Startup Generation Global Fellowship (Cambridge University Judge Business School) – First Kick-off Post

Dear all,
I will be covering my engagement in the Cambridge University – Judge Business School “Startup Generation Global Fellowship” (from now on simply SG program) on the FFA blog (for the ones that don’t know us, please visit our website) that will help you understand a little bit more about the story and background of FFA (as the Founder and CEO).
In 2010 I hit a milestone, I finally found what I would be focusing on in the next years and hopefully decades of my professional life. I had been following the trends in disruptive innovation, business incubation and entrepreneurship (getting inspired by the biggest innovators of our times, like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg) and wanted to focus on these topics and I did ever since.
Through my unwavering grit and determination, developed through my early years in tech blue chip corporations and in investment banking, I pushed forward into a market dominated by large international consulting firms and institutions, steadfast in my belief that, if I would put full focus on this, I could offer something better, something more effective in regard to innovation for companies of all sizes mainly in Europe.

Why did I apply?

The SG program is part of our aim in getting international exposure and getting interconnected and involved in global entrepreneurship and innovation networks, since we have been more active on a European scale in the last years.

Did you face any obstacles?

I was initially not admitted to the program, because I did not reply to the SG program acceptance RSVP in time. I was feeling bad, because I did not find the 10 minutes needed to send a response E-Mail. But it somehow reflects the problem that entrepreneurs (especially first time entrepreneurs) have: The need to focus to be effective and efficient at work and the need to participate to new projects, to network and to do outreach work.

Introduce your program and how the Fellowship will help you

Fast Forward Advisors (short FFA) is a forward-thinking boutique consulting firm, focused on mainly and merely on two topics: innovation and internationalization. We focus our work in Europe and our clients are both large firms, SMEs and startup companies.
The SG program will help me in getting useful feedback from peer mentors, experts and advisors on our existing project pipeline and will help me in reaching out to interesting stakeholders.

What people associated with the program do you think will help you most?

I am most looking forward to opportunities to engage with Jay Mitra, Brad Feld and Karen Wilson as they have impacted the global environment on topics which inspire me to move forward. I also know that I will be surprised at how and when and by whom I am impacted throughout this process.
I am also looking forward to discuss problems and solutions regarding the projects of the other Fellows.

SMART Objectives statement

My SMART Objectives over the next six months are set as follows:
– I project an additional 10% activity growth based on our evaluation of the Fellowship’s potential impact on development of our relationships in North America
– Have collected at least 50 constructive feedback sessions with peer mentors, advisors, faculty and other fellows from the SG program network.
I will be evaluating progress every month and posting the metrics in my blog posts.


I’m excited to be in this awesome Fellowship program and I expect a lot from me and from my peers, mentors and advisors.
In 2014 FFA will be entering exciting phase of growth and business development efforts and we will be extremely focused to make it happen. I will be very happy to share the insights in our blog.
written by Frank M. Saviane (CEO)

Startup Generation Global Fellowship (Cambridge University Judge Business School) – Leadership

The first month at the Startup Generation Program is over, it has been intense and the lessons learned, inputs and feedbacks are priceless.
This month was all about Leadership, a topic I haven’t really dig into on the theoretical point of view, but have been indirectly involved in during my early years at FFA. I really didn’t have the chance to explicitly get confronted with the topic, until I started FFA, where I started hitting on leadership issues almost every day.

