Startups from 0 to 100: the story of Davide Rovera

As a child he dreamed of being a butcher; when he grew up he became a “startup professor”. This is the story of Davide Rovera, an alumnus of Fondazione CRT’s Reading Economics project who has chosen to intertwine technology, people and opportunity for his work.

After a degree in management engineering at Politecnico of Turin, Davide continued to specialize between Germany, UK and Finland, beginning his first experiences in the world of startup incubators and accelerators around the world, from California to Catalonia via Uganda.

Thanks to Fondazione CRT’s Reading Economics project Davide makes his own all the indispensable tools for any industry expert such as the lean startup approach to launching innovative ideas and projects and perfecting professional English. Not only that: in addition to a week of advanced training in Canterbury, he flies for eight months to San Francisco, where he assimilates everything Silicon Valley has to offer.

With decades of experience around the world, today Davide is founder and director of the eWorks startup incubation and acceleration program developed by Esade Business School in Barcelona, for which he teaches as a lecturer within the Strategy Department. A definition that only partly covers his activity, to which he adds his collaboration with Startup Africa Roadtrip and teaching in more than 50 educational tracks across Europe.

How did you get into the world of startup incubators?

I am not one of those people who always had clear ideas about their future. While my friends as children aspired to be firemen or astronauts, I dreamed of a future as a charcuterie maker, mesmerized by the movement of the ham through the slicer. Flashforward a few years and I found myself having to choose a university to invest in: after long perplexity, I chose Management Engineering, not because it would bring me closer to the charcuterie dream (now gone) but because it could combine my passion for technology with that of developing solutions for process efficiency, benefiting our time and energy.

Quoting Bill Gates, “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it”: I was the right person! So began my dream of working as a consultant in the belief that I could live in a dynamic environment full of interesting projects, travel the world and earn a lot of money. Or, at least, that was the imagination I had built up based on the stories of my professors, while out there the reality proved to be a little different.
After graduation I applied as a business analyst for I3P, the incubator of Politecnico of Turin for which I oversaw the definition of the acceleration program for Web 2.0 Treatabit projects. In parallel, I supplemented my education by participating in the Reading Economics program of Fondazione CRT.

The Reading Economics project flew you for a double experience abroad, first in Canterbury and then in Silicon Valley. What did they leave you with?

In its first phase, Fondazione CRT’s Reading Economics program helped me develop critical thinking with which to interpret the world economy and politics, providing me with the essential tools for good understanding and communication of economic issues. This was followed by a business English course through which I was able to enhance my professional English and, to end on a high note, two experiences abroad that were extremely significant for my future: a week in Canterbury and eight months in San Francisco.

The week of higher education in Canterbury offered me the lean startup basics that I still use in some of my courses today and the opportunity to meet fellow students with whom I have forged decades-long friendships. The icing on the cake was the scholarship through which I was able to fulfill my dream of living and working in the temple of technology and innovation-Silicon Valley, where I squeezed every last minute out of the eight months of my visa to absorb everything I could learn. Here I worked as a business developer for Vivocha, an Italian startup for which I was the only employee in all of North America and through which I met people from the tech empires I had previously only ever known as a user.

And after Silicon Valley?

I returned to Italy with clear ideas: never to go back to the traditional business model but to work for innovation projects. But, you know, there’s a sea between saying and doing: I worked for two more years as a consultant, without ceasing to look for new ways. The opportunity came in 2015 when I met Jan Brinckmann, a professor, entrepreneur and business angel, at that time looking for someone who could help him build and run an incubation and acceleration program for one of the Top20 business schools in the world: the Esade Business School in Barcelona. Without a moment’s hesitation, I quit my consulting job and moved to Barcelona: since then, the eWorks project has grown to have five collaborators and four accelerator programs, following nearly 100 projects a year. Meanwhile, I started teaching and investing in startups.

Finland, Uganda, Germany, San Francisco, Canterbury, Barcelona. You have had numerous educational and professional experiences abroad: what did they teach you more than the Italian context?

Aside from a year-long experience in Germany, there are two activities during my undergraduate years that particularly touched me: a collaboration with an I3P startup and a 15-day trip to Silicon Valley. It was here that I discovered the existence of a different world of working, without hierarchies or “but you are young,” but with a great emphasis on the qualities of people.

Since then I began to see ideas as opportunities, launching myself into substantial projects and life changes in the belief that the potential of one’s professionalism lies more in what one knows, what one can do, and the relationships one cultivates. That is why I have always put learning first, feeling free to change jobs, cities or countries in search of something new to learn all the time.

The three essential ingredients behind every successful startup?

Team, team, team. It all depends on people: skills, project choice, motivation.
The team relies on the complementary skills of its members, among which there can be no shortage of abilities to set ambitious but achievable goals, to set priorities, to revise the project as it runs, to gather resources, and to make the most of their work.
It renders the idea very well the definition of Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur who describes a startup as “a temporary organization designed to find a scalable and repeatable business model.” In fact, the mission behind every startup is to find a new way of doing something: this means being able to move between the lines, to force regulations to the limit, to discover inconsistencies, and to identify all the kinks in the system that make something possible.

Even the choice of the project itself depends on the team. Some people determine their project with the goal of earning as much money as possible, some to solve a problem still never addressed by anyone, some to make a contribution to society or the environment, and so on. Whatever the reason behind the choice of one’s idea, there will always be a need for someone within the team who knows how to think “out of the box” and who at any given moment can switch from an extremely detailed to a long-term vision or vice versa.

Last but not least, motivation: Murphy’s law is one of the few certainties in the life of a startup, which knows full well that everything will go wrong before it goes right. Only a team with extreme motivation is able to endure the difficult times, countless rejections, failures and constant changes of direction needed to build a successful project.

To whom would you recommend pursuing a Fondazioe CRT’s Talent Training project?

To anyone who feels like taking a leap, changing their career path, getting out of the rigid Italian working models and discovering another way of doing things. All while having fun and building a network of contacts and friendships that will last for many years.

Davide Rovera