospitality. In fact the Italian Trade Commission has opened its doors to Italian startups willing to test the water.

It’s part of its new commitment to help Italian startups to enter the American market.

That’s good news to begin the new year with, while on the other hand the project of creating a space in New York for European startups has been stalled. 

First, the good news. The Italian Trade Commission has a prestigious location in New York, a townhouse on 67th street, close to Fifth Avenue. The director Pier Paolo Celeste, who is also the coordinator of all ICE offices in the US, has just announced the launch of the bimonthly newsletter “SUV –StartUp Value”. The goal is to inform about the high-tech sector in North America.

“We will tell you the sentiment from NYC and Los Angeles, the two areas that are more involved in technology innovation – explained Mr. Celeste -. We’ll tell you which actions are the most effective in order to be heard in the cradle of startups. We’ll inform about the most important initiatives in this industry such as trade shows, conferences, job markets and so on”.

The first issue of the newsletter will be out in February: you may receive it sending an email to newyork@ice.it.

 

You can also send ideas, suggestions and questions to suvnewsletter@ice.it. And – as I wrote earlier – you may ask to be hosted for a while at ICE’s offices in New York. The space is limited but free, and some Italians have already taken advantage of this opportunity, for example the founders of Qwikword, a “new social media app” that launched its operations last October.

Now, the bad news. You may remember that in November 2013 Talent Garden was one of the 20 finalists at the H.E.L.M.  (Hire + Expand in Lower Manhattan) competition. Since then Elio Narciso has been trying to find partners to open the first international co-working space in New York. Last year the idea was to work with the European American Chambers of Commerce in the United States (EACC) and create a “Euro Garden” or “The leading hub for European entrepreneurs in the US”.

Talent Garden and the EACC tried to get funding and space from the new START-UP NY program launched in 2014 by the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo: the creation of tax-free zones across the state for new and expanding businesses. But they were offered locations far away from New York City, because the program wants to stimulate economic growth in underdeveloped areas upstate NY. Besides, the program offers tax incentives, but not cash money. Actually, according to some critics, Cuomo’s startup program has not been a great success so far, that’s why “the Empire State Development Corp. quietly announced it’s delaying its promised report on START-UP NY by four months”, wrote Claudia Tenney on the New York Post.

Anyway, at this point the Euro Garden is still a dream, but not dead yet. In four weeks or so the EACC board will meet to discuss the project again and see if it is feasible with private funding.

Qwikword was founded in 2013 by Gianmarco Crismale, Fulvio Menegozzo, Matteo Pivetta, Alberto Grimaldi and Luca Monfredo, and because of its global ambitions it chose to be headquartered in New York City with satellite offices located in Italy and Hong Kong.

(Originally posted on StartupItalia!)

Italian tech entrepreneurs and all non US startups thinking of coming to New York have a new friend in the Big Apple: Gianluca Galletto, who has just been appointed Director of International Affairs at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

Gianluca was born in Taranto, 45 years ago. He’s been a New Yorker since 1998, now he lives in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and he holds both Italian and US citizenship. “This is my dream job: I can use my experience in finance and my passion for policy making, working for a public administration I believe in”, he explained to me from his office, Downtown Manhattan.

NYCEDC is a not-for- profit entity that reports directly to the Mayor’s Office and is responsible for encouraging the economic development of the city. It’s organized like a private business and is always interacting with the private sector. It has been the catalyst of initiatives such as the creation of Cornell Tech in New York. One of the divisions of NYCEDC is the Center for Economic Transformation (CET), a bridge between Government and private entrepreneurs, including those in the high-tech sector. It is CET that has helped launch 15 startup incubators across New York City’s five boroughs.

 

Its role is to assist all the stakeholders, including the building managers and the operators who want to manage an incubator: it gives some public money only to facilitate the startup phase, while responsibility for the functioning of the incubator, and its profit and loss, is up to the private partners, which the CET continues to monitor as long as it is needed.

EDC’s mission is inclusive growth

Gianluca’s office, with a staff of four people, is part of CET. He oversees the international programs that support the three pillar strategy of NYCEDC: physical transformation, industry transformation through innovation and entrepreneurship, income mobility and reduction of income inequality. Gianluca stresses that under Mayor de Blasio NYC «EDC’s mission is “inclusive growth”.

