When technological advancements hit the market every day, entrepreneurs need to stay two steps ahead.
While today's world seems like the perfect environment for new innovations and inventions to flourish, many startups and entrepreneurs are still struggling to establish themselves in the market. Experts say that the reason for this lies in the fact that new businesses place too much focus on the current landscape. According to our guest Andrea Cinelli, a successful startup needs not just funding but comprehensive research and trend predictions for at least the next few years.
We sat down with Andrea Cinelli, CEO & Founder of FoolFarm – a company that is one of the biggest AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity venture builders, to discuss the future of technology and the problems that new businesses face today. Andrea believes that keeping up with the market trends and needs is key to building a successful product.
How did the idea of FoolFarm come about? What has your journey been like?
I founded FoolFarm in 2020, in Milan, Italy, after my successful startup’s exit (Inventia.id), together with 30+ Italian and international business angels and CRIF – one of the largest global credit bureaus as the second shareholder. I started FoolFarm with a team of former founders and startuppers who are incredibly successful and with an impressive track record in the sectors in which we operate, like AI, Blockchain, and Cybersec.
We were in the middle of the first COVID-19 lockdown, it was around March 2020. I was wondering if launching a new startup could be a good idea. But I said to myself: “Andrea, you just created a Startup, and it was great”. So, we began creating a “Startup factory” – a platform for the birth, growth, and development of startups that can accelerate the growth and scale of a Startup from 3 to 5 times compared with traditional incubation and acceleration startup methods. After 12+ months, FoolFarm is one of the leading European Venture studios in the AI, Blockchain, and Cybersecurity sectors. Our strategic, technological, and financial platform of Venture Building is designed to create multiple Startups from scratch, based on a validated industrial process lasting 36 months and divided into 6 phases. Now, our company value surpasses €20 million, 4 times the 2020 first Aucap pre-money valuation. We also just did 2 super Startups: Voiceme and IIOplus published more than 4 patents. We are now the greatest AI, Blockchain, and Cybersec Startups factory in Italy and one of the largest in Europe.
Can you introduce us to what you do? What are the main challenges you help navigate?
At FoolFarm, we incubate and invest in deep-tech technology companies globally, providing deep operational support to entrepreneurs and corporates to help them build market-leading companies. Leveraging a 36 months long venture builder proprietary process named BeFOOL, we help build market-leading companies from scratch. Our extensive operational support team and methods aim to accelerate the growth of the ventures we partner with.
We have chosen the Venture Building model because we believe it is actually the best investment model to create more solid and successful startups without wasting talent. At the same time, it gives a guarantee to investors by offering solid selected investment opportunities, as confirmed by recent reports.
As you know, over 90% of Startups die, at least in Europe, in the first 5 years of their life. Often this happens due to lack of investments but even more often due to the market (i.e. no market need, this causes 62% of Startups to close down). There are also reasons like inadequacy of the team or the CEO, not protecting their ideas through patents, and finally, because they are unable to sell their product, or the product has gaps and is not complete. There is often a lack of knowledge, no preliminary analysis, and no preparation. Basically, there are no schools to become a startupper in Europe that would attract talent and offer them opportunities to sell the product.
Frequently we have founders who fall in love with their product and believe that it is the best in the world. Then, after wasting money, time, and talents they realize that it has no space in the market. At a Venture Builder like FoolFarm, this does not happen. We want to create strong startups, based on solid intellectual property (our motto is One Startup, One Patent), created with knowledge and reliable methods from the start, with solid and adequate management. If we see that the project is not going to work out, we don't waste our time trying to pursue it. We aim for a success rate of >70% in our practice. This model is about being able to lower and mitigate the startup’s risk of failure: it allows investors to approach the startup world with a new type of investment and diversification strategy, going beyond the classic diversification tactics. The startups coming out of studios have a unique composition and are always created around a patented technology. Because of this, the success of these startups is unprecedented. It’s a matter of fact that actually 84% of our startups coming out of the works go on to raise a seed round. Of those startups that make it to the seed round, 72% of those ventures make it from seed to Series A, compared to traditional startups, of which only 42% of ventures that get to seed make it to Series A. Ultimately, 60% of all companies created out of studios just make it to Series A. It is only a matter of time before investors see past a cap table that does not meet “standard” venture expectations and understand the innovative approach we take to start investing in our model. Our approach is achieving better results (30% better to be exact than traditional standard startup acceleration models) as we build repeatable processes, focus on specific expertise, and provide financial resources. This is why I founded FoolFarm and why it exists: to create a factory that releases more startups in parallel through a proprietary process and offers great investment opportunities for investors without wasting talents!
