Features, Insight, Interviews

GELLIFY CEO on corporates and startups

CNME Editor Mark Forker sat down with Massimo Cannizzo, CEO and co-founder of GELLIFY Middle East, to find out how the company is leveraging its knowledge and expertise to help entities in the UAE with corporate venturing models and investments.

2020 is a year that none of us will ever forget in a hurry – and the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way in which we work and live. However, out of every crisis comes opportunity and one of the major positives over the last 12 months in the UAE technology and IT ecosystem has been the emergence of GELLIFY Middle East.

Despite all the upheaval and economic uncertainty caused by the global health crisis, the Italian innovation accelerator decided to press ahead with its plans to penetrate the UAE and Middle East technology landscape and entered the market in 2020.

GELLIFY’s mission statement and purpose is to help all innovation ecosystem players to create a better way to collaborate and grow, in a fast and sustainable way by streamlining innovation through entrepreneurship, leveraging an integrated ecosystem of education, research and business communities.

Cannizzo enjoyed a decorated and distinguished career with Accenture Middle East prior to his move to GELLIFY – and knows the region inside out. He has been tasked with the responsibility of spearheading its success in the UAE, and I began our conversation by asking him about how corporate venturing models can spur further innovation in the future.

Cannizzo praised the UAE leadership for its proactive and aggressive approach to innovation and believes that has created the right infrastructure for growth.

“The UAE and Saudi Arabia over the last number of years have been very active in terms of innovation. The UAE is one of the very few countries in the world to have a dedicated Ministry of Innovation. In 2016, the UAE also made a play to push all the large corporate entities in the country to create their own innovation arm, and in addition to this encouraged greater CVC (corporate venture capital) by investing in startups”, said Cannizzo.

Cannizzo stated that businesses are now really starting to see the positive effects of their CVC investments across the UAE – but countered by highlighting that it was also important to note that there have also been many lessons learned.

He also pointed out that the significant ‘cultural differences’ that exist between a large corporate entity and your typical startup.

“Many corporate entities have found that managing startups is a very complex task. There is a big cultural chasm between corporates and startups. There is a generational gap and there is also a methodology of working that is completely different – and this is the reason why GELLIFY has such a key role to play in these types of partnerships and investments”, said Cannizzo.

Cannizzo is known as a technology and innovation thought leader, and he also illustrated how is GELLIFICATION program is designed to help startups become stronger and more independent.

“I spoke to an important accelerator here in the region, and he told me that if we can help startups become solid through our GELLIFICATION program then that would be a huge boost to the local economy and business community here in the UAE. When startups are in the liquid state, they need a lot of technical and commercial advice and support that normally not all accelerators can provide. GELLIFY helps startups to become stronger and become independent. In summary, CVC is something very positive and a collaboration with a company like GELLIFY is helping corporates to bridge the gap and manage it in a sustainable way”, said Cannizzo.

We know that the way we work and when we work and more importantly where we work has changed as a direct consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – but whilst there are many positives in terms of having more flexibility in how you work, what are the challenges that companies face?

“We now live in a hybrid world and there is no doubt about that. However, in the UAE, I think we are experiencing and witnessing a very wise approach to this ‘new normal’ environment. I think businesses are focusing on keeping their employees safe, but at the same time are also protecting the personal relationships and partnerships that have been cultivated over time”, said Cannizzo.

The dynamic CEO of GELLIFY Middle East also pointed out that every business regardless of its makeup or industry was now embracing a hybrid approach to the workplace – but stressed the important of maintaining the ‘human touch’.

“I think prior to COVID-19 there were only a few companies, and they were those that were fluent in technology that were adopting a flexible and hybrid approach to work. But now this approach is not just for digital companies, it is for every company and every type of business. We are also finding an equilibrium of balancing the use of digital channels and personal interaction. It is obvious that there are fantastic tools available to us to work online, but it is also critically important to keep the human touch”, concluded Cannizzo.

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