Top ten startups from the 2017 European Utility Week – Amsterdam

European Utility Week 2017 Amsterdam RAI

An article by Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar

The company where I am working as a Project Sales Manager – Loclain Energy Flow Solutions – was selected as one of most innovative European startups and got a free-of-charge stand on the European Utility Week Initiate! Startup Hub. This was a perfect opportunity for us to present our patented technology to the EU market and to get a full immersion in the global smart energy community.

EUW 2017 Amsterdam RAI

Loclain Energy Flow Solutions – our plan and my pitch

We’ve came to Amsterdam because LocPower® is a first-of-its-kind energy harvesting control valve designed to improve flow control and energy efficiency of water and district heating supply utilities and water intensive industries. Our goal for this fair was to look for partners that would help us implement LocPower® in an innovative application, the one that would lead to zero-emission energy efficiency, such as power-to-hydrogen and smart storage projects.

Therefore my one sentence pitch was: Imagine a situation where the energy recovered from pipelines is used to convert sustainable electricity into hydrogen for mobility, or where offices or water treatment plants get their electricity from a nearby reservoir or a heat storage. This is now possible thanks to the LocPower®.

Loclain Energy Flow Solutions on the European Utility Week 2017
Loclain Energy Flow Solutions on the European Utility Week 2017

2017 European Utility Week in Amsterdam was also a best place for us as a company to get a full immersion in the energy transition trends and technologies. So, here I bring some of the most interesting startup ideas that might help all members of smart utility community in speeding up necessary energy transition. Because, as Sietske Jacobs, Initiate! Project Manager stated:

The focus on transitioning to a sustainable energy future could not be more pronounced than now. Woven throughout this process is a critical factor: the passion to achieve it collectively.

Top ten Startups on the Initiate! Startup Hub

In short: hardware for efficiency, software for measuring and networking, and blockchain as panacea

Initiate Startup Hub_European Utility Week 2017
Initiate Startup Hub_European Utility Week 2017

1) Definitely the best discovery of the whole EUW is Asperitas Immersed Computing. These guys developed a new concept driven by sustainability, efficiency and flexibility. Immersed Computing® includes an optimised way of work, highly effective deployment, flexible IT and drastic simplification of datacentre design. They’ve also made it to the final of the Accenture Innovation Awards 2017! Together with four other innovations, they are still running with Immersed Computing within the Circular Economy category of this prestigious innovation competition.

2) Best one-sentence-explanation of what is bitcoin (reward for modern miners that invest their computer power in the decentralized mega computer) and blockchain goes to our neighbouring startup Toblockchain. These guys and girls are big startup stars in The Netherlands. This is because TOBLOCKCHAIN team is proud winner of the Energy Track at Dutch Blockchain Hackathon Groningen in February 2017. TOBLOCKCHAIN team also won a special prize at Hyperledger Hackathon, Amsterdam in October 2016.

3) Our extremely cool neighbours from Solar adTek were pitching simultaneously with us and our video presentation remote control signals mixed too often. They provide solar powered LED lighting systems for the illumination of outdoor advertising displays such as bus shelters and billboards. The system combines a proprietary Solar Control Unit and customized LED lighting modules with efficient solar panels and batteries to deliver autonomous, reliable and cost effective solar lighting solutions.

Asperitas on the European Utility Week 2017
Asperitas on the European Utility Week 2017

4) Beon for best solar micro-inverters check this great startup.

5) For innovative, durable and much lighter wind turbine blades check the website of our neighbours from Rotoby.

6) For Smart Inspections through Image Analysis chek, one of the initiate startup award finalists.

7) Ecoisme is a home energy monitor that tells you how much energy your home appliances use and how much money you are spending on them. It eliminates grid and solar energy overuse and notifies you if something is about to break.

8) ElectricFeel provides the most intelligent platform available to build, run and scale shared electric mobility systems.  

9) Electron is a London-based tech company harnessing blockchain to design new platforms and services for a decarbonising, digitising, decentralising and democratising energy sector. Recognising the potential for these new technologies to transform the shared virtual infrastructure of the grid, Electron is taking a top down, collaborative approach to platform development and working with various key stakeholders in the energy industry.

10) In Lightyear they are building a commercial solar car: the Lightyear One. Check their website and blog, they are doing a great job!

In the next article I will speak about the best “established” and technology transfer companies I’ve met on the 2017 European Utility Week and how close we are to realise our plans set for this fair. 

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Theory of change VS or Inc. LogFrame

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 05.56.14

An article by Drazen Zacero


problem solving pulsar


This text is for experienced grant writers, but also for the beginners with patience to dig information as for them it will help to feel more secure in their practice.

What can you find here, why to read it?

Text will define the theory of change, and then it will compare it with the logical matrix/logic of intervention (as the widespread existing practice), concluding with what is going on there in field of grant writing science and practice, and how to react on this “new” thing in project development and project preparation.


Before you read – here’s the homework

Read following links

What is the Theory of change?  /  More about Theory of change?  /  Debate about Theory of change?  /  Tips about Theory of Change?

If you are enthusiast level 60 pages about Theory of Change, take a look at the review commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and authored by  Isabel Vogel


What is the problem of the ToC and LogFrame for one grant writer?

