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.

Innovation is essential nowadays, both for big corporates and startups. This environment embraces different aspects and the purpose of this episode of the Podcast Innovation Coffee is to investigate the role of some of its most important actors.

In order to dwell into the topic of this episode, Innovation Coffee has kindly asked Francesco Ehrenheim to be the guest speaker. Francesco Ehrenheim is the director and co-founder of Peekaboo in Italy. At age 19, when still in high school he started exploring the world of startups, interviewing important entrepreneurs and improving his network. He studied computer engineering at the Politecnico di Milano and at 23 years old he founded Peekaboo in Milan, becoming the director of business line.

Peekaboo is a two-sided platform which contributes to the development of the innovation ecosystem by supporting both early stage startups and big corporates. Peekaboo was born from a failure experience. Francesco’s partners, Paolo and Federico, had started their own startup in the food industry. Their idea was called “Easy Dinner” and its mechanisms were similar to the well-know “The Fork”, which soon entered in Italy and thus Easy Dinner lost pace in the Italian market. However, Paolo and Federico’s founders were interested in how they managed to turn the idea into a business and offered them a two-months program with assigned mentors to help talents to turn ideas into a startup.

The program captured the interest not only of start-uppers, but also of big corporates that aim at innovating their internal business channels fasters. 

There is not a narrow focus on the startups’ field; Peekaboo has decided to remain flat on the market. The main reason for this choice has been that the Italian startups’ market is still too small to discern among the different sub-fields of the startup ecosystem. The same vertical program of collaboration is applied to all clients.

As there is not specific focus on the area of employment of young start-uppers, there is no specific focus on project and businesses during the process of purchase selection. Peekaboo is mostly interested in people. Francesco has cleverly pointed-out how a good team might turn a bad idea into a good one, and how a bad team might turn a good idea into a bad one. Because the selection process takes place at the very early stage of startups, it would be more complicated to analyze ideas rather than trying to understand if there is potential in people themselves. 

Once the startup applies on the website of Peekaboo, a call is set to discuss the background and previous experiences of the startup. Then, the team takes a few days – from five to seven days, to analyze the project and decide whether the applicants are ready to enter the program.

The program lasts three-months, and every week the start-up team meets with a mentor. Mentors are not people who have understood how to do startups by reading a book, but actually they have their own startup and have solved very small problems during their lives as entrepreneurs. Mentors focus on teaching what is business model, how to make market research and look for personalized strategies for the startup. The goal of mentors, and Peekaboo as a whole, is to make traction and take feedback from the market – the only entity which is always right, to help startups to go the market really fast, without having to queue in any waiting line or already having the perfect product. The most important area of teaching is to be curious and to have no fear of failure, of launching product. The whole process of startup validation is about data – to take data from market and read them in the right way.

Meetings are held in order to analyze the business idea, the market, the model, the validation process and the validation funnel. A subsequent step is raising financial funds for the startup, by preparing a pitch and presenting startups in front of business or private investors and other organizations.

Francesco has made reference to Peter Thiel’s book, “Zero to One”, in order to describe Peekaboo’s role. Peekaboo acts in-between steps ‘zero’ and ‘two’. The program it offers is a pre-acceleration program, an incubator as it begins when there is only the idea – no structured project, no funds, no website; when ideas have just validated. In general, pre-accelerators are less coon than accelerators. Nonetheless, some other examples besides Peekaboo are Startup Geeks and Innovation Lab – which is now closed. It is really difficult to see the results before turning the idea into business; it is difficult because people are afraid to fail and thus to try. However, Francesco has remarked, it is very rewarding when his partners and him find a talent and thanks to them this person becomes an entrepreneur.

Moving forward, the interviewers were curious to know more about the relationship between small startups and big companies. Francesco has illustrated that it is essential to understand the different customers. By employing digital diligence, Peekaboo has the responsibility to understand the needs of corporates and the ideas of startups, and merge them together. The guets speaker defined Peekaboo as a sort of “google translate” between the two different languages of corporates and startups. A basic example is the concept of time; while for a startup two weeks are a long period of time, for a corporate as brief as a day for a startup. 

There are several processes to connect the two entities. According to the M&A standards, the corporate may buy either a part or the whole startup. Pursuing the POC, corporates buy the concept of the product of startup. On the other hand, there are more collaborative types of relationships which involves a minor exchange of financial assets and a greater transfer of know-how. 

The whole exchange procedure is about co-creation. In the energy market, the lean startup program might connect Enel – corporate partner of Peekaboo, and a startup interested in the same field at a very early stage of innovation. 

Peekaboo is a two-sided platform, which tries to address the needs of big companies and introduce the pool of new talents – startups, to the market. Very soon, the Nestlé program will take place, and Peekaboo will be employed in looking for a talent inside and outside its already-established community and will ten select ten projects to start program.

In conclusion, Francesco has revealed the audience a fun fact, noteworthy though. Last year, his partners were invited by the Berkley University’s to the Silicon Valley to meet the director of Innovation of Berkeley University. In the end, they were asked to create and contribute to the creation of pre-accelerator and accelerator programs. It is outstanding and to consider that a little Italian society has been asked to innovate a big university as Berkeley’s. indeed, Francesco and his partners are very proud.

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