The new MTB adding a seed fund and international expansion

Jan 04, 2013 1152

When I set off to start MTB back in 2007 I had a clear objective in mind. I wanted to contribute to the country that educated me, fed me awesomely, and provided me with a unique perspective. How? By gathering and sharing the knowledge of the fortunate few who have had entrepreneurial success and by inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs. With its business plan competitions, symposiums and conferences, Mind the Bridge has laid the foundation for a 21st century entrepreneurial ecosystem in Italy.

Fast forward 5 years, the perception of opportunities for the young and creative has radically changed. For the better. "Startup" is now firmly in the lexicon of politicians, policy makers and the media. The idea of "Creating your own job" has become fascinating and desirable, not just a necessity. I'd like to think that our activities during the last five years have contributed to this change in attitude and perception (even the President of Italy shared his kind words of support for what we've been doing).

Without being too immodest, I think that we can claim that we succeeded in what we initially set out to do.

But our work is not done. For this positive change in attitude to have long-lasting impact, we need to create substantial success stories in this generation. These success stories will be created when we marry great entrepreneurial ideas with financial capital. This is the main reason why we decided to add an investing arm to our activities. Mind the Seed (MTS) is a recently-launched, US-based seed venture capital fund, whose aim is to invest in the best ventures that go through our Mind the Bridge programs. With MTS we will have an on-going link to the MtB "graduates", participating financially and strategically in their success.

As any other VC fund, we have to generate financial returns for our investors. While the activities of Mind the Bridge were (and are) philanthropic, Mind the Seed is a for-profit enterprise. We expect to be the first VC money into our portfolio companies. We plan to deploy our capital mostly to companies MtB accelerates, but we may occasionally invest opportunistically in other start-ups. MTS and its management company were set up a few months ago and are now fully operational.

A second important element of our evolution is an expansion of our focus beyond Italy. We think that our experiences during these last 5 years in Italy could be used to cross-pollinate other economies facing similar challenges. We'll focus first on other stressed economies in the Mediterranean area, namely Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Why? 2 main reasons:

First, history proves that times of economic dislocation are the best times to start new ventures: clarity comes from scarcity (motto that I learned from Larry Page).
Second, while in Silicon Valley competition and scarcity are driving engineering talent cost to the roof while Italy, Spain, Greece are rich in engineering talent at a fraction of the cost with equal (if not better) skills.

Our goal is to harness this potential and help launch globally-minded companies with the business leadership team and marketing functions in Silicon Valley but the development elsewhere. We believe this is an under-exploited approach which positions us well to access unique start-ups at fair valuations. Other successful accelerators, such as YCombinator and 500Startups, are starting only now to search for talent outside the U.S. Our past experience at MtB in identifying, screening, and "importing", non-US entrepreneurs gives MTS a leg up in deal sourcing.

Being an effective strategic advisor to an emigrating, international founder is not something you can improvise. Here are a few examples of what we do: we incorporate the new U.S. entity based on the visa options available to the founders and transfer the IP. We have the best immigration lawyers on hand to review each case and we have included a business language school in our incubator. In addition, we match our incubated startups 1:1 to dedicated mentors to make their landing in Silicon Valley as effective as possible.

We are confident we can play a pivotal role in being the bridge to Silicon Valley for outstanding global talent. We'll continue to have the most relevant early stage deal flow from Italy and will work actively to generate and promote similar activities in several other geographies. We already have established plans and partnerships (soon to be announced) in Spain, Greece, Lebanon and Slovenia. In other words, one side of the bridge will continue to be Silicon Valley but the other end will have multiple on-ramps. Italy lane will be the larger in the immediate future, but we are confident to widespread the Mind the Bridge model all over the Mediterranean Sea.

In the last 5 years, we grew from an idea and a one-man-band into an awesome international team, supported by a kick-ass board of directors and excellent set of mentors.

If we can be as successful with our acceleration program and our Mind the Seed venture fund as we were with our early activities at Mind the Bridge, we will have built something truly unique with long-lasting impact.

by Marco Marinucci

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