Well internet says ToC is growing rapidly, but you haven’t seen much of it in requests by the donors in their project forms, you’re still seeing typical logframes. Also at some meetings you’d see senior experts using Logic of intervention scheme for example at the programming of the international operational developmental aid, you’d be confused, going: now what is that, I thought I know everything!

At the end of the day, for now, you do know everything, just different trusts use sometimes same or similar logic and expectations from grant writers, but call it different names, and you’d be like wow, this is something new, I am stupid. Which is not the case actually. Even the ToC is nothing new, some influential stream just raised it like something super new, mind blowing and inventive while it’s just common sense and logic in structuring and articulating your thoughts and ideas.

Probably natural way of thinking before you have been brainwashed with secret, incomprehensible and superior knowledge of grant writing for EU funds for example.

Mind gym – donor philosophy and trainers attitude

To understand the difficulty, we will criticise the bad trainers for the project development in the part when they teach you the goals setting, general and specific objectives, while they probably themselves confuse terms (e.g. mixing the aims, mission of the project, vision, purpose of the project etc.)

Namely, trainers teach you their way like the only true and the best one, and then newbies are having difficulty to notice the difference between:

*the action oriented and result oriented logical matrix

*the aim of the project and general objective. (there is the difference actually)

*Even the relation between the general objective and specific objectives. They are wondering how many general objectives and how many specific ones should be designed, (1 general objective and 3 specific ones, or opposite) why different experts are saying completely opposite things here?

Setting goal hierarchy is the mind gym if you are not confident and smart and you don’t know that it’s just some narcissistic experts who are not recognising that different donors are having the different philosophy of setting the goal hierarchy. And that it changes over the course of the time.

Unfortunately many experts are nerds, without critical thinking and analytical skills.


That’s the reason they teach you in one way, ignoring the whole picture, leaving you with feeling that you are stupid whenever you see something different. It is almost as trainers saying to you “This way that you are doing it, is bad, you should do it like this”.

Some experts are starting their trainings by explaining to participants how much they (experts) are cool and smart and them (participants) are living in the oblivion that they know what they are doing.

So step one for such trainers is to kill the confidence of the participants, to mystify the knowledge and their expertise so that you can charge and avoid criticism. Trainers don’t do that on purpose, some do because they are well bad persons, other do that out of the fear.

They are hiding behind the authority which is false actually. If they would really be experts, they wouldn’t need to be afraid of the participants and they would even think together with participants.

Hand writing Action Changes Things with white chalk on blackboard.

ToC & LogFrame Inc.

So now that we explained this, we can come back to the ToC and the LogFrame. What to do if you are concerned should you present things in this or that way.

I’d suggest you use the both ToC presented graphically and textually:

– In the parts of the project form where you could find it suits, e.g. when the donors ask to explain the relation between the grant scheme objectives and your project (solution, intervention, impact, contribution you are proposing).

– Almost all project documentation allows annexes, so you can make 2 annexes, or one showing the logframe and below, the ToC graphically. Use even infographic visual solution.

Also use typical LogFrame. Simply use both ToC and the LogFrame. Why?

1. Because both ways have pros and cons, if you use both, each of them will annul the demerits and shortages of the other method.

2. In that way you will be well explained, you’ll catch the eye of the possible lazy readers in commission as some of them prefer one way over another in consuming information. For those who doesn’t know about ToC, you will remain the expert because you have LogFrame and ToC will be observed from creativity and expertise perspective as grant writers like to make schemes and graphic methodology overviews in the part of the project form related to the methodology description whereas for those who are familiar with ToC, you will demonstrate that you are up to date and innovative.

3. Two ways of displaying information will help you to notice if there is some inconsistency in narrative.


Thank you note:

In preparation of this text, I’d like to thank  for the leads to Ivan Sekulovic, currently Team manager of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of Serbia.

An article by Drazen Zacero


problem solving pulsar

Drazen Zacero – PROJECT DEVELOPER – Drazen is a lawyer who appreciates humor and innovation. He is not afraid to try. Passionate about people, traveling, storytelling, social policy, social inclusion, poverty reduction and project development for open society of equal opportunities. Even though skeptical, he still believes in Human Rights.

Contributor and proofreader Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar

Slobodan Ocokoljic – COORDINATOR OF THE PROBLEM SOLVING PULSAR THINK NET Researcher / Manager / Translator – Constantly on the move and in pursuit of missions impossible to accomplish. Slobodan studied Political Science and Local Economic Development. After 6 years of working both as a researcher and project manager, in 2016 he started working as a freelancer. He lived, studied and worked in Belgrade, Trento and Budapest. Two years ago, he moved with his family from his homeland to Italy. Thus, he is interested in connections and influences between places and people, economic development and human development, environmental protection and human rights, as well as urban/regional development and business innovation. He firmly believes that no other force has stronger gravitational pull than knowledge, that’s why he chose the name Sigma Infty, as a synonym for the infinite thirst for knowledge


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World Water Day – Water Essentials and Interesting Facts

hydro power plant

World Water Day

So, today is the day we celebrate water. You know, that miracle we drink to stay alive, source of all the live on the Earth. Miracle you can stare in for hours, or listen as it flows in the river basin to calm yourself… you know, that miracle which consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen we use for powering our cities, growing our crops and cooling our nuclear power plants.