New York attracts the best talents from all over the world already, but it’s never enough according to Gianluca: global competition is growing too, and other cities such as London, Dubai, Hong Kong are competing to become international hubs for innovation and for the tech industry. “My task will be to leverage NYC brand to attract even more talents, startups, direct investments from abroad,” goes on Gianluca.

Right now Gianluca is elaborating his strategic plan and thinking of new ideas. One is to find new ways to involve also non American partners in creating incubators. Another one is to increase the size and depth of “World to NYC” programs, which are currently two per year. He wants to combine them into one much larger program per year with a multi-sector focus. He’s also thinking of organizing educational and training programs such as exchanges of students, young entrepreneurs and civil servants between NYC and non US cities. In fact Gianluca believes that civil servants should go and learn from other experiences, and NYC should exchange best practices with other cities.

Keeping the NYC’s tech industry growing

Gianluca’s intention is to work closely with other NYC agencies, including the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, which operates from the United Nations headquarters and takes care of relationships with other countries’ representatives; and NYC & Company, the City’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organization. He’ll work also with the Empire State Development (ESD), the New York State’s chief economic development agency, which has just launched the START-UP NY initiative to create tax free communities for new and expanding businesses on SUNY and other university campuses across the state.

 

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is a tech entrepreneur himself, played a great role in fostering the city’s tech industry in order to re-launch the economy after the 2008 financial crisis. After him, the city’s startup community didn’t know what to expect from the new Mayor. “De Blasio is very committed to keeping the city’s tech industry growing – says Gianluca -. He has just appointed the first ever Chief Technology Officer of the City, Minerva Tantoco, a veteran of the tech industry who has worked with both startups and large enterprises over the last 25 years, and we have just launched the new website Digital.nyc”. The latter is “The Hub for tech and startup” or “the result of a partnership between NYCEDC and NYC-based Gust to create a one-stop-shop for all things tech in New York City” (as you can read here).

Galletto’s career

Gianluca came to the US in 1996 to study international Economics at Yale with a Fulbright scholarship. Previously he had studied Economics, Business and Law at Università Bocconi in Milan. From 1993 to 1996 he worked in Brussels, Belgium, for the European Commission and private clients.

At Yale Gianluca found a great mentor, Professor Emeritus of Political Science & Management Joseph LaPalombara and that changed his vision of the world: that’s why he decided he wanted to stay in the US and to live in NYC. After graduating at Yale in ’98, Gianluca got a job in New York at the global credit asset manager Muzinich & Co, where he worked until 2009. Then he set up his consulting firm and from 2011 until he joined NYC EDC, Gianluca was also the co-lead/Senior Advisor of Italian Business & Investment Initiative (IB&II), an organization that is “committed to promoting Italy’s start-ups & small and medium size enterprises” and that is a partner of Mind the Bridge.

Gianluca’s passion has always been politics and policy. He met Bill de Blasio while campaigning for Hillary Clinton in 2000, when she was running for senator. When Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor, Gianluca thought it was his occasion to contribute to the new administration, putting to work his international experience in business. Now his dream has come true.

Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Alley in New York are not the only tech ecosystems in America where an Italian entrepreneur can find exciting opportunities to grow. It depends on the kind of business you are into. That’s the lesson learned by Davide Rossi, a 38-years-old Italian mechanical engineer from Badia Polesine, a small town close to Rovigo. Last March Rossi moved his startup FitBark from New York to Kansas City, Missouri, where he feels “at home”. FitBark was recently mentioned by the WSJ as one of the emerging startups in the new business of fitness tracking for dogs. This is his story.

After working in the family business (model racing cars) and in the oil industry in Qatar and India, Rossi earned an MBA at MIT in 2010 and decided to remain in the United States. “In Italy it’s so difficult to start a new business – says Rossi -. A friend of mine invested 40,000 Euros in a bar in my home town and after nine months he had not got a license to operate yet. So he poured gasoline on himself and threatened to set himself on fire outside the town hall. In this way he got the license in 14 days”.

