Interview to Paolo Farina: “Geoapp should work as a specialized incubator for geosciences business”
Paolo Farina is co-founder and currently the president of Geoapp s.r.l. (http://www.geoapp.it/), a spin off company of the University of Florence, born in 2015. Paolo is a Geological Engineer, PhD in Earth Sciences by the University of Florence. After being 7 years involved in the Engineering Geology Research Group of the Department of Earth Sciences (University of Florence) working on research projects and support to the Italian Civil Protection, he went to a private company, where he gained knowledge and experience in the sector of monitoring, specifically in the mining sector. By combining the expertise from the research and the vision of the needs of the market, Paolo, together with his co-founders, has been successful in the first complete year since the creation of Geoapp.
Clàudia Abancó (CA): How many people participated in the creation of Geoapp in 2015? Has it increased, or you are the same original members?
Paolo Farina (PF): We were 6 people at the beginning. At the moment we are still the same 6 founders plus 8 employees, which are not working full time, but almost.
CA: Were all the 6 members part of same research group?
PF: Yes, the spinoff company was born as an initiative of the Engineering Geology Research Group. This group is a pretty large group (more than 50 people)… The key point is that besides the pure research, this group is also working as a center of competence for the Italian Civil Protection. However the idea behind the spinoff was to address not only the needs to the public sector, as we did in the University, but also to reach the needs of the industry.
CA: Then, you already had a great expertise in offering services and solutions…
PF: Yes, that’s the idea. The expertise that we gained for the last 20 years by offering services for the Italian Civil Protection is now being used to offer services to the market. We are transfering technology from the university to the market.
CA: But, are your clients only in Italy?
PF: No, we have several business lines. For example: in the mining or the infrastructure industry we work internationally. However, in the natural hazards segment, in which we work mainly nationally. Actually, one specific business line is the design and review of the civil protection plan. In Italy, the law forces the municipalities to have a Civil protection plan, so we are now offering this service too.
CA: It is clear that there was a gap in the market.
PF: Yes, exactly. When I left the research group to go to the private company, there was an intial discusision about the value of creating a spinoff. Universities are very good to address the needs of the public authorities but their purpose is not to work with private companies. Then, because of the experiences that I had with IDS I also detected that there was also an important gap in the mining industry. They have a lot of needs of risk management but very limited technical know-how, which is in the hands of few consultants.
CA: Did any of your colleagues have experience in the private sector?
PF: Yes, myself and another of the founders. I worked in IDS and he extensively worked as consultant before joining university. We didn’t have experience in big organizations but small ones.
CA: Did you recieve any help from the university?
PF: Theoretically yes. There is an organization that acts as an incubator from the university, which is called CSAVRI. To setup the spinoff we have to setup a path for pre-incuvation of spinoffs. There are training courses to define a bussiness plan, and they prepare you to have the elevator pitch, required to have the approval of the university. In terms of funds, we were not relying too much on public funds. We tried to support business with our own ways, our personal investment and with the contracts. And we managed to do so.
CA: Do you have any patent?
PF: Yes, actually the university holds four patents, and we are in the way of getting one of these.
CA: Maybe it is a bit early to make a balance because the company is quite young. But I am sure that the company has changed from the initial moment, from 2015 until now. How is it going, in general terms?
PF: To be honest, we are fulfilling the expectation in terms of grow and in terms of segment of the market we were trying to work. I see a good match between our initial expectation and what we do now. In terms of growth, we are fast. If you compare our forecast in the businees plan for the first complete year (2016) we reach the scenario. It should be taken into account that we already had our understanding of the market’s needs.
CA: What is your vision of Geoapp’s future?
PF: I don’t think that geoapp will became a big company (not more than 20 peopoles). It shoudl be a manageable size. We would like it to be a partner for the research group to facilitate the technology transfer process. This is difficult, because typical life for a spinoff is 2-3 years next to the university and then to go away. However, we are working to be an incubator for the geosciences business.