INNOVATION COFFEE: THE ENVIRONMENT THAT MATTERS – PLUG AND PLAY APPROACH

The INNOVATION COFFEE is a podcast born on the initiative of 4 young professionals. This is how it all started: “We met at University and kept in touch since then to discuss about innovation and sustainability. During the March 2020 lockdown we started having calls instead of physical meetings and decided to record some of them for sharing with a wider audience.”

Each episode (30’) hosts guests and experts to discuss about the different players involved in the innovation ecosystem and the several shapes innovation itself can have.

During this episode Andrea, Gianluca and Tommaso were interviewed. The 3 of them are part of Plug and Play, one of the biggest accelerators worldwide. Indeed, it has accelerated in 2019, 1900 startups, among which there is a company as Dropbox.

Plug and Play has been developed in California, in the Silicon Valley. Andrea and Tommaso came across Plug and Play after their master studies in Paris. One of their professors suggested to them to go in US or China for innovation because Europe was still lagging behind. When they got to know plug and Play, they decided to bring this mentality to Italy to help it evolve faster. Plug and Play was for them the best way to bring this change in Italy. The company is an innovation platform which helps startups to grow and develop their business. The main value added of Plug and Play, which differentiate it from the others, is the strong focus on the community.

So, why Plug and Play defines itself an “innovation platform”? It focuses on the connection between startups and corporates which are the two main stakeholders. This focus on the community and networking allowed the company to grow. With its focus on the community the company has been able to create a large network of VCs, investors, universities, startups, etc.

Being a company born in US in the Silicon Valley, it is interesting to understand whether they use the same approaches all over the world or they differentiate among different countries. Andrea, Gianluca and Tommaso told us that the models are quite similar all over the world, because the company operates as a single company with a centralized control from the main base in the Silicon Valley. What allowed Plug and Play to scale up in a fast way, has been its business model: the company do not take equity from the startups, they just operate as an innovation platform to help startups and corporates work together.

Also on the events side, they tend not to differentiate among different countries. The types of events are quite similar everywhere with selection days in which corporates meet in person the startups in order to select them for the acceleration program. They also organize individual sessions for the corporates to meet the startups individually. And another very important aspect is that the events are international, so they are not focused only on one specific country. This model allows Plug and Play to create a huge network of stakeholders from all over the world, that connect and can work together and support each other.

What naturally follows the discussion about the events, is the interest in knowing how the global pandemic crisis has affected and changed how the events were held.

The guys told us that some difficulties were encountered at the beginning because nobody was prepared and used to held virtual events. However, the pandemic has surprisingly helped the connection events, allowing talks from all over the world without logistics difficulties.

An example of a difficulty encountered by Plug and Play at the beginning, has been with the event that was organized for the 27th of February with 30 startups from all over the world participating.

Over the prior weekend, they realized they were not able to do the event in person, and at that time was difficult to organize such a big event over zoom since nobody was used to it. Three days prior to the event, they had to switch it on Zoom. The initial reactions were not positive, however at the end all the startups were satisfied because the opportunity of new connections increases with the online formula since it is easier to meet people from all over the world.

Another interesting aspect of Plug and Play work, is the relationship with universities that are known to be a source of talents, ideas and innovation. The company is creating many partnerships with universities from all over the world through different formulas: lectures, partnerships opportunities, scouting of new startups. For instance, last month they have finalized a big partnership with Bocconi university with the launch of a new incubator for which they are the operational partners.

They also mentioned a successful case of a startup born at Bocconi University that has been accelerated in the Silicon Valley. The main point highlighted by the guys has been the importance of the network in any area and at any moment. Thanks to the networking people can get together and even create a startup.

Finally, we asked to the three guys why they chose to work in Plug and Play and what do they love of their jobs. The main reasons mentioned by them were the fact that they have the goal of bring the innovation mindset present in US and China also to Italy, bringing Plug and Play to Italy is a challenge for them, which spurs them to give their best. Moreover, they mentioned the fact of being a small team in Italy, they are just in seven.

Another important aspect is that in Plug and Play there is the chance to talk every day to the founders from all over the world to solve the hardest problems. People feel so motivated and part of the company that they work hundreds of hours to get to solve very specific problems.

Finally, they highlighted the fact that working at Plug and Play is like working for a big corporate but at the same time for a startup. The structural approach is the one of a big corporate, but the proactivity and the possibility of deciding your own projects are typic of a startup.

To summarize the whole episode, we can say that Plug and Play is already driving into the future both from a business and structural point of view. The focus of the company on building a strong community makes it at the forefront, and the right mix between corporate structure and startup environment allows the right creativity, proactivity and engagement that bring new and successful ideas.

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