Business school clubs come in all shapes and sizes, MIP Politecnico di Milano Entrepreneurship and Innovation club is no exception. With a mixture of participants varying from students, alumni, entrepreneurs and business angels, this is truly a club that mimics a real-life business situation! We caught up with the clubs founder, Roberto Sapio, who explained how it all works…
Tell me about your club?
“InnoVitamins (or InnoVits) stands for vitamins for innovation. I invented developed this process together with the MIP Politecnico di Milano. InnoVits’ aim is to support innovative business ideas and young entrepreneurs, providing them professional instruments and business opportunity. It is a non-profit organization.”
How does it work?
“Every year, the MBA class is involved in producing a business plan from start to finish. The business plan process is compulsory and it gives students the chance to bring ideas to life and use theory in a practical exercise.”
What’s the first step?
“Students, club members and external entrepreneurs all come up with ideas, they simply need to submit their ideas via a form on the website, using a maximum of 5 pages. There is no restriction of sectors; the product/idea/plan can be about anything from high-tech to biotech and the idea can be at any stage of development, from just an idea to a fully fledged start-up company.”
“We (the club) then select 10 -12 ideas, and assign each a team of 4-5 students. This year we had to pick from 35-40 ideas and we selected 10. “
What is the selection criteria?
“The ideas are selected based on 3 categories: Innovation, team skills and feasibility. If you have an idea that requires a team, you have certain skills, if you have achieved a patent for your idea, or you already have a proof of concept then you’ll have an advantage. The innovation category is easier to judge – what are you promoting, product/service/b-model? It’s either innovative or it’s not!"
“For each idea we selected we associate a group of MBA studnts ( 4-5 members). Each group has an intermediate evaluation meeting in order to support them to structure the idea and create the full business plan, helping with all aspects e.g. from financial planning to market research. We also provide the students with project coaches and mentors (one per group). Our coaches are a group of 20 – 25 people all from different sectors with varied skills and expertise belonging to MIP Politecnico di Milano Alumni."
"The coaches meet with the entrepreneur & student teams and work together on the business plan. At the end of the process, which starts in September finishes in March, the aim is to have achieved 10 complete business proposals. All InnoVits activity is aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in developing a feasible business plan, challenging them to question and clarify all issues in order to make the business model reliable."
"Entrepreneurs and students from the 10 teams will then go through another selection step made by the InnoVits management board aimed at selecting the best business proposal. Only 4 max 5 ideas then will be presented a the final event, where the most innovative idea will be selected. Those selected entrepreneurs and students in the final event will present their ideas in a business pitch (maximum of 10 minutes) in front of a group of business angels and venture capitalists selected from InnoVits, who can challenge the entrepreneurs within a Q&A session."
“The finalist is then chosen by the business angel directly. This year, they’ve already had follow-up from the business angel and a business plan will probably receive an investment.”
"Afterwards, entrepreneurs, students and investors have further network opportunities during an “aperitivo” that allows people to get in touch. So we have created the right channel and the right network for them – an opportunity!”
How many club members do you have?
“There are 5 of us in the core team that run the club, the ‘management board’.
Roberto Sapio , president, Stefano Mizio and Nicola De Zolt ( selection and coaching), Alberto Monterosso and Simona Fiori (communication and events)."
"On top of that we have coaches – 20 – 25 technically skilled people belonging to MIP Alumni) and finally theirs the students and general club members about 150 in total!”
Why would someone join the club?
“It’s very interesting and motivating to be part of a non-profit activity and work with young entrepreneurs. It provides an opportunity to get in touch with students, alumni and investors so it’s very good for networking from a professional point of view."
"InnoVits is open to everyone, but if you join the club, especially in the management board, you have to work hard…it isn’t easy and you will need to earn your place in club."
"Both students and alumni you can be a member of the club. Based on your background you will be assigned a task. E.g. someone with experience as a marketing manager would be assigned to work in that area."
"Finally, it’s all about diversity! Entrepreneurs have the unique opportunity to interact with an MBA class with so many nationalities and industry backgrounds, while student can empower their entrepreneurial spirits being part of new entrepreneurial ideas.
Sometime students want just to fill in the business plan report, without having a complete understanding of the business model and value proposition. At InnoVits it’s not possible, student have to sweat to help start new ideas– it’s real life!”
What is the biggest perk of running the club?
“Well it’s not for money! Within the group there is a good social life and a passion to create innovation. I get to meet people that share my ideas, and I can stay immersed in a open community of people who support me and can give me feedback.”
What is or has been the biggest challenge for your club so far?
“Intercultural interaction is difficult sometimes. You have entrepreneurs who think that their own idea is beautiful and amazing, but often the students see the business plan and pick holes in it. Sometimes when the entrepreneurs are very skilled technically and focused on technical features they can’t see the business model/marketing as easily."
"So it’s difficult sometimes to keep everyone (students and entrepreneurs) aligned."
"For example this year we had an umbrella that was made by plastic in an innovative way that speeded up the process of assembly, the entrepreneur even had a patent on it! The entrepreneur was keen to promote it as a low price cheap product. During the business planning session, it was suggested that it was possible to assemble the product at the same speed, but using different colours. The students had found a new ‘fashion product’ which could be marketed at a higher price as a luxury item. The entrepreneurs were not keen to take the advice initially, fixed on their specific idea, so they needed to be convinced that based on the new margins the new luxury fashion product would do better.”
Please tell us about your personal background?
“I did my Masters degree in Organic Chemistry, and spent three years as a Scientist at CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche) , where I’ve worked on new active ingredients against rare diseases like neuroblastoma, a rare childhood cancer and other pharmaceuticals areas."
"In 2005, I created a spin-off company called Bionucleon – leveraging on the fact that the molecule that we were working on could be used as an active ingredient in drugs. So from 2005 – 2009 I was the CEO of my own company, with 15 people working on the project till the pre-clinical phase. We got to the final phases, most small bio-tech firms are unable to get past the first phase, it’s a very expensive process. “
Is there anything else you'd like to share with the global b-school community?
“The club is always looking for interest from new business angels and funds that are looking for interesting start-ups, new ideas and business plans to invest in. If you’re interested then please get in touch! – ad majora”