In 2012 Rossi settled down in New York City, working with Deutsche Bank in the fin-tech division and also consulting for a California-based software company. Initially Rossi wanted to stay in NYC because he found it easier to build a network of contacts in Silicon Alley. Passionate about the Internet of things, he was studying a product in this field and he ended up with the idea of a health and activity tracker for dogs. “I thought that if a technology is useful to humans to get healthier, it’s even more useful to creatures that don’t speak and stay alone for long stretches of time, our dogs”, explains Rossi, who owns a furry Yorkshire, Freud.

That’s how FitBark was born: it’s “the world’s tiniest wireless activity tracker” for dogs of any size, made in the shape of a tiny dog-bone, reads its website. It collects physical activity and rest levels 24/7”, sending all data to the dogs’ owners on their iPhones or Android smartphones and also to their vets, in order to monitor dogs’ long-term health trends.

The failure before the success

In April 2013 Rossi launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for FitBark, but the first attempt failed. What did he learn from that? “The campaign was poorly organized, we didn’t understand that on a platform like Kickstarter, where you have max 60 days to reach your goal, the very first days are crucial to get support and attract the attention of backers – says Rossi -. Above all, the pricing was wrong. We asked for a monthly fee to use FitBark, and that’s not the right choice for a new device”.

If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again. So Rossi re-launched the FitBark campaign a few months later, in July, and this time he succeeded: he raised over $80,000 or 231% of his goal. “We orchestrated all our efforts to get as many backers as possible the first day: that’s the way to be profiled as a popular project by Kickstarter and get more visibility – explains Rossi -. We also changed the pricing: now Fitbark costs $99 upfront with no other fees”.

Notwithstanding that success, Rossi wasn’t able to build a strong network of contacts with investors in New York. Luckily, the NYC branch of TechStars told him that he could apply to the TechStars program in Kansas City, which was a better fit for his business. “It was not easy to get into TechStars, they are more selective than an Ivy League school,” says Rossi.

Kansas City, the Silicon Valley for animal health

TechStars is an accelerator and incubator that provides seed money and three months of intense mentorship: at the end, startups present their business to potential investors. The program has multiple locations: in Kansas City it’s sponsored by the mobile operator Sprint and focuses on “mobile health”. “We moved there in March 2014 and discovered that Kansas City is a sort of Silicon Valley for animal health – explains Rossi -. Here there are more than 300 companies in the food and pharmaceutical industry for animals, representing 56% of global revenues in this business. We sell our product to consumers, but it’s those companies that are interested in the data we collect about dogs’ health”.

In Kansas City Rossi has been able to refine his strategy towards consumers, find investors (one round of seed money raised among angels but not disclosed) and sign partnerships with corporations. “TechStarts has been very important for introducing us to investors – points out Rossi -, but the whole city played a big role too, rooting for us to succeed”.

 

“Our potential customers are people who spend $20-80 a day in daycare and dog walkers for their pets, or spend thousands of dollars for their dogs’ health problems, or use fitness trackers for themselves – goes on Rossi -. On the other hand we can give the data we collect about dogs’ health to companies that do research to develop new drugs and food for dogs: they can monitor the effects of their products on dogs wearing FitBark”.

FitBark is still in private beta but Rossi expects to ship the first batch of devices soon, starting in the US and Canada. “We have already orders from 45 countries including Italy – says Rossi -. The device is made in USA, by a manufacturer in the Nord East. It’s important for us being close to the factory in this initial phase.”

Together with Rossi in Kansas City there is his sister Sara, in charge of marketing. In all it’s a team of eight people, half based out of the US.  “Of course I miss New York – admits Rossi -. But also Kansas City has a vibrant and growing startup ecosystem. AOL founder Steve Case has spent a few days here, recently, to talk with the community. The Kaufmann Foundation, focused on entrepreneurship, is based here. Google Fiber started here connecting houses to high-speed Internet. And we were very happy that the Italian Ambassador to the U.S., Claudio Bisogniero, was in town on November 17 meeting the Italian-American community, including businessmen like us”.

Note: this story appeared first on StartupItalia!