Sometimes I feel that I’m not meant to be a leader as my role models Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. So I tried to discover and understand, what was making these business leaders successful, what properties they have/had, from what background they came from, etc., I was curious to extrapolate some insights, my insights, in order to try myself to be more successful, in what I’m doing.
By looking at the exceptional success stories of these leaders, I came across certain properties and certain situations that were repeating themselves in all different leaders that I was studying:
1) They all are self-confident, self-aware and stay on their ideas.
2) They all want to change the world to make it a better place (with different means and in different fields).
3) They all have above average overall intelligence (and are really good at some vertical: design, computer science, mechanical engineering, business management, rhetoric, mathematics).
4) They all seem to love what they were doing, producing, designing and therefore they could be relentless and obsessed in both good and bad times in the life of their ventures.
Some of these properties and traits are based on genetics and are encoded since birth in all of us. Others are developed by each of us during our academic, private, social and professional lives and are strongly influenced by external influence factors as the society we live in, the education, the experiences, the failures and many more.
Concerning point 1 I sometimes lack self-confidence in my ideas, since there are so many people from different countries and with different successful and promising projects and experiences that state different ideas than mine. Our world still considers experience, degrees, honours and certified ratings as number one proxy to value any kind of tangible or intangible product (in that case also ideas). Especially in countries with strong patriarchal family and business structure this phenomenon is even more accentuated.
Regarding point 2, I really believe in it and I try to show people this in every situation.
About point 3 I have mixed feelings about my skills. I’m a top graduated double degree engineer, with work experience in different companies, institutions and corporations around the world. I have a pretty strong mathematical and engineering “forma mentis” and I’m usually good at solving technical problems. My biggest concerns come in relation to the more extrovert-like properties: I’m not a good public speaker (I have to put 10 times more effort in getting a speech done compared to other colleagues), I don’t have a strong rhetoric, I’m not a good salesman / power networker (maybe this skill is in conflict with my introverted side). I believe by improving these skills, I could improve my overall leadership skills by a multiple of 10!
Last on point 4 I love what I do, I put all my time, effort and thoughts into my venture and I always believed that by doing so (and with the help of others and some pivots over time) that this can bring me to successfully deploy my ideas and make them reality.
I could continue in my argumentation, if anyone is interested in a constructive exchange on these ideas or has any ideas, feedback or hacks I can implement to improve my leadership skills, please contact me personally and I will be more than happy to discuss it with you.
written by Frank M. Saviane (CEO)

Startup Generation Global Fellowship (Cambridge University Judge Business School) – Entrepreneurship without Borders

Following the module on Entrepreneurship without Borders, I feel to write about our personal experience related to this topic and describe how we are trying to overcome challenges and obtain achievements in what seems a borderless global entrepreneurship playground.
I want to look at one very specific and concrete example that is related to the challenges and outcomes of being entrepreneurs without borders.
The example relates to our on-going market entry in Russia. Our value proposition for this market is to bring basic and advanced topics on innovation engineering and management to Russian companies and providing our startup products and services to the many incubators and accelerators in the country.
The challenges that we found are also my arguments on what are strong borders to global entrepreneurship and that in my opinion all entrepreneurs should try to overcome:
1) Culture: there is a huge difference in culture between Europe and Russia. This reflects also on how the two cultures think about entrepreneurship and about doing business. What might seem common business practice in Europe, can be seen in a completely different light in Russia.
2) Language: The language of a country is strongly rooted to its culture. Not knowing, understanding, speaking the language creates a barrier between the two parts. Understanding your customers/users and your local stakeholders is essential for being successful.
3) National focus: As in many countries in Europe there is a tendency to do business with local or national players, due to a stronger cultural fit. Even if you are providing some cutting edge consulting products, still the cultural misfit might crush you, when pitching or negotiating with your prospective clients.
4) Politics: Politics is very much involved in business and vice versa. Not having political connections might slow down the market entry and the setup of strong business connections in the country.
These are a few of the reasons, why for us markets like Russia are still “with borders”. Although we had the experience that if you bring in passion, a strong product and a talented team, everything is possible. When providing your products to global markets, I believe there are certain rules and operational steps to undertake, in order to ease the market entry:
1) Think on a Global and Local approach (or Glocal):
When entering markets think about a local setup of your entrepreneurial activity using your globally deployable products and services.
– Hire local people that are rooted to the local culture, politics, business networks.
– Setup local partnerships to enable local market penetration.
– Use both a bottom up and top down approach.
2) Enter the markets with interesting economics and in which you have a lower “psychic distance” first.
3) Sometimes cultural misfit might benefit your prospective client. Thinking about our Russian market entry, by providing know how and intelligence from a more western world, it helped us in the first steps in accessing this market. You can then leverage the first projects and references to expand your local deal flow.
In our digitalized world, especially startups providing global products and services seem to overlook the complexity of different cultures, behaviours, habits and ethical standpoints and see an infinite opportunity of scalability. In our opinion this is much harder than it seems on paper and we think the best approach is a Glocal approach.
written by Frank M. Saviane (CEO)

