Gabriele Montelisciani, CEO and Co-founder of Zerynth, an Italian-based platform – a spin-off of the University of Pisa – for developing IoT and Industry 4.0 solutions.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, Gabriele was a Research Associate at the University of Pisa. Research areas included market needs analysis techniques and advanced Quality Function Deployment (QFD), knowledge management methods and tools for early-stage innovation and collaborative design, sustainable innovation and development, new business development and entrepreneurship.
Gabriele holds a PhD in Management Engineering from the University of Rome Tor Vergata.
In 2015, you founded together with Giacomo Baldi, Gualtiero Fantoni and Daniele Mazzei, Zerynth as a spin-off of the University of Pisa. What prompted you to establish Zerynth?
Gabriele: Zerynth was created by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Pisa. I am a management engineer, and my colleagues and co-founders specialise in computer science, biomedical robotics and mechanical automation.
We met as a research group within a university department and started collaborating with biomedical companies that asked us to help them remote data and information from biomedical machines. By working with tools for creating IoT solutions for the professional world, we realised that there was a market opportunity, a gap to fill.
Zerynth helps companies easily digitise their industrial processes and bring innovative connected products to the world. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?
Gabriele: Zerynth addresses a market with professional industrial machines at its core. It addresses two categories of players. Those who use the assets, the so-called end-users, and those who produce and market assets, i.e. providers of industrial solutions. Both players are looking for solutions that are easy to integrate and implement so that their assets become connected, incorporated with information systems, and able to support the manager responsible for the industrial process to make decisions more reasoned and informed.
So by addressing these two types of clients, we sell a plug-and-play platform that is integrated within the asset and connected to an information software infrastructure in the cloud. The system has an interface where people consult data and information about the asset and the process of which the asset is part. The data and information are then conveyed in a very simple way within the software already present in the company.
In other words, we enable industrial digitisation without requiring the company to make considerable changes to its existing machinery and management software.
You recently announced a € 5.3 million fundraising round led by the United Ventures fund, together with a pool of Italian and international investors and business angels, including Vertis SGR, LIFTT and CDP Venture Capital. What results have you achieved until now? Also, what are the development plans of Zerynth for the near future?
Gabriele: We are a team of about 35 people and expect to grow to 50 by the end of 2023.
Today we have exceeded 100 customers, and we have started collaborating with first-rate companies that propose solutions complementary to Zerynth. For example, we partner with TIM’s Olivetti Division, which offers a monitoring and industrial digitisation solution for SMEs based on our system. We also joined SAP.iO Foundry Munich’s acceleration program dedicated to Industry 4.0. As a result, we were selected as the only Italian scaleup among 10 internationally.
As for our future plans, we want to become the reference player in Italy for digital solutions for the industrial world. Italy is a significant market for the manufacturing sector. We often forget that we are the second-largest manufacturing country in Europe.
We want to internationalise ourselves and enter those geographical areas with manufacturing as a predominant industry. That is the Central European market and countries like Germany. It will be an expansion that will take place through organic growth and collaborations with leading companies.
We mentioned that Zerynth is a university spin-off. How was the technology transfer process? What are the biggest challenges you have faced?
Gabriele: Being a university spin-off has the advantage of being in a context where a technological asset is being developed with a vast source of knowledge. Sometimes researchers are unaware of the technology they are developing and have on hand. Therefore, it allows the creation of a technology backbone to build a product roadmap and a solid business strategy.
On the other hand, a university spin-off comes up against the need to know the market and face market challenges. As a result, those who develop a company in a process where the challenge is not technology transfer have a competitive advantage.
So the biggest challenge for us was to refine our product-market fit but, above all, to go and position ourselves in a market that did not know us, to develop a network, to build experience, and to convince companies to invest in a technology before investing in a product.
One last question. What is your vision for the IoT industry?
Gabriele: IoT applied to the industrial world has reached an early stage of maturity where real problems are finally starting to be addressed, and companies are making investment decisions on technology.
The period of technology push where the proof-of-concept was never achieved is over. We are now in a period where companies have matured in their needs. And technology providers have evolved concerning the type of technology and how they bring it to market.
My vision is that there will be a solid growth path to adopting these technologies. And those players – and we are convinced that we are – who will be able to adapt the technologies in a simple and scalable way to the needs of companies will win.
Simple because without simplicity, change does not happen. Scalable because you bring the culture of data and integration into the company.
Another element that I think is important is the value of information and trust in the data. We are in an era where it is crucial to ensure that information and data are trusted by all stakeholders, even outside the company. All ESG issues, such as environmental sustainability, energy, social, and people management, are based on extensive and increasingly trustable information. And the data coming from processes and machines must also be so.
So AI applied to the industrial world will play an essential role in the future.
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For more info on Zerynth, visit: https://zerynth.com/