“What makes us invest in a company is based on a whole bunch of characteristics – explains super angel investor Ron Conway -. Usually the first question I ask is ‘What inspired you to create this product?’. I’m hoping that it’s based on a personal problem that that founder had and this product is the solution to that personal problem”.
That’s exactly what inspired 27 year old Brian Pallas to create Opportunity Network. Brian is an Italian entrepreneur who now lives and works in New York City, after graduating at the Columbia Business School last May. While studying at Columbia for his MBA, Brian was Vice President of the Columbia University Family Business Club. In fact since he was studying Economy at Università Cattolica in Milano, his hometown, Brian has always been working with his father, Jimmy Pallas, a well known set designer and event production manager, especially in the show business. Brian helped his father organize concerts and he also wrote texts for Italian TV programs such as “Zelig”. Then he graduated “cum laude”, got a job at the Boston Consulting Group, and in 2013 came to NYC for his MBA.
At Columbia he realized that all the Family Business Club’s members, including himself, “were looking for business opportunities, but nobody was really disclosing what they were looking for or offering. Thus, Brian started collecting opportunities anonymously and sharing them through a newsletter distributed to Club members. When people were interested in an opportunity, he personally introduced them to the specific counterparty via e-mail and they could start a direct commercial discussion” (see the presentation of Opportunity Network here). Soon the newsletter became very popular and Brian started sending it to MBA students in other U.S universities. Last February the newsletter evolved into a startup, Opportunity Network (ON), which is an online marketplace that enables companies (“Members”) to share and search for business opportunities, always anonymously.
Brian created his company at the Columbia Startup Lab, which is “a 5,100 sq.ft. co-working facility located at WeWork Soho West that provides subsidized space for 71 Columbia alumni entrepreneurs to house and nurture their fledgling ventures. With over 40 startups from all over the Columbia campus, the Lab is the result of a unique partnership between the deans of Columbia College and the Schools of Business, Engineering, Law, and International and Public Affairs.”. “The Columbia Startup Lab is a very stimulating environment where you can share ideas and collaborate in a very useful way; thanks to another startup hosted by the Lab we were able to change our domain from .us to .com, for example”, explains Enrica Sighinolfi, who is in charge of HR and PR at ON.
Opportunity Network has already over 3,000 members in 75 countries, hosting more than 10 billion dollars worth of business opportunities and employing 30 people on 3 continents. It admits only members of reputable Trade Associations, clients of top Service Providers, and members of Family Business Clubs of top MBAs from all over the world. Confindustria Verona, Invitalia, SDA Bocconi School of Management, and the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce are among its partners.
The membership costs $1,500 per year. Besides that, ON doesn’t earn any advisory fee. One million is the minimum dollar value of any deal that is offered in the network. Around 50% of deals are international business development, 40% are cross-border M&A and 10% are domestic. Here is a sample of a deal that was recently made: “Italy, Well Established Wine Production Company For Sale (Export in 30 Countries). Selling well known wine production company in Piemonte (Italy). 55 hectares on continuous terrain. 5500 square meters fully automated wine cellar, equipped with state of the art technology. Current production volume of 850k bottles (sold entirely with 80% export). Beautiful mansion with swimming pool and various adjacent farmhouses. Approximate value of 18 MN EUR.”
Brian’s success was recently recognized by FBN, the International Family Business Network: he was one of the three finalist for the “NxG Award”, which “champions young family business members who initiated entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial projects contributing to renew and energize their family business” as you can read on its website.
Will Opportunity Network become the entrepreneurs’ Facebook? We’ll see. In the meantime Brian’s startup has already raised $500,000 in funding from investors, half of which are Italian, and his goal is to reach self-sustainability in the next ten months.