Well, soon it will be a month since I have started working in energy efficiency industry and my first project is right in the middle of the water–energy nexus. You can read more about the LocPOWER, energy harnessing control valve, in one of my previous article. But here, since today is the World Water Day, I just wanted to share with you some interesting facts, resources and platforms I’ve run into while doing some research on the connection between water and energy.

Take a look, and do not forget when handling the tap, that water we have today is just squeezed ice from asteroids and protoplanets during the Earth’s early evolution. You do not want to waste the resource for whose creation we would need another collision with an asteroid, do you?

Global water facts

* Nine out of ten catastrophes globally are connected with water – too much water or too little.

* Without efficiency gains, global demand for water will outstrip currently accessible supplies by 40% by 2030.

* Water needs for energy production are set to grow at twice the rate of energy demand.

* On a global scale, less than half of all wastewater is collected and less than one fifth of all wastewater is treated.

* About 8% of the global energy generation is used for pumping, treating and transportation water to various consumers.

* Globally, about 2% of the world’s total energy consumption is used in collecting and treating wastewater.

* At the national level, drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3% to 4% of U.S. energy use. This is equivalent to 56 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) annually, and the generation of almost 45 million tons of greenhouse gases (GHG). At the community level, drinking water and wastewater systems are typically the largest energy consumers accounting for 25% to 40% of a municipality’s total energy bill. Approximately 80% of municipal water processing and distribution costs are for electricity.

Infographic – energy and water’s interdependence

water - energy nexus

World Bank – Water Thirsty-Energy-Infographic – Screenshot – Sigma Infty

water - energy nexus, global consequences. Sigma Infty

World Bank – Water Thirsty-Energy-Infographic – Screenshot – Sigma Infty

water - energy nexus, energy and utility companies . Sigma Infty

World Bank – Water Thirsty-Energy-Infographic – Screenshot – Sigma Infty

World Bank. Water - energy nexus, sustainable solutions. Sigma Infty

Source: World Bank–Water-Thirsty-Energy-Infographic

State–of–the–art websites:

Future water city:

World water week:

Prima voda:


An article by Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar


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Mr. Valenti: originator of Imola’s packaging valley district and tireless innovator

cover foto

An article by Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar

I have met Mr. Dante Valenti while working as interpreter for his company, the Tek in Pek from Imola. He needed to sale packaging machine to a foreign client and I have help them during the negotiation process.

I was amazed by the fact that with a portfolio of 20 patents, 40 years of experience, and truly global coverage with his inventions, Mr. Valenti is just a regular engineer that loves innovation and enjoy to solve problems. Therefore, I wanted to interview him here in order to understand in more details what is the innovation for entrepreneur that is the undercover hero of dynamical constant innovation. Also, I wanted to understand how a micro enterprise Tek in Pek manage the process of innovation that is responsible for some major breakthrough in the global packaging industry.

Small warehouse in Imola’s industrial area is a headquarter of inventor that has made this city famous. The valley of packaging as the local and global players in packaging industry know Imola was born in the head of this man. Quiet, polite, workaholic engineer, that enjoys to breath live into metal. After few minutes of conversation with Mr. Dante it is easy to understand why 40 years ago, as he told me, he took his pen and left IMA S.p.a. (one of the biggest local multinationals). This gentlemen do not like to argue, he is not into politics, and he is not just into making money, but making innovative and sustainable solutions. This man is an innovator at its best. So, he knew that the resources that counts (innovation ingenuity) are on his side and he started his own enterprise dedicated to constant innovation.

Mr. Dante Valenti - CEO and Engineer at Tek in Pek, Imola

During this 40 years of continuous innovation he created all kinds of machines for packaging, from corrugated cardboard to polypropylene. Presently Tek in Pak is world leader in design and production of machines for manufacturing of special die cutting dies for the hot stamping of die cut products with sealed flutes. 

Here are the Q&A from the interview we had with Mr. Dante Valenti earlier this week.

About the products

Q – What is the smart part (added value) of your products?

A – After I left the corrugated board packaging industry I have searched new materials for packaging and discovered polypropylene. Here the major innovation introduced was the system that I have invented for a hot air sealing of die cut products (so called Vame system). This was a major breakthrough for the industry and the product was welcomed with success in the international market. This system allows closing the sides of boards making the material sterilised and utilised in different steps during the pelletisation process e.g. bottle and jar separator. Moreover, polypropylene is highly resistant, depending on the thickness of material combined it can be much more resistant than wood or even metal.

The peculiarity of the sealing process of Tek in Pak machines is that no smoke is made because the sealing is not touching the cartonplast sheet and this way the thickness of the sheet at the edges on the whole perimeter is kept the same as the original sheet thickness.

Box pallets made of this material are easily folding if edging is correctly designed and this can lead to enormous savings in the transatlantic transportation industry because the palette our machines made are reusable, they do not have to be treated with protective paint for wood or metal and after the delivery they can be compressed to 6 time smaller size, which leaves a lot of space for other shipping to be made. In US they are using our machines to produce the protection from tornadoes which is replacing the wooden protection used until now.           

