Open your mind and be curious: Tommaso D’Onofrio’s advice

Tommaso D’Onofrio, an innovation expert and strategic consultant, proved to be a high-level and interesting interlocutor, both during the public session and in the private conversation with SEIUNISA Innovators, to whom he conveyed his enthusiasm and vision. Dr. D’Onofrio focused on different possible investment activities and his role as Managing Director of Demetra Holding and Senior Advisor of Incibum Lab.

Face to face with Tommaso D’Onofrio

To date only eleven countries in the European Union have introduced regulation for crowdfunding, and this regulation in any case has not covered all types of crowdfunding. In Italy, for example, only the equity model has been regulated. What is this due to?

What requires regulation was precisely equity crowdfunding, because it presupposes an exchange of money for corporate interests. When I exchange money for corporate shares, in fact what I am doing is a solicitation of public savings, which may constitute a crime; therefore, in the absence of legislation I could not provide for such an exchange.

Crowdfunding was born thanks to the web, so it is evident how technological progress has also impacted forms of funding. In the future, what emerging technologies might impact forms of financing?

The two tracks are those of tokens and cryptocurrencies. Something is already happening because there are platforms already working with such models, however, it is clear that the track is increasingly that of dematerializing things. It is recent, in the latest decree, that shares in S.R.L.’s can be dematerialized, which greatly facilitates crowdfunding operations. The next frontier is making all operations less and less hardware and more software.

Can scouting from university literature or patent managers to retrieve good ideas be a good strategy?

Open your mind and look out the window. Patents are archived in public databases where one can find interesting things, in fact, I personally read several articles in the evening on specialized search portals to retrieve interesting information on technologies of my interest. In addition, there are several specialized consulting firms that provide databases that try to predict the market based on innovations, patents, and technologies being developed.

Curiosity is a key word in this context. Being open and proactive in looking for sources of inspiration outside of one’s field or target industry can lead to surprising discoveries and new business opportunities.

Strategic wakefulness, that is, always being on guard and seizing the opportunities of anticipatory signals coming from the market, is crucial, often it is the weak signals that generate the disruptive moment; therefore, it is important to be ready to seize the opportunities.”

Another immeasurable advantage available to us is the Web; with the enormous amount of information available online, one can delve deeper and search for sources of inspiration quickly and efficiently.

Delve deeper, be curious!

What advice do you give to a team like ours that has an innovative idea but has not yet formed a startup?

The Mentoring I can give you is: don’t shyly express your thoughts, don’t underestimate your ideas, my advice is go ahead with your team and your project, you may find that similar solutions already exist, but only by going ahead will you know.

The key word is “commitment,” you have to continue with determination and dedication while always being aware of the risks you are taking.

Being a startupper is a dream and as such it opens one’s life and mind, but one should never forget to be self-sustaining in life, one does not live by dreams alone, one must strike the right balance between expectation, which makes us alive, and self-sustainability.

Another piece of advice I can give you is that when a startup is launched, “speed” is key: if the project sits idle for a long period of time and if it does not take off in a defined time frame, it is possible that it is either extraordinarily ahead of its historical context, or it is not innovation, and in either case the market does not have a latent need satisfied by that particular product.”

How to approach the constant change?

Change is not just the transition from public to private or from one company to another. It is a question of repositioning, of our repositioning, it is an opportunity, not a critical issue but there is a need to know how to manage it.

I have the need to think, “What has this change entailed?”

It is as if I do an internal ‘SWOT analysis, even at the corporate level you grow through change since it is value and I cannot hinder it. If a change is coming I cannot oppose it, but I have to prepare to accompany it, otherwise it will be a losing race from the start, examples from the past years are the EU directive on HACCP or the EU privacy regulation (GDPR), companies knew these were regulations that were coming, but many (too many) arrived unprepared. We need to study and understand what is around us; knowledge is another core value for change.”

What role has emotional intelligence played and does it play in your experience?