Startup Generation Global Fellowship (Cambridge University Judge Business School) – Ecosystems, Communities, Networks

I was born in Venezuela from an Italian father and Portuguese mother and my parents moved back to Europe and Italy, when I was 4 years old. I was grown in a town called Bolzano, in the region of South Tyrol, an autonomous region in Italy with the particularity of being bilingual (Italian and German speaking) and being one of the top 10 wealthiest regions in Europe (by GDP per capita). The region is internationally well known for being a tourist hotspot and for its apple agriculture (the biggest producer in Europe) and grape/wine production (white wines excel in the Italian rankings and we all know, how good Italian wines are).
NB: The featured picture is my hometown Bolzano (Italy)
The Region has some international business leaders, like Leitner Group (one of the duopolists in the ropeway and winter technology business), Technoalpin (50% market share in the artificial snowmaking technology) and Dr. Schär (one of the fastest growing companies in the production of gluten-free products, with very strong markets in Europe and the US) just to name a few.
Because of its high wealth and very low unemployment rate the entrepreneurial activity (both tech or tech-enabled) is lacking behind compared to other regions in Italy and Europe. Also regarding R&D expenditure South Tyrol is strongly behind compared to the neighbor regions. In 2011, the total R&D expenditure was 0.63% of GDP, approximately half of the national average (1.25%) and one quarter of the EU average (2.10%).
By taking the value chain approach of Gibbons – Saxenian – Hinoul to analyze the local entrepreneurial eco-system, I tried to identify interesting insights, strong points and missing pieces of the local ecosystem:
Knowledge Centers

  • There is the Free university of Bolzano/Bozen, a pretty young university (roughly 20 years old, maybe 10 years fully operational with all programs) with around 3.500 students enrolled and 10 Master programs and 3 PhDs. In general there are only roughly 500.000 inhabitants living in the region, which limits its overall pool of human resources.
  • Biggest challenge: Focusing the programs on core competences of the region, in order to attract and keep international talent (and therefore knowledge) in the region.
  • Status: 6 out of 10
  • Trend: Bullish

Entrepreneurs & Role Models

  • There are plenty of international leading companies, but in my opinion they are still not acting as strong role models to the entrepreneurs in the region. Graduates and researchers find it more attractive to work for international players in the nearby Swiss, Northern Italian and Southern German companies.
  • Biggest challenge: How to connect talent with entrepreneurs, in order to create more entrepreneurs and keep IP and knowledge in the region? FFA is structuring an acceleration program with focus on the core competences of the region, in order to provide an effective way to empower entrepreneurs.
  • Status: 7 out of 10
  • Trend: Strongly bullish with the right incentives


  • South Tyrol doesn’t lack money, neither private nor governmental funds, having the highest GDP pro capita in Italy and being on the top of Europeans GDP pro capita regions. One of the biggest problems is the lack of experience in innovation and entrepreneurial financing by both on the private and governmental side.
  • Biggest challenge: Get stakeholders to start looking in focused entrepreneurial finance tools, like seed funding, startup investment tax incentives, soft-landing platforms, acceleration programs
  • Status: 6 out of 10
  • Trend: Strongly bullish because of huge potential

Capital Markets

  • Italy is generally lacking a modern capital markets structure, with SMEs’ balance sheets being dominated by debt financing and with very little influence of equity capital markets (Private Equity Investments and Venture Capital). South Tyrol completely lacks both an informal and formal Venture Capital structure. The negative spiral started, when the few Business Angels took a hit during and after the last dot com bubble burst in 2000. The region was and is also presently very much relying on debt financing from wealthy local and regional banks.
  • Biggest challenge: Bringing the culture of equity investments into the region, not only related to entrepreneurial finance, but also for later stage funding like private equity investments.
  • Status: 4 out of 10
  • Trend: Neutral (one of the toughest challenges in the region)