Tek in Pek Imola Packaging Machine_TF3

The products made of polypropylene are recyclable, environmentally friendly and ideal for industry because this material:   

Emits less CO2 emissions during production when compared with other materials  

Ensures the total recyclability at the end of the product life

Ensures high chemical resistance and high outdoor durability

Is sterilize and has natural water repellency

Is resistant to acid, alkaline and salt solutions, and as well bacteria, mold and algae resistant

Is lightweight and customisable: thickness, weight, color, etc..

Is printable: screen printing, digital and flexo printing

As well, we are searching a business partner that would work with us on commercialization of the highly resistant and lightweight polypropylene rucksack I have registered as utility patent in December 2016. This rucksack is entirely printable, it requires less material for production than other similar products because it uses  hot air sealing.

Ho anche progettato e brevettato una soluzione innovativa per eliminare rifiuti e inquinamento prodotto dalle attuali capsule utilizzate per le macchine da caffè. Inoltre questo prodotto permette al consumatore di elaborare personalmente la miscela di caffè.

– How did you get the idea?

– Innovative products are always born out of the strong research spirit and the capacity of realizing solutions.

– How did you get the funds for realization of your ideas

– By my opinion in Italy, financial instruments are reserved for Multinational Companies that are able to lobby to get the state and bank funds. I was never approved an application for product development and all of my products are realized with self-financing and loans.

– What were the key barriers (administrative, operational, technical, financial)

– Once I have finished the detailed prototype design of the machine or other products the biggest obstacle is finding a way to finance further development and application of the solution and to commercialize the idea. Therefore, we are still engineering design studio and the production process is left to other global companies.  

Tek in Pek Imola - Vame System - Hot air polipropilene sealing


– If any, how was the support from the development institutions/agencies (city/province/region/country/global)

We did not received any support whatsoever.

– Are you a part of/do you have plans to make public-private partnerships? (Universities, incubators, clusters)

– No.

Do you plan to apply/have you already applied for HORIZON 2020 entrepreneurship/innovation support programs?

– I am not planning to apply for such funds.


– Inhouse or outsourced business consultancy/grant application management?

– Our products are truly globally presented and we have our machines from US, Mexico, Japan, Bulgaria, Italy, Russia, France, Peru. We worked with some multinationals such as Procter & Gamble but we are only engineering design studio and all management and consultancy processes are done in-house.

– Are you planning to internationalize?

– 90% of our products is sold on the foreign markets, among which African countries, US, Japan, Asia, Europe, but we are not present in China and Balkans.

– Are you willing to pay for the market analysis?

– Yes I would, but in reality, since we are a microfirm and we do not have means for hiring consultancy firms I do market analysis by myself. The principle is next. I am doing my best to be present, alone or with firms that are producing my machines internationally, on biggest global fairs in this industry. There I have a chance to see the latest global trends and needs and to present my products.

In this way I am able to analyse the competition and to prepare machines that suits the need of the market.

Tek in Pek Imola - Lightweight polypropylene rucksack - Utility patent


– How would you define innovation?

– Innovation is driven by the spirit of research and experimentation and concertized with the capacity for implementation. When developing a new innovative product you must never forget costs and time it needs to be created.

– What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

– In partnership with one US company we are presently working on the  solution for innovative product made from folding polypropylene blocks and sealed with our hot air method. So, continuous implementation of our approach that have clear market value is our strategy for the future. We are also working on variety of solutions of box pallets for US market. However, I have noticed the trend that underdeveloped countries are those more focused on innovation because this gives them opportunity to catch up and maybe outrun developed countries. That is why I am currently negotiating to export some of my newest machines in Kenya and Ecuador.

– How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized.

– The best way to make your company innovative is to be open for new solutions and to visit and discover other markets, in this way you can understand  market needs and consequently design a suitable solution for that needs.

– If you could hire few new people (to develop a product of your dreams what unconventional skills would they have?

– I do not know who I could need to develop the products of my dreams but in order to continue to work on present machines I need accountant, engineer and production facility.    

– What can your company offer for free that no one else does?

– We can offer young people, if they are interested to do internship with us, and to experience the pleasure of making something out of nothing, because that what engineering is, it is breathing life in what before was just a bunch of metal and having the pleasure of seeing it working and producing something useful.


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A problem solving think net: collaborating for greater impact

focus group on early stage researchers in social science in serbia

The photography is from the focus group on the position of the early stage researchers in the social science. Research results are available at the following link.

An article by Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar

This article was originally published in the Master CoDe 2017 January Newsletter. For more information about the Joint European Master Programme in Comparative Local Development please click here.

The idea

The first think net I took part to was a research team working on the project National Policy Dialogue in the Social Science in Serbia, 2014-2016. A team of 6 young researchers from different disciplines, cities, and sectors was purposefully brought together in order to provide unique interdisciplinary and interterritorial expertise.

One of the best moments was the first focus group we held back in May 2014: Twenty bright young researchers across scientific disciplines discussing the position of early stage researchers in Serbia. The energy, discussion and inputs were simply amazing. I remember thinking in that moment: it would be so inspiring if one could work with the best people he/she has met during his/her career.

Since some of the researchers were living outside Belgrade, we have coordinated our efforts by monthly Skype conferences, a joint SPSS database, simultaneous gDocs editing, joint pursuit of designers, catering, and finally holding joint presentations. Tasks were clear, communication was efficient and research team members became friends. As the project continued, it became obvious that our synergy was much more than the sum of all the parts and that our team has a strong gravitational pull for sustainable and innovative solutions. Therefore the name: Sigma Infty: Problem Solving Pulsar Think Net.