You list AI, blockchain, and cybersecurity as your main areas of focus. What was the idea behind this decision?
We are focused on frontier technologies in our sectors. Every year, we develop Startups on the basis of a profound analysis of the market. We try to predict the trends, and in our world, we usually plan trend scenarios 3 to 5 years before they even occur. For example, last year we explored technological areas, such as NLP/NLU and therefore the use of voice as a new tool and man-machine interface. Voiceme was born from this strategic decision, a Startup that aims to authenticate a person, authorize payments, and provide the opportunity to sign legal documents by using one’s voice. Talking about how IIO was born, it is a startup that basically is an Italian version of the Alexa and Google Assistant – a conversational system. Our product stands out from the market because it guarantees levels of privacy and personalization, and it also has the ability to recognize emotions.
Next year we will address issues surrounding the world of NFTs and in the world of security, we will work on Authentication Intelligence, AI-powered cybersecurity, and Network Digital Twins – a new security model based on the creation of mirror games aimed at protecting the networks, through the creation of dynamic clones of our networks. Alongside this, we will continue to explore the way of using data starting from one of our most important workhorses and patents: data pulverization and decentralized trustability systems. Every 3 months we analyze the prototypes and solutions that our researchers have developed in our laboratories, if they are valid we patent them and around them, we create a business model that is the result of careful market analysis. In the end, we will create a startup, it will be incubated for 36 months in our factory, and then we let it fly by itself.
How do you think the pandemic has affected the startup scene?
The pandemic has completely changed, or better I would say, accelerated trends, for example, the decentralization of work is creating endless new opportunities for solutions as well as enormous opportunities for those who want to undermine our security. Remote work may seem like a great idea but it exposes the company to enormous risks. For example, here in Italy, we had an incident where hackers managed to steal all health data (including those of politicians and top state auditors) by taking advantage of the computer of an employee who was working remotely. This example explains how decentralized access to work requires completely new security systems that would secure authentication, analysis, and access to data. This opens up infinite opportunities for the development of new business models that we are ready to seize by creating new startups that meet new needs.
In your opinion, what IT and cybersecurity details are often overlooked by new business owners?
One of the biggest mistakes that new entrepreneurs and large companies make nowadays is often that of thinking that they have understood the problem. We often think that we already have the solution and that we have understood the context in which the problem arose. But in a world where growth and evolution are becoming not only exponential but also combinatorial and recursive, thinking you know the context in which you find yourself is the greatest danger. The scenarios change rapidly thanks to the dramatic evolution of technologies such as AI and Q-Computing and the Blockchain. All in all, what you think you know today is already outdated tomorrow.
What predictions do you have for blockchain technology for the upcoming years?
Blockchain technology has made significant strides in its development and widespread adoption in recent years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. In fact, according to Deloitte's 2021 Global Blockchain development Survey, almost 76% of executives surveyed said they expect digital assets to be a solid alternative to fiat currencies for global finance in the next 5–10 years. That means it’s time to prepare for a financial and social revolution that will change how we process transactions, manage data and deliver services.
Unfortunately, blockchain is still not widely or systematically understood. We know it as the technology powering cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. But this is far from its only application – and many people don't realize exactly how blockchain can help them, their company, or even society at large. The possibilities of blockchain technology are truly endless, and developments in recent years have taken us one step closer to a decentralized, trustless internet, transparency of transactions, and more.