  • Regarding IT-infrastructure: There is barely high-speed internet (only main city has some optical fiber connection). The local government is pushing investments in the region, but overall development takes a long time, while the digital and internet trends move and change very quickly.
  • Regarding logistic infrastructure: The region is very poorly connected to international hubs, because of the lack of high-speed trains to main cities in Germany, Austria and Italy and the lack of a functioning regional airport hub.
  • Biggest challenge: Developing both a sound IT-infrastructure and tackling the poor connection to international hubs is vital for the further development of the region.
  • Status: 4 out of 10
  • Trend: Neutral, because of slow decision making of the stakeholders around these projects.

Cluster Policy

  • The Cluster Policy could be a very strong point in favor of the region, since it can create and apply local laws and policies (for example regarding innovation, or export support) that can suit the environment. Still, the lack in policymaking experience on innovation, R&D and entrepreneurial finance make it difficult to deploy strong incentives to the local ecosystem.
  • Biggest challenge: Ability of the local government in deploying policies that combine international best practices with the local needs and competitive advantages.
  • Status: 7 out of 10
  • Trend: Bullish

Presence of International Companies

  • There are a number of international companies that have been founded in the region and have international operations, but there are very few global blue chip offices in the region. This is one of the most critical points, when it comes to retain talent in the region and become a long-term magnet, since leave to accept high-paid jobs in Germany, Switzerland and the main cities in Italy (like Milan).
  • Biggest challenge: Bringing companies to establish an office in the region or establishing strong entrepreneurial base.
  • Status: 5 out of 10
  • Trend: Neutral/Bearish, will be difficult with missing infrastructures and lack of strong soft-landing policies.


  • The local innovation center TIS innovation park has the goal to support local companies, entrepreneurs and innovation stakeholders to connect with the needed networks, resources and people. Unfortunately the lack of talents in the region has a similar impact on the operations of local agencies and innovation centers as for the entrepreneurial scene, limiting their overall potential.
  • Biggest challenge: Attracting talent with international experiences and networks to help develop the local eco-system.
  • Status: 6 out of 10
  • Trend: Bullish, if the problems around the diaspora and talent attraction are tackled.


  • One of the biggest advantages of the region is the local government that can create local laws and policies that can fit the local ecosystem. The government has a very high budget (compared to other regions in Europe), given by the high pro capita GDP and once political consensus is found, could enable strong investments in the strategic areas such as innovation and R&D. Furthermore there has been political stability in the last decades, which could help to create long-term programs, policies and incentive schemes.
  • Biggest challenge: Helping government to accept the power of entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial finance and generally pushing certain industrial policies and structural reforms.
  • Status: 8 out of 10
  • Trend: Strongly bullish

Quality of Life

  • Very high quality of life, one of the strongest levers of the region! Just see it yourself here!
  • Biggest challenge: None
  • Status: 10 out of 10
  • Trend: Neutral and stable.

Overall the biggest points given by the region can be wrapped up in three main topics:
1) Attract corporations and establish entrepreneurial activities around the core competences of the region.
2) Roll-out the structural changes in logistics, finance and IT/services.
3) Attract and retain talent directing them to entrepreneurial activities and qualified international job positions and at the same time leveraging top quality of life, which the region offers.
FFA will try to tackle a few points around entrepreneurial finance, by providing know-how and our management team and present an acceleration program around the core competences of the region, involving all stakeholders in the economy, from government and entrepreneurs, to the international companies and universities. We will also use the help of the network provided during the Startup Generation program (like Brad Feld, which is one of the major experts around startup communities and the building of entrepreneurship ecosystems).
There are three project two witness our activities in the area and try to enable the entrepreneurial and innovation eco-system in the region:

  • Idea!tailors – Framework to spark x-functional and x-cultural tech entrepreneurship (
  • Innovation Südtirol – Alto Adige – Supporting the development and adoption of innovation related tools and services in South Tyrol (
  • Research work at the Free University of Bolzano regarding innovation support in local eco-systems in Europe.

written by Frank M. Saviane (CEO)