The vision for Sigma Infty is to become a glocal think net of professionals that will make development ideas and projects works for the benefit of communities and business.

sigma infty problem solving pulsar think net joined up thinking: networking for greater impact

Glocal network with strong gravitational pull for innovative solutions.

The people

Sigma Infty is a platform fostering business initiatives, public and civil society organisations, and local communities by applied research, project management, business investment consultancy for the Western Balkans, and translation and interpreting. Members of this think net are definitely the smartest folks I have met along the way. People who have inspired me with their dedication, vision, skills, great personal values and integrity, and people I am happy to work with. 4 out of 16 members of our think net are Master CoDe alumni, namely Dragisa Mijacic, Ilija Stojanovic, Milos Cavic and myself.

Since we are offering various services, the members are also experts from different fields. Consequently, we are a network of managers, business evaluators, researchers, marketing experts, translators, designers, lawyers, HR experts, economists, fundraisers, etc. The common denominators for all members are proactiveness, dedication and problem solving attitude.

sigma infty problem solving think net learning by doing

The photography is from the 2013 Think and Link – Regional Policy Programme workshop.

Learning by doing

We have all learned a lot by making the website and blog functional. We have reached this goal with almost zero funds invested but with a lot of enthusiasm. People from all over the world gave us a helping hand. Gratian Mihailescu from the Urbanise Hub, Aleksandra Stojkov from Ela language studio, Chiara Salce and many others gave their contribution as well.

In order to work efficiently across time zones we follow the principles of task fragmentation and result-oriented management. After the first months our achievements are only a few, but they are important milestones for the future activities. We are proud on the functional and SEO optimised website and blog, established coordination and management mechanisms, created social networks profiles, 3 published articles and other 3 scheduled for january 2017.  

Sigma Infty problem solving pulsar think net: ecosystem of solutions and ideas

Plans for the future

Presently, we are trying to understand how to create a community that will foster innovation again and again, not only during isolated projects, and how to develop a task-force group that will help us to be the first to seize the opportunities. During the next 6 months we will be working on the establishment of Advisory board, translation of the website to Italian and Serbian, online marketing strategy, and defining personal and organisation KPIs.

Our biggest challenge is to maintain the starting enthusiasm and acquire first clients. Once we establish a successful track record this will give a powerful momentum for growth and further pursuit of excellence. Yet, for full implementation of our vision, that is “to become a glocal think net of professionals that will make development ideas and projects works for the benefit of communities and business”, we will keep relying on our distinctive characteristics, such as interdisciplinary solutions and flawless execution, and the results will follow.

Let’s work together to make things happen.

Are you an independent expert interested in fostering innovative businesses and sustainable development policies?

Do you want to practice your expertise by developing concreate solutions for real life problems?

Do you have an interesting development case study or innovative business model that you would like to share with the world?  

Send us your one page CV and max 300 words motivation letter for joining the Problem Solving Pulsar Think Net or to be our blog contributor and we will get to you as soon as possible.

Contact us!

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Urban rebranding: lessons learned from Roanoke, US

Taubman Museum of Art

Roanoke 85,000-square-foot Taubman Museum of Art which opened in 2008.

There is a variety of terms to describe the need for perpetual adaptation of modern cities. Urban re-branding, re-imaging, urban regeneration, urban renewal, to name just a few. Whatever the name is, the objectives of the rebranding process are always the same: increasing competitiveness and liveability.

encouraging smart and green investments, revitalization of underdeveloped city districts, in one word providing better living conditions for citizens and attracting businesses and tourists.

This is because:

“urban localities may be regarded as ‘products’ in the sense that they provide labour, land, premises and industrial infrastructures to businesses, housing, shopping, leisure and other amenities to residents, while offering cultural and heritage products to tourists.”

One of good examples of successful urban rebranding is a small town from Virginia, USA – Roanoke. The article explaining genesis of this best practice example is published on Here, we’ve summed up all the important lessons learned in our Sigma Infty infographics.

Finally, the article “Trains build Roanoke. Science saved it.” provides interesting definition of the economic development. The definition of Beth Doughty of the Roanoke Regional Partnership perfectly synthesis the complexity and usual misunderstanding of the concept:

“People want economic development to be a silver bullet, but it’s not. It’s like spinning plates,” she says. “No person or entity is responsible for all of the plates, but you do want them all spinning at the same time.”


For a pdf version of the infographic please click on the following link: Urban_Rebranding_SigmaInfty_Infographics

The first quote in this post is taken from

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Come comunicare e fare business in Cina

come investire in Cina

An article by Iacopo Benini

lacopo Benini

problem solving pulsar think net

Il 26 gennaio si è tenuto presso la Camera di Commercio di Prato il convegno “Wechat e non solo: comunicare e fare business con la Cina”, al quale ha partecipato Iacopo Benini di Pin Prato Srl, collaboratore e contributor di Sigma Infty, che in questo articolo ci illustra i punti salienti dell’incontro.

