Companies must understand opportunities and challenges of their product
Luigi Amati, chairman and director of META, started off as a researcher, continued as a founder of his start-up, which was followed by a membership in expert groups of the European Commission and the establishment of his own international company. Therefore, he has a unique opinion about the European Union market, characteristics of a good entrepreneur and the future.
What are you dealing with currently?
Meta Group is trying to commercialise research, create strategies, policies and frameworks for creation of the European innovative regions and to establish a pan-European investors' fund. So that we can grow inside Europe.
But it seems there are many more barriers than opportunities on the European market.
The fragmentation of Europe makes the penetration to market harder. However, on average Europe still has the highest GDP in the world, which means that the potential of this market is extraordinary. Even though we call the EU a single market, it is in fact far from that. We have 28 countries (with over 300 regions), exactly that many legislations and different funds of the European money, which all brings barriers as well. If companies saw Europe as the largest market in the world, they would definitely make different decisions. For this reason, we act as integrators of investors, the investors of the development of initial ideas as well as initiators of mechanisms which would help established companies grow.
Is know-how an absolutely most important driver of the economic development?
Yes, by all means. We focus our attention only to knowledge intensive companies. The research entitled Vital 6 % shows that only 6 percent of fast growing companies create as much as half of new jobs. When you look at those numbers, it is clear that each region which wants to be innovative and strives for a high quality of living and services, urgently needs such companies.
However, it seems that the hardest step in entrepreneurship is precisely building a bridge between innovation and market success. How can one effectively build that bridge?
From many sides. For sure, one has to be familiar with the whole picture of the decision makers in processes which lead to market success. But, in the first place, most of it depends on the entrepreneur. Since we believe in this, we focus a lot of work to entrepreneurial culture in each region where we operate. We want a society to recognize the influence of good entrepreneurship; this doesn't exist yet. This is the first building block of that bridge. Then there are researchers who have to understand that a lot of public money goes into their work and that they should produce something which would benefit the society.
How do you recognize a good business opportunity? How does an idea or a company convince you to invest in it?
I am definitely convinced by a niche in which the company operates. I am not convinced by an entrepreneur who says that they are growing 10 percent per year. I am interested primarily to see if he understands why he is growing, what brought him to that point, does he understand his customers, their needs and does he understand specifics, opportunities and challenges of his product. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who succeed to surround themselves with the best human and other resources and to nurture and keep them. And this skill is by no means related to money, but rather to the idea they "infect" others with.
But money still plays an important role when penetrating (wider) market?
Of course, it is always very important and it is one of the key indicators of seriousness. You know the proverb which says "Put your money where your mouth is!". We can talk a lot about the development of entrepreneurship theoretically, but when you start investing you really do something. Networks of investors are useful from many aspects. Even if you as an entrepreneur with the idea are capable of finding some money, the question is what the quality of that money is. There are organizations and even investors who offer money, but they don't know how to help effectively use that money and develop a company. Therefore, it is important not to work alone, but to connect. The latter applies both to investors as well as to entrepreneurs who seek money.
Many attribute extraordinary hard work and creativity to Slovenians, but also lack of courage. At least a little bit of the latter is necessary to penetrate foreign markets. How do you see us?
I think you are excellent at balancing intelligence and creativity in a very rare way, while you are at the same time capable of effectively communicating with people. However, I think you could sometimes be more courageous and convinced about your own capabilities. In general I think that among Slovenians there is still an unjustified feeling of inferiority, which has been slowly disappearing, especially with new generations which are educated, have international experience and are more self-confident per se.
Self-confidence is a strong characteristic of the generation Y, those born in the 80' and 90' of the last century. Do you think that with the rise of this generation the new era of entrepreneurship is coming?
Absolutely. My optimism regarding the future of Europe comes from the generation Y. I know them well as I work with them a lot. However, I am afraid they will not have enough time for changing Europe. The European Union is a political and economic mastodon, where changes are taking place incredibly slowly. The conditions which the European Union is offering to young generations wishing to change things, are so tough that I am afraid fear of failure will win over the optimism they are demonstrating today. I also believe that the generation of today's 30 years old doesn't look for solutions from necessity, but rather from desire. If there are too many barriers, they can despair as they are motivated by desire and ambition.
Download and read the PDF version of the interview with Luigi Amati in English, or in Slovenian.