Search engine CEO: EU start-ups won’t survive without fair competition

Gianpiero Lotito [Facility Live]

European digital companies can take on those in the United States and Asia, but only if there is fair competition for new market entrants with bigger firms, Gianpiero Lotito believes.

That is of far more interest to start-ups than controversies over data protection such as Safe Harbour, the founder of a European search engine told EurActiv.

Gianpiero Lotito is founder and CEO of Facility Live and ambassador for e-Skills for Jobs, under the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs of the European Commission. Facility Live is a search engine based on different paradigms to previous ones, such as Google. It delivers a set of information, not a list, based on complex search queries. Founded in 2010, it is the first non-UK company to be admitted to the ELITE programme of the London Stock Exchange and has patents in 44 different countries, including Japan, USA, Israel, South Africa, South Korea and the member states. Lotito spoke to Deputy News Editor James Crisp.

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Your company is an online platform?

Facility Live is a B2B2C [business to business to consumer] platform. Our intention is to have a roadmap to deliver cloud technology in the next years, to take a different approach to the likes of Google. It’s a great company, but it’s a broadcaster, as it delivers the same message to a mass of people. A typical top-down approach, we want to deliver something different, a bottom-up model.

Data handling is a hot topic at the moment. Does that cause you concern?

No, as our intention is to deliver both technology from the bottom-up and the possibility to deliver a personal search, we won’t be holding people’s data. It’s a self-provisional model that matches the future needs of Europe. For this reason, it’s a next-generation platform. My plan and my hope is that we’ll be in the cloud in the next two years, with the possibility of rolling out to single users in the next three to four years on personal devices.

The delivery model is completely different. In our indexes, we only use the ‘searchable’ part of the information, not the entire document. Currently, if you want to have a cloud service, all information and data has to be transferred, there’s no possibility of knowing how this data is used. Our model involves the transfer of the searchable data, the main part of the information remains with the user.

Are you worried the US will consider the ongoing investigations and court cases against online platforms and US tech giants as a protectionist attack from Europe?

To be frank, I am not concerned, because I think they are based on legacy-technology. I think that the future environment will create new rules, like the Cloud. My real hope is that the future rules will help European companies have the same level of competition that the biggest companies in the world currently have. The way to advance future technology is to be intelligent enough to adopt technology from young companies. Today, if you are a little company in Europe, it’s a massive task to get involved with projects at a European and national level.

Is that because of problems with funding?   

If you are a big company that has grown somewhere else in the world, you can come here and compete at the highest levels. This can’t happen the other way around. We must grow in our own environment, but there are barriers that we must overcome.

What are those barriers?

I’m not talking about preferential treatment or favours for European companies, but equal opportunities that will allow us to compete. Small companies can’t compete at the moment. Without help in this area, European companies won’t survive.

The Digital Single Market is a perfect example of what the public sector can do to promote a new wave of European tech companies. But the main thing is to have the possibility to demonstrate our value on the market. Large corporations are beginning to carry out procurement with more flexible conditions when adopting products from start-ups, small companies etc. It’s a complex matrix.

In the consumer market, a European platform is needed to have a more competitive sector. 8,000 UK companies base their model on eBay. If eBay changes its free services policy, 8,000 companies will be in trouble. It’s not a war against someone, or big companies, it’s a request to open the market to more players on a fairer basis, akin to Silicon Valley in the 1980s.

Wasn’t there more money about then though?

I’m not so sure about that. At the moment, there’s a lot of money about in Europe. The crisis created new investment conditions. It’s not so much a matter of finding money, but being able to scale up in Europe, which isn’t easy.

How do we make Europe more competitive, while at the same time preserving employment standards?

Talent attracts talent. Skilled people want to work with each other. So the first step to creating a working environment in Europe that can create globally competitive companies is to keep talent in Europe.

How? That’s not so easy. Any kind of step that Europe can take to keep talent will create a core of talented people that will be the foundations of a wave of European employees that will revolutionise the European digital sector and industry at large. In most sectors, there is a need to pass on knowledge and skills and to digitise most industries. It’s important that when we speak about new workers, we speak about people that have a different mindset on how to create a relationship between technology and industry, and how to define that relationship. We, of course, can’t all be software designers, but the new generation needs to renew the manufacturing industry. Agriculture is a prime example. Companies and sectors have to draw on the new skills of the young generation.

What if we get it wrong?

It’ll go down, along with what happened five years ago, as one of the worst things that could happen. I don’t think we will get things wrong though. There’s a battle on a global level, with three big blocs, the US, which is software-based, and the Far East, which is hardware-based. We’re in the middle. It’s a battle we can win, depending on how we play things. With the Digital Single Market, we will have 500 million users, making it the biggest digital economy in the world.

Do we have the digital infrastructure we need?

I think that we need one generation to make this work. Things are going to change. We need to take things year by year. The first real change will take place in ten years, I think. Back in 2005, we had Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, and Sony. Look at the situation now in 2015. How many people carry a phone made by one of those companies? Ten years ago they probably cornered 90% of the market. The current market giants had a tiny share back then. It shows how fast and how significantly things change. Competing with the other two global blocs is possible.

I think it’s important to encourage young people, European companies and start-ups to continue believing that it’s possible to compete in the future. This should be the real target of the Commission.