Q&A  | 

Stefano Lacaita: Creating the future by investing locally

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Stefano Lacaita has worked for both multinational companies and start-ups across numerous industries and has done business in nearly 40 countries. Now, he offers the insights he has gleaned to help companies get off the ground or expedite their growth. His work as a mentor with The Collider is one of the ways he uses his expertise to help others succeed in the fast-paced world of modern business.

You're an advisor, coach and mentor. Could you please explain what you do today on a day-to-day basis, and give a general overview of your career up to this point?

For most of my professional life, I’ve worked as a general manager for multinationals and start-ups in a broad variety of industries and situations. I’ve lived on two continents; I’ve taken more than 2,000 flights to do business in more than 30 countries; and I’ve faced very different challenges, from deep crisis to hypergrowth, from turnarounds to acquisitions, and even a military coup! Now, in my day-to-day life, I use this range of experience to help established companies and tech start-ups succeed.

You’re a mentor in several programs of The Collider. How did you first become involved – what inspired you to join?

I had my first contact with The Collider in 2020, just before the pandemic. At that time, the effects of technological progress on the economy and the labor market were already significant but maybe not as evident as they are today. The pandemic accelerated these trends by several years, and now everybody assumes that many businesses and jobs will just disappear in a few years. So, we need to act quickly and replace old businesses with new ones if we want to create a future for ourselves and our kids. That’s why I collaborate with The Collider: I think we all have a responsibility to contribute positively to society. The Collider is a fantastic platform to do this.

What do you hope to get from being a mentor with The Collider?

My primary hope is to get the satisfaction of having transferred my knowledge to new projects and having provided the right support to them. Having said that, I love practicing reverse mentoring. I provide knowledge, challenges, and guidance to the teams, but I also learn a lot from them. And I love learning!

Why are initiatives like The Collider important?

They are extremely important because they incubate and accelerate high-tech startups. This is absolutely key to our future.

Could you talk to us about creating a fund focused on deep tech?

I am at a very early stage but it’s already a very interesting experience, and the reality is that we need more players to support a solid ecosystem able to create a new future for us and our kids.

Could you talk about your new initiative focused on packaging, and how new/frontier materials can be a good solution for it?

Packaging is a giant industry that is worth about 1 trillion dollars. That’s more than 1% of the global GDP. This immense industry is on the verge of multiple disruptions, ranging from sustainable materials to smart packaging solutions, and new materials play a key role in all of that. Together with some very skilled co-founders, we are creating a new vehicle to boost winning start-ups in this industry.

In your opinion, what’s the importance of tech transfer? What opportunities does it present to new start-ups?

There’s a big misunderstanding and a big risk when it comes to tech transfer. Sometimes we don’t realise that tech transfer is a very strategic activity for a country. It has an enormous impact on the future of our community. 

Imagine you’re a university and you have a patent. If you just license that patent, the licensee may use it in a plant that’s far away. You receive a fee, but no jobs are created here based on that patent. Instead, if you use that patent to create a start-up, and you create quality jobs here, you create a better future. 

So, the difference is enormous. The reality is that in 20 or 30 years, most jobs will disappear, so we really need to create not the future as we see it today but the future as it might be. We desperately need start-ups to be creative locally. All countries need to create their future, so all countries need local start-ups.

When you license a technology, you’re just giving the technology to typically big corporations that will use it wherever they want. What remains locally?

You get license fees, but these fees are minimal. When you create a start-up, you create jobs locally; you link know-how to a specific region; and normally, when you are acquired, the acquiring company will invest in the start-up instead of destroying it because they want the start-up’s know-how. That’s why creating start-ups should always be the preferred choice, no matter how difficult it may seem at the beginning.

Could you please share a source of inspiration or a mentor to you over the course of your career?

I play jazz, so my main sources of inspiration are musicians like Miles Davis, Bill Evans, or Stan Getz. Doing business is like playing jazz: you need to be able to improvise while you keep the rhythm, play the right chords, coordinate with others, and deliver harmonious results.

What’s a quote that you live or work by?

Do what you love with people you love.

What has been the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your career?

When I was young, I was convinced that knowledge was extremely important for professional success. I was completely wrong. Knowledge is just a small component of success. Soft skills play a much bigger role. The way you are is much more important than what you know, and while you can learn very fast, you can’t change the way you are fast enough!

What professional advice would you give to those just starting out?

Never forget that business is all about people.