Event Review: Artificial Intelligence and the entrepreneurial applications
Mike Giuseppe
23/03/2022

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When you talk about AI, everybody listens. Together with Metaverse, it might be the theme with the most hype in the entrepreneurship world. With this curiosity to AI, a few weeks ago we have invited three CEOs of AI startups founded in Milan to get insights about what it feels to be a startuper in the Artificial Intelligence world. The event was moderated by Prof. Gianluca Salviotti and the Startups invited were Alba, Q/A, and ClearBox.  

 

At first, everybody presented their businesses and their ideas: Alba´s CEO, Andrea Segato, explained how he uses AI to program autonomous driving for wheelchairs, while Jacopo Piana, CEO of Q/A, and Shalina Kurapati, CEO of ClearBox, explained how they use AI to improve asset performance and produce synthetic data, respectively.

 

After having broken the ice, the discussion became more animated and many interesting points have been expressed, relatable to every startuper and not only for the ones who work in AI.

 

Furthermore, the theme in which everybody vigorously agreed was the necessity for a CEO to be flexible and being ready to pivot if necessary. The discussion was ignited by Andrea who said, “Flexibility is very important, it is estimated that successful startups change ideas on average twelve to fifteen times”, a data that looked coherent with Shalila´s history, who said, “We started with an idea and changed plan on the road many times, only after two and a half years, we had understood what a niche market was.” 

 

The general idea behind this discussion was that in extremely dynamic fields such as AI, the context changes continuously and there are many variables you simply cannot control or prevent. Therefore, it is impossible to think you can have a static strategy to success. This makes flexibility not only good but even necessary. In fact, “Flexibility is so important that I am usually diffident towards startups who still have not changed ideas” Jacopo said.

 

Another object of debate has been the necessity of educating the client, which in our CEOs case are firms considering all three startups are working B2B. What usually happens in AI is that clients have sky-high expectations due to the hype but have very little competences to understand what AI is and for what it can be used for. Hence, you can end up trying to sell your product to an entrepreneur or manager who do not understand how AI can solve their problems and, more importantly, how the products and services offered by the startup might be useful. From this point of view, it is important to educate the client, engage in good relationships, and explain point by point how the product might help him.

 

At the same time, someone should not exaggerate in focusing on educating the client as Jacopo said, “Educating the client is good but it should not be the primary focus of the firm.  It is always better to deal with clients that know what you are talking about or at least have a basic knowledge of what you are offering.”

This suggestion is as true in AI as in any other innovative field: educating the client is crucial but at the first stage, it is better to focus on early adopters or at least on someone who understands what you are offering.

 

In the end, many other interesting points have been made, from the importance of being intrinsically motivated by a mission and not money or fame, to how Italian investors tend to have a more conservative approach than American ones, and finally to more technical issues such as what synthetic data is. But surely, we have understood something: AI is a very dynamic and innovative field and the competences to thrive in this world are as much technical as they are entrepreneurial, making AI a great possible career opportunity for economic students such as ourselves, a point that has been made very clear by our CEOs.