Le peculiarità culturali, politiche e digitali

Gli interventi di Gianluigi Negro, ricercatore postdoc e assistant editor presso il China Media Observatory dell’Università della Svizzera Italiana e dell’Avvocato Junyi Bai della Camera di Commercio Italo-Cinese hanno fornito informazioni molto interessanti sullo stato dell’arte dell’internet cinese e sugli strumenti più efficaci per chi vuole investire sull’e-commerce in Cina. È stato anche presentato il progetto pilota WeChat della Camera di Commercio di Prato che ha strutturato le sue attività di comunicazione istituzionale in modo da dialogare anche con l’imprenditoria cinese del territorio.

Nonostante la prima connessione commerciale a internet in Cina sia stata attivata solo nel 1994, i numeri parlano già di 731 milioni di utenti.

Non ci dobbiamo quindi sorprendere se per accedere al mercato cinese molte aziende abbiano fatto ricorso ai media digitali, i quali per diversi fattori hanno avuto uno sviluppo molto particolare, sia nelle modalità che negli strumenti.

Le peculiarità culturali e politiche della Cina hanno fatto sì che motori di ricerca, social media e applicativi per il mobile andassero su un altro binario, il quale non porta ai soliti Google, eBay, Facebook ecc. Come ci ha spiegato Negro, quando si fa riferimento ai colossi dell’internet cinese, si parla di tre grandi regni:

Baidu per la ricerca online, Alibaba per l’e-commerce e Tencent per gli applicativi mobile.

Risulta quindi fondamentale posizionarsi sull’internet cinese con competenze adeguate che tengano conto di queste caratteristiche. Le possibilità sono molteplici: Baidu, quarto sito più visitato al mondo, fornisce la possibilità di collegarsi direttamente alle piattaforme e-commerce e offre diversi servizi per monitorare e indicizzare le ricerche. Con 3,3 miliardi di queries al giorno, è fondamentale per essere visibili sull’internet cinese. Weibo, il Facebook cinese – Gianluigi Negro ci ha fatto notare che in realtà le somiglianze sono poche – è la piattaforma regina del microblogging in cui il linguaggio ludico e il coinvolgimento di opinion leader risulta decisivo soprattutto se pensiamo che ha circa 222 milioni di account registrati.


Image by [Iacopo Benini].

Linguaggio ludico per fare business

Infine WeChat, conosciuto in Cina come Weixin, l’applicazione di messaggistica istantanea che ha potenzialità infinite anche per il marketing. In Cina con WeChat ci si informa, si comunica ma si fanno anche pagamenti. Si paga il taxi, si ordina la pizza, si scambiano regali con gli amici, si fa shopping. Anche in questo caso, per favorire l’engagement degli utenti, il linguaggio dev’essere giocoso e le grafiche accattivanti per un’utenza orientale.

Non è quindi un caso che molti brand prestigiosi abbiano deciso di utilizzare questi strumenti per vendere i propri prodotti nonostante, come sottolineato da Negro, inizialmente ci sia stata un po’ di reticenza da parte dei brand del lusso ad utilizzare un linguaggio fatto di emoticon,

dove il gaming può essere una strategia vincente per coinvolgere utenti-consumatori.

fare il business con le aziende Cinesi

Image by [CCIAA Prato].

Il sistema del crossborder e-commerce

Junyi Bai ha invece evidenziato come tali strumenti possano essere vincenti se adeguatamente integrati ai vantaggi offerti dal crossborder e-commerce per fare business in Cina. Il sistema del crossborder e-commerce, da quando è stato ufficializzato dal governo cinese, ha rappresentato una rivoluzione per chi vende in Cina perché ha alleggerito sensibilmente la burocrazia legata alla registrazione dei prodotti e alla loro conformità.

Spunti stimolanti arrivano anche dall’utilizzo dei social media cinesi a fini sociali. È questo è il caso del progetto pilota WeChat della Camera di Commercio di Prato, implementato in collaborazione con Pin srl che è stato presentato da Silvia Gambi di CCIAA Prato e da Iacopo Benini di Pin Prato srl. Utilizzare questi strumenti può aiutare la comunicazione pubblica di quegli enti che vogliano comunicare in modo diretto con un’utenza cinese. Silvia Gambi ha spiegato come la Camera di Commercio sia riuscita a entrare in contatto con gli imprenditori cinesi attraverso WeChat per comunicare in maniera più efficace l’insieme dei servizi che l’ente offre e degli adempimenti a cui le aziende devono rispondere.

I social media cinesi sono una scommessa interessante per le aziende che intendano vendere in Cina, e il crossborder e-commerce ha alleggerito gli oneri fiscali e i costi burocratici dell’e-commerce.

Ci sono quindi delle potenzialità inesplorate che però richiedono competenze adeguate per una strategia di investimenti mirati alla vendita in Cina.

Visto che ci troviamo nel periodo del Capodanno cinese, buon lavoro e Buon Anno del Gallo a tutti!



Iacopo Benini – PROJECT MANAGER & INVESTMENT CONSULTANT Iacopo is a project manager. He worked as a project officer for important local development interventions in Italy and Southern America, bringing innovations and new ideas. Educated in international communication, he holds a master in international relations. He has designed and managed several communication campaign targeted to migrants, networking public and private entities, researchers and local stakeholders. He is firmly committed to social inclusion of migrants.




