New Kids On The Block

Jo Caruana - 17th September 2017

From culinary sustainability to gaming apps, Malta’s start-up scene is buzzing. Meet some of Malta’s most dynamic young entrepreneurs.

DANNY’S

JP Debono recently launched Danny’s – an innovative foodie concept in Mriehel that’s focused on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

“Setting up a business has been an interesting learning curve so far. My brother Fabien and I are running the company together – I am focused on the food and he’s focused on the business, so we’re learning how to collaborate and it’s working out great. I would say the most exciting moment so far has been securing our site on the Mriehel Bypass, as it was exactly what we were looking for.

“The kitchen is my second home and I have loved working in kitchens since I was 15. The business is actually named after our father, Daniel, who has always encouraged us to pursue our own paths and, together, we have created a brand the promises our guests something fresh, delicious and with a great story behind it.

“I think the start-up environment in Malta is changing slowly. Encouraging people to start their own businesses makes for an interesting ecosystem within whichever sector the company operates in, and Malta has a vibrant food scene that keeps getting better and better. Besides feeding people, we hope to educate them too – so seasonality and freshness are cornerstones of our ethos.

“When it comes to being an entrepreneur in Malta, you need an open mind combined with the humility to accept direction from others who've done it before and are willing to guide you. Guts and determination are also essential, and you can’t be scared to be different – it will help you stand out. The changing environment in the start-up scene has certainly helped us evolve collectively rather than to accept the same old, same old.

“Over the next few months we will be focused on making Danny’s a profitable business while staying true to our values; it won’t be easy but we’re determined to make it work.”

 

TE FIT-TAZZA

Andrew Farrugia and his business partner Craig MacDonald create locally-inspired prints for beautiful spaces through their artistic company, Te fit-Tazza.

“The idea behind Te fit-Tazza began in my 20s, when I spent three years travelling, studying and working in Japan and Canada. When I returned to Malta, I started working in the hospitality industry, which helped nurture my appreciation for the little gems our island is graced with. I was also lucky enough to meet Craig on a project some time ago and this new-found friendship evolved into a business partnership. In August last year, we launched 30 prints – all inspired by Malta and with their own story to tell. That’s how Te fit-Tazza was officially born.

“The company itself took us around 18 months to launch, and our first key milestone came when we confirmed our first print. We went through many samples but were determined not to settle – we knew we wanted quality. Once that first print arrived there was no turning back and we progressed to our first exhibition – Series 1, the Elements of Malta. It’s been an incredible experience so far.

“When I think of the start-up scene in general, I believe people locally react well to it. In the last year, I have been lucky enough to meet many of our customers, and have felt the sense of community and support that comes from being a new, small business. In my opinion, we are experiencing an increase in the number of young entrepreneurs achieving great things on an international level; I hope this synergy will keep fine-tuning the way for future generations. After all, persistence is crucial. Things will get hard at some point, but it’s important to keep striving for what you believe in.

“Now, we’re celebrating our first year of Te fit Tazza and plan to release five new prints that celebrate summer on the island. Our next main project will be the creation of Series 2, which we’d like to release in time for Christmas.”

 

POANG

Luca Amato, Steve Zammit Briffa and Patrick Camilleri are behind POANG – a Maltese game development company. Here Luca shares their story so far.

“It was 2014 when Steve was looking for a new project, and he approached me at a wedding with an idea for a fantasy football game app. I was interested and, a few meetings (and beers) later, a more concrete plan was formed. It was obvious that our team was not complete and we needed someone who could take care of the IT aspect, so I got in touch with Patrick and he fit right in, contributing not only to the coding side but also to the business as a whole. It’s been quite a journey, and our app went live in mid-August on iOS Appstore, Google Play, web and Facebook Gamesroom.

“There are have been a number of key milestones so far, including the launch of the alpha version in June 2016, which was a very primitive, web-based version that we used to gauge market reception and validate our idea. It was received well. Then, in September, we entered a financial forecast period where we determined the funds that would be required to get the project launched. We approached Harvest Technology, the technology division of Hili Ventures, for venture capital funding. Thus began a six-month process of due diligence where we quite literally examined every aspect of the business and stress-tested the model in every way imaginable. After further agreements and the acceleration of the product development, we reached launch stage.

“When it comes to the start-up scene in Malta, I think it is picking up, slowly but surely. An increasing number of entrepreneurs are willing to take the plunge into the (business) unknown, and there is definitely a community of young individuals who share common ideals and are very keen to share knowledge. Initiatives such as Silicon Valletta, Heyday and Take Off at the University of Malta are great fora for meeting likeminded individuals.

“Being an entrepreneur in Malta requires the same qualities as it would anywhere else. Without wanting to regurgitate a time-honoured cliché, it is, first and foremost, a lot of hard work – especially when you don’t have the resources to launch into the business full-time from Day One. In our case, we kept our full-time jobs for two years before taking the plunge. We would meet on weekdays at 8pm and work until 1am, sometimes more. Throw in a toddler running around during meetings and you can really picture the scene!  

“Secondly, you have to be willing to leave your comfort zone. Business is an intrinsically unstable activity, more so when launching a hit-or-miss product like a game. Some people are happy to take that risk and others aren’t. Being one of the former is a useful quality. Finally, the fact that we live in Malta does help to a certain extent, since we are a tight-knit community where people tend to have wide networks of contacts.

“As for the immediate future of POANG, our focus over the coming months will be tracking the game and marketing performance, and releasing new game features. Our plan is to gauge reception and, if it is successful, to export it to new territories, particularly emerging markets that are experiencing very fast growth, such as Africa and the Middle East. We are also considering re-skinning it for other team sports.”

 

MVP

Nightlife ‘package’ MVP was recently founded by Edward Tortell (left), Tom Grech (right), Lloyd Bonello, Andrew Mercieca and Calvin Jurkovic and, together, they believe it has grown into a concept that can revolutionise clubbing in Malta. Here Edward talks us through their progress so far.

“MVP started out like many other businesses – as a wild, hare-brained idea that was doomed to fail! But Tom and I refused to let it go and went back to it, refined it and, after months of work, launched it.

“My early background in the entertainment and hospitality sector helped to give me insight into the industry, while my career in commercial banking gave me the exposure I needed in the business world. I think all of that helped in the beginning, along with the fact that we have a diverse team that enabled us to cover many bases.  

“I think our most memorable milestone so far was our launch night, when our product finally hit the market and all our stress finally paid off. Our product was well-received and our clients were over the moon about the amount of money they could save on their weekly nights out.

“In our experience, though, Malta’s response to start-ups has been mixed – there is always someone who will try to give you reasons why the business will fail. On the other side of the spectrum, though, we found a lot of support from our close friends, mentors, business partners and previous clients, who went out of their way to help us build on our vision. There’s no doubt that determination and commitment are the lynch-pins to success. Ultimately, none of this would get us anywhere if we were incapable of communicating our message to the leaders of the top entertainment establishments in Malta. At MVP, we are indeed lucky that within our team, we collectively have the qualities to see us through!

“We’re now gearing up for the winter months and the opportunities they will bring; we want to ensure we are well-prepared and ready to go on the offense – so our goal is to work on ways of making our product even more valuable than it already is. We will be going after and partnering up with as many quality establishments as possible to ensure our clientele receive one of, if not the, best experience within Malta’s touristic scene.”

 

This feature originally appeared in the Commercial Courier


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