If not used in the right way, it risks being hindering, limiting. If managed in the right way it is a core value, it is also a factor that comes into play in the character affinities of the team of which one is a part, affinities that I can govern through an emotional management model that is consistent with the team of which I am a part. The important thing is to be able to work at something we enjoy doing, because this leads to having a capacity, an emotionality, a value to our life, far greater than when there is no emotional involvement. Chemical imprinting in brain storage occurs through an emotion, is able to make people remember and generate emotional stories, this has fundamental value.

When did you really become aware of your own value?

Still working on it. This is a very difficult question because it is about the balance between humility and conceit, which is a thing of infinite difficulty. Presumption is the worst thing there can be, so you must never be presumptuous, because you learn from the other and you exist because of the other. When I do training I come out better than when I went in, precisely because of the confrontation I had. If I start already with certainty, I have no comparison. I did not have the answers when you asked me the questions; I generated them because of your questions. It is right that humility should be there, but on the other hand there should not be submissiveness. You have to believe in yourself if you know.

My father used to say, “Little if I evaluate myself, much if I compare myself.” It was a form of presumption really, but it serves to say that you are positioned in a world and you need to know the perimeter of your skills and abilities and, among them, the ability to relate to others. You should never be afraid of that, because if you do not have vision of your perimeter positioning you will be absorbed by others.

It is okay to be humble and not cocky, but how do you, if you have a tendency to be submissive when working in a team stand up for yourself and improve your self-esteem?

The psychologist, Eric Berne, states that given one transaction I must receive another because we are relational beings, where the transaction can be any communicative action/act, such as a greeting for example; therefore, a first fundamental element is to be able to be transactional with others since communication is a fundamental element for life.

In the transactional analysis developed by the aforementioned psychologist, there are three ego states; parent, adult and child which are operationally defined as a set of consistent types of behaviors that each person has within him/herself and which may sometimes clash with those of others.

This analysis makes it possible to understand that disagreements within a work team are often not caused by immaturity but by a transactional inability to be consistent,” that is, to use “aligned ego states during communication and thus to be able to work on these aspects so that the team can be managed.”

Noting this, one can move on to the instrumental use of the ego phases; in fact, “being aware of these dynamics allows one to harness them and communicate effectively, building a perimeter of one’s self.”

Have you ever had the experience of rejecting a startup that later became successful? How do you assess the potential of a business idea and decide whether or not to invest? What are the criteria you use to give startup founders confidence?

I happened not to select startups that later turned out to be successful. It is completely normal and one should not get upset when this happens.

To evaluate a startup there are four key elements:

  1. The team: it is crucial because it is the people who have to carry the company forward every day.
  1. The idea: it is a basic prerequisite and must be good, but if the right people are not there, you will go nowhere.
  1. Patentability: the idea must be valid and innovative, but also patentable to prevent others from copying it. Software is difficult to patent, so you have to file the algorithm in SIAE and hope that will be enough.
  1. Speed: Another important element is the speed of reaching the market and becoming a standard. Facebook, for example, is not complicated technically, but it won because it was the first to grow so much.
What are the main challenges you face as CEO? How do you handle possible conflicts with the CDA when you have a different view from theirs?

Being CEO means having specific authority from the Board of Directors to perform certain actions. This delegation is based on the trust the CDA places in the CEO and his or her expertise. The CEO can act independently within the limits of the delegation of authority, but is still accountable to the BoD for his or her decisions. Then there are some acts that require mandatory CDA approval, such as the budget. In essence, the challenges for a CEO are daily, but with humility, experience, and vision it is possible to meet them effectively and with successful results every time.

Who is Tommaso D’Onofrio

An Innovation Expert and Strategic Consultant with a Long International Career. Tommaso D’Onofrio holds a degree in Economics with executive training in private equity from the prestigious London Business School, is an innovation expert and strategic consultant with more than 25 years of experience in different areas of the business world. In addition to being a mentor and business angel to start-ups and scale-ups, D’Onofrio has extensive and cross-functional experience in strategic consulting in business planning, corporate finance and corporate compliance. In recent years, D’Onofrio has evaluated numerous innovation projects on behalf of the European Commission, holding companies, alternative finance platforms, incubators and accelerators. His experience in this field has been consolidated through the publication of books and articles both nationally and internationally.

Edited by:

Salvatore, Pier Paolo, Andrea, Ilaria, Gennaro Pio, Luciana