Scaling Successful Enterprises Through Transatlantic Exchange
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“Indicate whether or not you have a passport and if so, provide the document’s expiration date,” read the YTILI application instructions. As I was going over the document last year, I clearly remember thinking something along the lines of “There’s no way they are going to select me for the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative. Chances are I’ll get to postpone the whole business of requesting my passport once again.”
That is right; up until the U.S. part of the YTILI experience, I had only travelled to other European countries, I had never sat on a plane for more than a couple of hours, and I had not realized how much an international experience could impact on one’s personal and professional life.
As it turns out, I did become one of the Italian YTILI fellows 2018, which immediately projected me and my venture into a completely new dimension. And how quickly this would happen was clear from the very beginning of this incredible adventure. It is not every day that you get to be in the same room with dozens of entrepreneurs from all over Europe as well as experienced American mentors and institutional sponsors such as the German Marshall Fund and the State Department. The Lisbon opening summit in June had already given me important hints this would not be an ordinary experience.
MYSPOT, the startup I co-founded and which I was looking forward to bringing into the YTILI network, is a smart-working platform that allows freelancers as well as small and medium business and corporate employees to identify, book, and access the best place for their work activities. We created MYSPOT because we firmly believe that rethinking the concept of workspaces can improve the quality of working life while significantly contributing to a business’ growth. We are confident that smart-working stimulates creativity and engagement in the workforce, and that the use of the right technology is crucial to implementing such important changes. And being in the United States, the very place where smart-working measures were pioneered, I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity to explore a business environment where these practices are already consolidated.
So the actual trip to the United States – from Rome to Charlotte, North Carolina and then on to Phoenix, Arizona – took place after a careful, intense planning process. As our coaches and mentors from the YTILI program had emphasized in the months prior to the U.S. experience, organizing our time in the host city was key to a successful and fruitful outcome of the fellowship.
Phoenix welcomed us with such warmth (literally!) that despite the long journey, the jetlag, and the strange feeling of sudden awareness that I had actually just crossed the Atlantic Ocean, the other fellows and I were very excited to start our adventure by visiting the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation and meet with its vibrant community of entrepreneurs. Thanks to my mentor, Jenny Poon, on the same day I was able to visit Co+Hoots, the largest coworking community in Arizona, which helps entrepreneurs scale through their beautiful collaborative workspace and their extraordinary community, something that is still not that easy to find in Europe, let alone Italy. CoVibe, which I learnt all about during a meeting with its co-founder Kate Rogers at Co+Hoots, is another example of a successful business network I experienced and that inspired many new ideas.
At the Arizona Commerce Authority we were presented with interesting perspectives on how to found and scale successful enterprises, before receiving insights at the Better Business Bureau on the idea of an “ethical marketplace,” where buyers and sellers can trust each other. Then the visit to Hera Hub – the first international female-focused coworking space and business accelerator – and the meeting with its founder Shatha Barbour confirmed my belief that networking, especially when it happens in a multicultural environment – is essential to a company’s growth, as it is for the professional and personal development of every human being.
As complicated as it seemed, given the extremely tight schedule of meetings in Phoenix, we managed to put the necessary effort into finalizing our presentations in view of the pitch competition, which was going to be the closing event for our experience in Arizona. I knew that it was important to get feedback from mentors, other fellows, and new acquaintances I had just made while exploring Phoenix's lively business environment, so I took advantage of the fact that I was lucky enough to be surrounded by so many interesting people on those particular days. And it is thanks to the conversations and the exchange of views with such incredible entrepreneurs that I was able to build what I believe is the best version of MYSPOT’s presentation so far.
Then we even got to take a walk in the Arizona desert, right before hopping a flight to Washington, DC to re-connect with the larger group of YTILI fellows from over 42 countries and mentors, GMF staff and State Department officials (including the secretary of state!). On our last day, the other Italian fellows and I were invited to the Italian embassy, where we met with a representative from the Economic and Commercial office and had the opportunity to tell her about our ventures and to underline how exchange programs such as the YTILI are powerful tools that strengthen the ties between our two continents and provide young entrepreneurs with resources that are very likely to change their perspective and will undoubtedly change their lives. The perfect closing for an incredible trip.
But the adventure is not over: my mentor and I applied for and were accepted to participate in the Transatlantic Dialogue, the reverse-exchange program that will allow her to bring her expertise to Italy and will certainly help our collaboration. The connections made thanks to the YTILI program have already initiated several collaborations (especially with other European fellows and their networks). I learned so much from fellow entrepreneurs with a similar background and aspirations as mine and from innovators whose focus is completely different from MYSPOT’s goals. I can only say that the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative is a once in a lifetime opportunity everyone should pursue.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.