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MBA Launches Two Artificial Intelligence Startups After Business School

For Alessandro Vitale, an MBA from MIP Politecnico Di Milano opened all the doors he needed to start his journey into AI

Wed Oct 18 2017

“The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.”

So said William Gibson, the American-Canadian writer credited with coining Sci-Fi sub-genre, cyberpunk.

Indeed, for MIP Politecnico di Milano (MIP) MBA Alessandro Vitale, this quote is the cornerstone of everything he pursues at Optimist AI and Conversate, the two artificial intelligence (AI) companies he founded after his MBA. And, just like the author he admires, he used technology to tap into the future of industry.

“Given my experience at Siemens, everything I learned during my MBA, and my knowledge of AI, I decided to quit my corporate job and invest in artificial intelligence,” he says.

“I knew it would be very important so I decided to start in 2010, maybe one or two years ahead of time, before AI became a hot topic.”

AI is endemic to the future, and enrolment on MIP’s MBA program helped secure Alessandro’s own future too. Integral to the success of his own business ventures is the knowledge he imbibed at Siemens, and the role his MBA education played in getting him there.  

“I had an interest in both finance and technology, and MIP Politecnico di Milano is the most important engineering university in Italy. So it was the best choice for me, and I ended up with a well-rounded knowledge of financial business and engineering.

“The MBA opened the first door for me. Siemens asked for an MBA student from MIP at the end of our program. So, although they were actively looking for this kind of personnel, a large part of me succeeding was the education.”

After heading the strategic planning team for Siemens Italy, Alessandro led the business development team for Siemens South West Europe for two years. It was while there that an itching desire to enter the world of artificial intelligence began to cultivate.

“While working on statistics at Siemens, I saw the rise of companies like Google and Amazon, how they were having success using AI. So, I integrated the skills I learned at university into my work, and my experience on the MBA program helped me manage all the other details needed for a company—financials, cash flow, balance sheets.”

But, for Alessandro, this was merely dipping his toes in the water. The allure of AI and the role it will play in the future of industry binds him to his work.

“I think AI is going to be totally transformative. I think it will have the same impact electricity had when it was invented,” he gleams.

“I have the privilege of a background in technology and business. My technical side was very good, but it was the business and organizational side I found harder. The soft skills linked to management are what I was taught during the MBA, and this really helped me.”

The MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano taught Alessandro to combine his passion for artificial intelligence with a business strategy that would reap every last reward out of Optimist AI and Conversate. And, he thinks the combination could unleash the potential of companies the world over.

“There is so much tech available, but what is keeping companies from really exploiting it is the ability to combine organizational culture with technological processes, and to build new skills internally. One of the reasons we do well as a key player in the field is because we are also able to adapt technology to help organizations make the most of it.”

After founding big data and predictive analytics company Optimist AI, in September 2010, Alessandro went looking for potential investors for the fresh business venture he started last year.

“Last year, I went to London and I got into an incubator called Entrepreneur First, the most important incubator for artificial intelligence in Europe. With that, I created Conversate, a natural language understanding platform that creates chatbots and conversational interfaces to help people communicate across borders.”

Whereas the talk of technology comes naturally, it is clear that the knowledge inscribed on him during his MBA at MIP emboldens Alessandro in his work.

“I think there is very much to do in terms of adoption. Other companies are doing one percent of what they could do with AI, so there is a lot of work to do to help them adapt and see the benefits.

“If you are able to understand technology but also have the point of view of the companies, then you can help them develop a lot more than they are at the moment.”