Sara Polidoro – LANGUAGE SUPPORT (Italian A | French B | Russian, English, Serbian, Croatian C) Freelance Conference Interpreter – Sara has been pursuing her dream of becoming a conference interpreter since her childhood. She has earned an MA’s in Conference Interpreting from the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators (University of Bologna), and she has lived, studied and worked in Brussels, Moscow and Belgrade. Her career as a freelancer started in 2008, and since then she has been travelling for events and conferences regularly. Her professional activities include consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, community interpreting for healthcare facilities, as well as interpreter training. She is an instructor of Russian>Italian liaison and consecutive interpreting at the University of Macerata and a language tutor for Russian>Italian consecutive and simultaneous interpreting at the University of Bologna.

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Green energy from the urban aqueducts: Loclain innovative startup

global water

An article by Slobodan Ocokoljic


problem solving pulsar

When I was a child, I loved to build dams on mountain springs and rivers. As I lived in a remote mountain village, there was plenty of water all around. Even now, when I play with my son close to the water, building dams with look alike turbines is our favourite game – alongside with throwing stones into the water, of course.

Why am I telling this to you? Because the article you are about to read deals with an innovative water flow regulation valve that actually works the same way as the dams I used to build as a kid. But, of course, this valve harnesses the energy potential of the urban aqueducts.

How cool is that! Small dams beneath our feet built on the city water supply pipes. Finally, some startup with a truly great and green idea. So, without further adieu, Sigma Infty presents you the company behind this game-changing solution: LOCLAIN.

Zero emission energy efficiency

Water is the resource of the future, and green energy is the present objective of our society. Innovative solutions in water management systems and green energy are surely to be profitable and everyone is ready to invest in the R&D of innovative solutions in this field. This should be obvious having in mind that the potential of the smart city market is huge.

Smart city market is estimated to grow from USD 312,03 Billion in 2015 up to USD 757,74 Billion by 2020, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 19,4%. Moreover, according to the New Climate Economy (NCE), investment demand for sustainable infrastructure is estimated to be around USD 6 trillion annually over the next 15 years, up from some USD 3 trillion invested in all types of infrastructure today. Finally, as people from Loclain told us, the control valves and water services sector amounts for 18 bn USD and has an annual growth rate of 5%.

All this should mean that the startups trying to innovate in this field can easily find financing. I took an interview with a local startup from Imola, Italy, that was awarded as the innovative company in the 2016 Bologna water technologies fair ACCADUEO in the category pumps, machines and plant design. Their story is highly interesting and gives a completely different insight, as it proves that it is not so easy to find the financiers of good ideas, even in a steadily growing sector.

tensions on water food land resources info-graphics

A self-explaining infographics. Source: OECD Science, Technology and  Innovation outlook 2016

Research and development as an investment

Before being awarded as an innovative startup, they also won a prize for their patent. Yet, they struggled to find investment for their business plan. No bank or regional institution were willing to help during the startup development process. They found the solution for funding their research and development activities and flow testing machines only by selling 20% percent of their founding capital to a business angel from northern Italy. 

Once their half a million EUR machine for water flow testing was installed, and all necessary certificates acquired, they were ready to hit the market. They also wisely chose the market entry point. Bologna International Water Exhibition is one of the leading fairs in Europe and it is only 30 km from Imola where the startup is based, so they really felt like home.

And this is where I met the Loclain team. I was working as an interpreter for a Serbian delegation at the Fair. As soon as I saw the name of the innovation prize winner, I ran to their stand. As I am also from Imola, and I was launching the Sigma Infty think net, a startup as well, we noticed that we had a lot in common and agreed to meet for this interview.

So, these are the Q&A from our last week interview with Loclain executive assistant Alessia Bernardi.

Loclain executive assistant Alessia Bernardi

Loclain executive assistant Alessia Bernardi. Image by [Personal Gallery].

LOCLAIN srl – company ID

Year of establishment
No. of employees

Mechanics & engineering
Zero emission energy efficiency
Imola (BO)

About the product: LocPower valve

Q – What is the innovative part of your product?

A – We have integrated two previously separate solutions of the flow/pressure control valve and energy harvesting turbine into one product, the LocPower valve. Thus, we have decreased the price of production, the physical space for the installation of the valve, and the number of necessary permits for the installation. At the same time, we have increased the energy recovery level. The LocPower system converts energy dissipation into mechanical power and then into electric energy. All this with zero greenhouse gas emissions. The annual produced energy from one installed product is enough to create the energy 67 average italian households would need. Also, by using LocPower valve, 66,5 tons of greenhouse gases are saved from emission into the atmosphere.    

IMG_1943 (2)

LocPower valve. This image is copyrighted, and used with permission. Image by Loclain.

Q – How did you get the idea?

A – Lorenzo and Claudio, the founders of Loclain, have a background in the control valves sector, as they have both worked as consultants in this field. This gave them an excellent insight into the potentials and problems of the sector. They have joined their entrepreneurial and engineer capacities to make a valve prototype.

Q – How did you get the funds for the realisation of your business plan?

A – We did not get any financial help from bank, nor from regional or national funds for startup support. We have fundraised enough for financing the business plan by selling 20% of our share capital to a business angel from Milan.

Q – What were the key barriers: administrative/operational/technical/financial?