Here are some predictions I have. First of all, let's consider NFTs. NFTs are a revolutionary new way of buying and selling digital assets that represent real-world items. All NFTs are unique and can’t be replaced or swapped – they can only be purchased, sold, traded, or given away by the original owner/creator of that asset. NFTs could power a whole new wave of digital collectibles, from rare artwork to one-of-a-kind sneakers and accessories. They could also be used as items in video games or other virtual worlds. The possibilities for NFTs are endless – and these tokens will likely have a significant impact on the future of digital ownership, especially in connection with the Metaverse's evolution. Secondly, let's consider the use of blockchain for faster transactions. Due to the secured & decentralized nature of blockchain technology, it’s incredibly difficult (if not impossible) for hackers or nefarious parties to tamper with transactions. Blockchain-verified data is highly secure and trustworthy, meaning transactions can be processed much faster than in today's world without compromising security. It has been predicted that blockchain technology will experience a boost in popularity among finance professionals, with 66% of banks expecting to have blockchain solutions in production within the next three years.
Moreover, the future of blockchain in finance also brings us opportunities to process transactions 24/7. Without being interrupted by banking hours, the technology could enable businesses, governments, and consumers to carry out transactions anytime, anywhere.
I also want to mention smart contracts. “Smart contracts” are another possibility brought about by blockchain – the idea is that contracts will execute automatically when conditions are filled, meaning payments will be made, deliveries dispatched, or anything else in the business that is typically defined by a contract. Blockchains make smart contracts possible because of their consensus-driven nature. Once agreed-on conditions are met, then the contract is filled. This could mean paying bonuses when targets are hit, or dispatching an order once payment has hit your account.
Lastly, let's focus on digital identity. Today, we use passwords and authentication questions to prove who we are online. Blockchain could replace this system with a digital identity that is safe, secure, and easy to manage. Instead of proving who you are by recalling some personal, arbitrary piece of information that could potentially be guessed or stolen. Meanwhile, digital identity is based on the uniquely random set of numbers assigned to each user on a blockchain network. This means your identity can’t be hacked or changed without access to your private key, which makes it exponentially more reliable than our current solution. Soon Blockchain will approach the Internet of Things, too. Security is one reason they are a good fit – blockchain's encrypted and trustless nature makes it a viable option when it comes to keeping the ever-growing number of connected devices in our homes and offices safe. Research envisages that blockchain compute power that is used to “mine” Bitcoin could be put to use by safeguarding our smart homes from a new generation of cyber-burglars looking to break in and steal our data.
What are the best practices companies of all sizes should adopt nowadays to maintain smooth and secure remote operations?
First, start reflecting on systems and logic of decentralized trustability and data ownership: the cloud will become the place to store fragmented and individually independent data. Companies should reflect on issues of self-sovereign data ownership and identity by moving the ownership of the data. Third, ignoring decentralized finance is simply criminal for companies: anyone who does not understand this phenomenon will end up like Blockbuster in the 2000s. More countries will embrace cryptocurrencies as a legal tender, so to ignore this trend is suicide.
Finally, we must reflect on the fact that a greener blockchain may help save the planet. Blockchains are often criticized for the huge energy demands required to maintain their security. This was why Elon Musk cited changes to his viewpoint on Bitcoin automobile payments in January 2021. We will probably see a lot of effort made to make blockchain technology more green and offset its carbon footprint throughout 2022. I see this being done in a few ways: Carbon offsetting being one approach. For example, crypto tokens that are solely intended to acquire clean energy might give organizations the ability to demonstrate that their business operations comply with climate neutrality. Another approach is to use less energy-consuming blockchain technology, which generally uses proof-of-stake algorithms rather than proof-of-work. When cryptocurrencies go green, blockchain technology may help save the environment.
Talking about personal security online, what solutions do you think every Internet user should look into?
We have launched a solution that we have patented which is called "data pulverization technology" and is based on homomorphic encryption technologies. My data, your data are simply not on your computer or on a server but distributed, or rather pulverized, on all the other users who become nodes. I think that to overcome security issues we should all use applications that allow us to enjoy maximum security by treating our data no longer as a single piece but as a set of fragments that can be composted and broken down as desired through blockchain logic without ever having a residence: they are where they are not.
What does the future hold for FoolFarm?
We aim to become one of the largest European innovation companies, a holding company of investments in over 50 companies that we will create in the next 5 coming years, creating them as startups and which hopefully will generate an exponential growth in value for our group. We aim to become a billion company by 2025 and to be one of the next European Unicorns. If we do not succeed with Foolfarm, maybe we will succeed with our startups, some of which are already flying very high. Write down this name, Voiceme (voiceme.id). This startup will change your lives, with your voice.