Tenor Joseph Calleja to open start-up conference

Start-ups to change a country. Lars Lorenz meets TAKEOFF Business Incubator manager Andy Linnas to find out more.

Start-up companies have evolved from being nice to have into a must have. Traditional business models cannot match their capacity to advance into uncharted territory and risk taking abilities. Banking, media, telecommunication, and manufacturing are only a few examples that have changed heavily since the start-up culture exploded. The rapid change has uncovered major challenges. Networks are lacking, allowing for no easy way to collaborate or share ideas, which is key for young start-ups to succeed. The gap between small businesses and established companies is undesirable to sustain a healthy economy.

logoThe ZEST conference offers a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs, managers, students, and those interested in business to chat and share knowledge. The two-day event is organised by the Malta Communication Authority in collaboration with the TAKEOFF Business Incubator (University of Malta). Armed with their past experience the team invited more than 34 different speakers. Contrary to other events, ZEST throws excessive formalities out of the window and focuses on creating an enjoyable atmosphere instead.

The venue, Westin Dragonara Resort’s Conference Centre, is outfitted with a tech demo space, piazza, and co-working area. The setup encourages chats in breaks and between talks to share ideas and encourage participants to start working on their next big project. ‘ZEST tries to be an event not just for techies. It caterers to everyone’s interest,’ says Andy Linnas. Their unusual approach is clear: the famous tenor Joseph Calleja is opening the conference to talk about the classical music and opera industry.

Malta stands to gain by opening up internationally. The Islands can show what it has to offer, while local businesses can obtain fresh inspiration from abroad. Even established companies can benefit immensely, since they need start-ups to innovate. Conquering emerging markets quickly is essential to staying competitive, but big business cannot adapt that quickly. They need start-ups to go into these niches for them, and in turn large corporations need to provide the necessary resources to do so.

‘If businesses don’t prepare and become flexible and open to change, many may lose out on this revolution.’

Linnas experienced the possible impact of such events first hand during Latitude59, a big start-up conference in Estonia. It is now in its 9th year, but beforehand Estonia hardly had a start-up culture. Today the landscape has changed. Whole parts of the city have been refurbished into modern areas filled with restaurants, office space, and apartments, ready for people from all around the world to move in. Having that international talent intertwining with the Estonian community allowed start-ups to raise over €100 million of investments that created thousands of jobs. This movement placed Estonia on the map. ‘I believe society will always benefit from startup culture and we can make this happen in Malta,’ Linnas envisions.

ZEST is the first step in that direction. It will be happening from 27–28 June at Westin Dragonara Resort, St. Julian’s. Prices start at €149, while university staff and students are being offered special rates. For more information visit their website or contact ZEST directly.

Incubator Helps Start-ups take off



The old saying goes: it takes a village to raise a child. In other words, to get it right a community effort is needed, shared by family and friends who pass on their experience and knowledge to the youngster.

The same saying applies to building technology companies. Budding technology entrepreneurs in Malta need plenty of nurturing and guidance to get their innovations off the ground and into the marketplace. A supportive and well-connected entrepreneurial community is what is needed to transform Malta’s innovations into start-up ventures that will expand the economy.

The good news for Malta is that the basic components of a technology start-up community already exist. The University of Malta is a hothouse of world-class scientific, engineering, and creative research that holds the potential to spin out exciting commercial ventures. A new generation of bright, technically-skilled graduates is starting to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path. Malta lacks a professional venture capital investment industry, but does have high net worth entrepreneurs and private ‘angel’ investors. Many of these have valuable experience gained abroad and are hungry to find and fund high-potential technology companies. The government is exploring ways of encouraging early-stage investment by way of tax incentives and seed fund development. Ideas, entrepreneurial energy, and money — the key ingredients for raising technology start-ups — are all here on the island.

“Tucked away in their laboratories, garages, and workshops, Malta’s innovators are not networking”

So, what is holding us back? I recently spoke to Steve Blank, a highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor. I asked him what he thought was missing. His reply: ‘much of the Valley’s alchemy lies in connectivity’.

Innovators, entrepreneurs, investors – Malta has got them all. Unfortunately, they are not finding each other. Tucked away in their laboratories, garages, and workshops, Malta’s innovators are not networking. They need skilled and experienced business people to push their technologies past the idea stage. Wealthy angel investors are here in Malta, but they frequently operate ‘under the radar’ and can be hard to access. In the absence of connections, both investors and innovators miss out on potentially rewarding opportunities. Promising young ventures, which might takeoff with a little support and funding, consequently get left to struggle on their own.

The University of Malta Business Incubator will start operations this year and create a platform for new start-ups. Opening its doors to researchers, students, and aspiring technology entrepreneurs, the incubator will provide them with space to plan, launch, and grow businesses. There, a network of seasoned entrepreneurs, business mentors, and angel investors will join them. These ‘parents and village elders’ will be mobilised to concentrate efforts to guide start-ups to create a company, raise capital, and reach the marketplace. We aim to make the incubator a lively hub to create businesses.

Building a company, like raising a child, is a lot of hard work. Bringing the community together under one roof, where it can do the job right, will ease the labour of start-up development, and improve the odds of scoring triumphs.


Ben McClure is Manager at the University of Malta Business Incubator