A – The key barrier was the financial one. We needed to invest around 500,000 EUR in the construction of the flow test plant. When we made our hydraulic flow test plant operational, this was already an enormous step forward. You see, this is maybe the biggest difference between the ICT startups and the industrial startups. Industrial startups are capital intensive and they need much more financing in order to start the business.

LocPower energy harnessing valve innovation made in Italy

LocPower energy harnessing valve is ready for installation. This image is copyrighted, and used with permission. Image by Loclain.


Q – If any, how was the support from the development institutions/agencies?

A – We did not receive any help whatsoever from regional or national institutions. However, we do care about the territorial aspects of our company and our strategic choice is to always look first for the suppliers and partners inside the local area. However, if we cannot find the necessary components locally, we look for them elsewhere.

Q – Are you a part of some cluster/incubator or do you have plans to make public-private partnerships?

A – For the time being, we are not part of any incubator nor cluster. Our strategic focus is on the partnership with universities. Since we have an area of 600 sq.m. for R&D where flow tests are performed, we would like to make this space available for university research. We just had our first undergraduate intern that conducted the tests for his graduate thesis in our laboratories. Starting from this year, we will host postgraduate interns. The partnership with universities is important for us, because it allows us to stay in contact with the most promising students who, if they perform well, could get employed in our company.  

Q – Do you plan to apply/have you already applied for HORIZON 2020 entrepreneurship/innovation support programs?

A – We did not apply for H2020, as this program is more focused on supporting basic research and innovation, while we are focused on applied industrial research and innovation.

Loclain headquarters

Loclain headquarters. Image by [Personal Gallery].

Management and consultancy

Q – Inhouse or outsourced business consultancy/grant application management?

A – We look for outsourced consultancy and grant application management only when we are not able to do it by ourselves. Consultancy firms cannot have a better insight on our products and needs than ours. We have our inhouse pull of experts that is responsible for these types of activities. It is composed by a lawyer, an accountant and myself. I am an economic development expert. Right now we are working on the application for the 2017 POR FESR regional fund.  

Q – Are you planning to internationalize Loclain?

A – Yes, but starting from 2018. First, we will need to collect the feedback from the Italian market. In this moment, all our suppliers are from Italy. During the first two years, our strategy is to develop and implement the product nationally. Then, during the third year we will start looking at the international markets. We are very interested in foreign markets, as our patent and certificates are valid in more than 50 countries.

Q – Do you already have partners in some of these countries/markets?

A – The Bologna fair was very important for us. It was our platform for creating worldwide partnerships.

Loclain water flow test laboratory.

Loclain water flow test laboratory. This image is copyrighted, and used with permission. Image by Loclain.


Q – What is the aftermath of the Bologna H2O fair innovation award?

A – The award did not have any impact on our activities. It has increased a bit our visibility, but the presence at the fair was even more important than that. A lot of contacts have turned into orders and contracts. So, we can say the fair was a springboard for us. We thought that the award would increase our chances to access regional funds. However, our recent application was rejected.

Q – What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

A – Energy efficiency is a global trend driving companies towards constant improvements. Loclain’s objective is to be a forerunner and to anticipate the latest trends. If possible, we would like to have the first-mover advantage over our competitors.  

Q – How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimised?

A – Innovation is the Loclain’s asset. As far as the technical aspects of the innovation are concerned, we have a production area of 3600 sq.m. and 600 sq.m. of space for R&D, and our first product has already won the innovation award. As every innovative company, we are trying to organise our management processes in innovative ways. This is best seen in our organigram. We have introduced the position of “innovation director”, so as better to emphasize the importance of innovation for our company culture.

Q – What can your company offer for free that no one else does?

A – Well, the answer is energy recovery. Having in mind that our product is a dissipating valve with an integrated energy generating turbine, this will allow customers to have the chance to harnessthe energy of the water flow from their conveyance water pipes without additional investments.


Image by [Knowledge@Wharton].



Slobodan Ocokoljic – FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE PROBLEM SOLVING PULSAR THINK NET Researcher / Manager / Translator – Constantly on the move and in pursuit of missions impossible to accomplish. Slobodan studied Political Science and Local Economic Development. After 6 years of working both as a researcher and project manager, in 2016 he started working as a freelancer. He lived, studied and worked in Belgrade, Trento and Budapest. Two years ago, he moved with his family from his homeland to Italy. Thus, he is interested in connections and influences between places and people, economic development and human development, environmental protection and human rights, as well as urban/regional development and business innovation. He firmly believes that no other force has stronger gravitational pull than knowledge, that’s why he chose the name Sigma Infty, as a synonym for the infinite thirst for knowledge.



Sara Polidoro – LANGUAGE SUPPORT (Italian A | French B | Russian, English, Serbian, Croatian C) Freelance Conference Interpreter – Sara has been pursuing her dream of becoming a conference interpreter since her childhood. She has earned an MA’s in Conference Interpreting from the Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators (University of Bologna), and she has lived, studied and worked in Brussels, Moscow and Belgrade. Her career as a freelancer started in 2008, and since then she has been travelling for events and conferences regularly. Her professional activities include consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, community interpreting for healthcare facilities, as well as interpreter training. She is an instructor of Russian>Italian liaison and consecutive interpreting at the University of Macerata and a language tutor for Russian>Italian consecutive and simultaneous interpreting at the University of Bologna.

Help us drive the change: Read. Share. Repeat.