Friday, 6 September 2013

Yes, the cold winds of recession are still blowing; but here in Milan things are hotting up for smart, creative firms...

I’ve just realised it’s been almost a year since I posted in this blog. That’s mainly because my focus has been elsewhere recently – in particular on Riverstone Language & Communications, the Social Business Forum, Interpret the Future and a number of other cool projects I have been working on. Right – so it’s time to bring you up to speed with what’s been happening here in Milan.

Well, the summer is over and here in this city that means that everything is really getting going again. Despite concerns about the economic situation (not to mention the political one) the business capital of Italy is revving up – and although confidence is not what it once was, these days there is a surge of interest and business activity being generated by Milan’s vibrant startup scene. It’s true that Italy’s traditional manufacturing sectors are facing huge challenges in the form of cheaper competition from abroad, depressed global markets for consumer goods and the cumbersome bureaucracy that tends to characterise the Italian business context; but on the plus side, Italy has a vast reservoir of talent, inventiveness and intelligence that it can put to good use. It is this country’s wealth of human capital that drives it – in conjunction, of course, with its legacy of beautiful landscapes and great food.

Milan is a post-industrial city
 that has reinvented itself as
a powerhouse of creative energy
Image: Wikimedia Commons
In the last few years Milan has seen something of a renaissance in the form of new kinds of knowledge-based businesses as well as more dynamic – if smaller – companies that are tapping into the country’s wells of brainpower and creativity. They are also attracting more international talent – and, indeed, one of the key strengths of this city is its relative diversity compared to other cities in Italy. I have been lucky enough to work with several of these firms (see below for some examples).

I am proud to live in Milan and to have met a large number of highly-motivated and creative people from many different sectors: I have taught and worked as a communications consultant alongside finance executives, marketers, designers, lawyers, doctors, academics, technology specialists and professionals from many disciplines - as well as entrepreneurs in the city’s growing startup scene.

I have also been able to develop contacts and find new business opportunities via social networking, which has also meant getting to grips with an ever-changing array of new social media tools and platforms (as well good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation!). During this time, the Milan Business English Network, which I founded three years ago, has been a great way of meeting people and getting in touch with companies that are doing fascinating and ground-breaking projects.

Riverstone Language and Communications is an innovative and highly flexible training and development and organisation, which I established with Helen Fish, an entrepreneur from the UK who is now working on her own exciting project. Riverstone also provides bespoke language services and informal networking events that bring people together who are interested in English and business communication. The Riverstone Network is a growing resource that is helping its members – mainly freelancers – to develop their careers.

Currently, I am involved with a number of companies as a communications consultant. I’d just like to highlight two of these here, both of which are typical of the kind of small, highly able and passionate businesses that fuel this city's success:

Firstly, there is OpenKnowledge, which I believe is an example of all that’s best about Milan (including the company's international outlook - it has offices in London, Shanghai and Sydney). It’s basically a small but growing corps of highly focused and experienced consultants as well as recent graduates from top universities. The company's mission is to help mainly large corporations adopt the social business paradigm. OpenKnowledge has been a pioneer in bringing the social business message to the corporate world and for the last six years it has organised the hugely successful Social Business Forum – Europe’s leading event in this field, which attracts high-profile keynote speakers such as IBM Vice President Sandy Carter and has welcomed over three and a half thousand visitors in its short history (so far!). This year Riverstone became a Marketing Service Partner of the SBF and was responsible for managing a team of brilliant, young interpreters as part of the Interpret the Future project.

Another company I collaborate with on a regular basis is the award-winning Reverse Innovation. They are a young, dynamic design agency which provides amazingly creative designs for structural packaging and communications for major corporate clients as well as some smaller firms. I work closely with Reverse and their highly-effective press manager to make sure everything they say to the world in English is crystal clear and hits just the right note.

So, what's on the horizon this autumn, then? In addition to our sparkling aperitivos, the Milan Business English Network will be presenting a series of informal business discussions and networking sessions. These will be by invitation-only and will address some key Milan themes: social media (and social business); technology and innovation; fashion and design; marketing and communications; as well as medical / pharmaceutical and legal topics.

If you aren’t already a member of the Milan Business English Network, please join our group and find out about all the activities we are organising and how you can develop your professional network – as well as improve your communication skills in English.

I would also like to invite everyone to read – the online news magazine of the MBEN. (Check out our special feature on "People and Wine" from earlier this year.)

If you need English for your work or travel – or you’re just interested in learning the world’s “lingua franca” – please get in touch with me. (See the contacts section of the Riverstone website for details.) You can also find me on LinkedIn – or just google the words “Milan”, “business” and “English” and you’ll find most of my groups.

I wish everyone a great autumn (if you’re in the northern hemisphere) – and if you’re in Milan, please drop into one of our events or give me a shout. I’m nearly always somewhere in the centre – usually with my laptop and an “Americano” coffee.

Between now and Christmas it will get much colder - winters in northern Italy can be bitter - but I will be kept warm by the energy coming off this most vibrant, resourceful and stylish of all European cities.

Viva Milano!

Robert Dennis 
CEO and Head of Innovation, Riverstone Language and Communications

Milan brains at work: Designers and problem solvers at UX Bootcamp Milano,
an event realised by Sketchin in collaboration with Frontiers of Interaction 2013,
Italy's leading international technology and innovation conference at Talent Garden Milano.
(I wasn't involved in this event. I just think this picture sums up what makes Milan great!)
Photo: Luca Mascaro