Our CEO, Geert Desager, recently addressed the tech startup community in the Mediterranean at the Zest event in Malta, held on the 19th and 20th of September (1). His presentation set out to debunk seven commonly held beliefs about innovation and offered alternative lessons based on facts. This event attracted over four hundred attendees from the tech startup community in the Mediterranean, including entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators, and corporations.
The panelists kicked off the day with a vibrant discussion about disruption and how new technologies will transform businesses and society at large. Blockchain was at the heart of the debates (2). This technology allows the registration of anything of value such as money, stocks, healthcare records, or identities on a distributed ledger. It has the potential to disrupt nearly every industry, changing the way business transactions are performed.
#1 Great ideas are never too small for Malta
Hon. Silvio Schembri, Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, noted that Malta is well positioned to take advantage of the current disruptive environment driven by tech startups. Great ideas are never too small for Malta! The Government has worked tirelessly to kick-start a startup ecosystem. As a testament to this, it has recently approved a blockchain strategy, making Malta one of the first countries to embrace such a disruptive technology (4).
#2 AI can be friendly
Dr Abdalla Kablan, CEO of Amico.AI, talked about the current state of blockchain and artificial intelligence (3). He explained why blockchain will deliver friendly AI: combining the two technologies allows for the secure and transparent review of data manipulated by robots. He introduced Amico, an AI friend that chatted with delegates throughout the conference.
#3 Take actions now
Geert Desager, CEO of Needle, challenged the notion that digital transformation brings uncertainty. We are tempted to listen to self-proclaimed gurus making “bold” predictions. But we are so damn bad at predicting the future. Far too much of what we know about innovation is not based on facts at all. Geert shared lessons gathered from over 300 companies to dispel the myths and expose the reality of transformation. There is one rule that we are sure of: the more you try the more chance you have to succeed (5). Innovation is about action, not words!
#4 Focus on supply to scale
Joe Haslam, Executive Director of the Owners Scaleup Program, noted that the founders that we revere are famous not because they started but because they scaled. Many successful startups remain quite small. Scaling is completely different to starting up. One of the biggest errors a startup can make is premature scaling. The result is an over-promise and under-deliver scenario that’s hard to recover from. An added emphasis on operations is a key part of scaling. Whereas startups excel in generating demand, operations will help ensure you have the supply to match it (6).
#5 Consider the exit from day 1
Angelo Dalli, CEO of Bit8, tackled an often-overlooked aspect by entrepreneurs setting up new companies: the exit. He shared is 15 years experience in setting up companies and successfully exiting them, including both private exits and public IPOs (7). Unsurprisingly, he does not recommend bankruptcy and liquidation. In contrast, Merger & Acquisition (M&A) is a win-win situation when bordering companies have complementary skills, and can save resources by combining. Initial Public Offerings (IPO) are extremely difficult for startups: shareholders are demanding, and liability concerns are high.
Zest Malta really lived up to its reputation of being one of the biggest startup events in the Mediterranean region. For two days, we learned from the world’s most exciting leaders and disrupters on all aspects of technology and entrepreneurship. The next innovation event will be the Malta Innovation Summit on 13 October 2017 in St Julians (8).