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Starting the engine on business for good

French-based tech entrepreneur brings his positive philosophy to capitals' Startup Summit

· SUS19,Speaker,Editorial

Whether or not we're involved in the tech industry, no-one can fail to spot the ever-growing impact of technology on our lives.

For many of us, it can seem a remote thing. We're told that this all-encompassing 'tech' is something controlled by the giant corporations to take our money and in some cases our privacy.

Scare stories take hold, but the real narrative is often different - and more complicated. What we see, instead, are companies - and often startups - harnessing the undoubted power of technology for good.

At Startup Summit, taking place at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh next Wednesday (October 30th), business leaders from around the world will share that message. They'll be on stage and on hand to provide advice and guidance to the next generation of entrepreneurs who are looking to create a greater positive impact than just an impressive bottom line.

Rob Spiro will be visiting from Nantes in France, where the company he leads, Imagination Machine, already works with businesses using tech for good. He worked in Silicon Valley for a period but is clear that innovation can spring from anywhere people are working to solve problems.

"Silicon Valley does not necessarily have a monopoly on technology, research and development," says Rob. "We also have to consider what technology actually is. Tech research and development happens across the world – it happens in universities; it happens in laboratories. There are hubs with more investment than others, but that doesn't mean tech is confined to just one area.

"What I would say, however, is that there is a cluster of tech businesses in Silicon Valley - and that is because of the concentration of venture capital investment."

Rob also points to the strength of merger and acquisitions in technology, heavily driven by the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) companies.

"But that doesn't mean that Silicon Valley has the most concentrated technology network. There are talented people everywhere: you can have 100 cities that are competing to be the next Silicon Valley, including Nantes where I live, and all of them have the potential for great innovation."

There is no question regarding the talent required in any city hoping to assume that mantle, but those locations must become a magnet for capital investment to succeed in that quest.

"Those aspiring cities need to attract some of the business know-how Silicon Valley has developed. Part of that involves becoming something of an international hub because, for smaller cities to compete on the global stage, they need to attract people from the larger hubs to work there."

At Imagination Machine in Nantes, Rob and his team work on a model called the startup studio, which is increasingly gaining traction.

"We look at cool startup ideas that involve technology that needs to be developed to a new market, and we recruit co-founders. So, as well as being a co-founder, we are also the first investor. We try to launch several new ideas every year, and we finance the first steps. In this way, we can look at multiple startups in parallel."

The difference at Imagination Machine is that each of these projects has to have some value beyond the monetary. All need to make the world a better place in an environmental sense or as Rob describes it, "create greater social harmony."

"We have developed a specific type of methodology ... one of the first things is about maintaining your moral compass as you become more successful." - Rob Spiro

These are not not-for-companies; these are for-profit - but making a profit on businesses with goals to make a positive impact on the people and planet are not mutually exclusive.

Rob is joined at Imagination Machine by Anne-Gaelle Fayemi and Emilie Abel, along with the companies hosted at the offices in Nantes. The spectrum of companies that it is involved in is broad, from Jho, a business manufacturing organic cotton tampons and sanitary towels, to Il etait plusieurs fois, a website that buys and sells second-hand clothes, accessories, toys and books for children up to eight years old.

There is also UpTogether, creating a new kind of collaborative coaching network, bringing managers together through video conferencing.

This October's appearance will be Rob's first at a Startup Summit. He will share Imagination Machine's message along with what he learned from years working in Silicon Valley.

"We have developed a specific type of methodology at Imagination Machine. One of the first things is about maintaining your moral compass: how you retain idealistic goals as you become more successful in the startup world.

"That world is market-driven. Having the most beautiful idea doesn't guarantee success. If you do choose to follow the market as a traditional business person, how do you stay idealistic? So we have developed something called the 'capitalism sandwich', which I will present at Startup Summit.

"Startups are incredible tools. They are engines that we can use for good or bad, depending on what kind of people are behind it. Our goal is to find a way to use those engines for good."

Rob Spiro, Founder & Director, Imagination Machine

Are you an idealistic entrepreneur looking to create a positive impact with your next startup? Rob has the tools you need to make that a reality. Don't miss Rob, and the lineup of incredible speakers, at SUS19, Wednesday, October 30th, at the Assembly Rooms!

Startup Summit: 30th October 2019, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh. #SUS19

Originally published in The Herald on the 22nd of October.

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