Lockdown Economy Malta in a European Opportunities Consultancy with Angele Giuliano
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Michael Piao
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
Late June 2020, Julia Skupchenko from Lockdown Economy spoke with Angele Giuliana, a business angel, mentor and founder of AcrossLimits, a Malta-based company with 19 years on the market, that guides businesses and organizations through different European opportunities. She explains how COVID-19 has affected businesses and how the lockdown has driven many more entities to seek their advice, especially related to new health funding. Angela shares that the big change was in the lack of travelling and physical presence with the initial introduction with clients. Her whole team of 25 employees were working remotely. Angele notices that people were more productive, they could save time on travel, and after the lockdown, she plans to keep the remote working with only two days in the office. Angela also shares what it means to be a business angel. She talks about a group of female business angels Rising Tide, and how the lockdown affected their behaviour in terms of investing.
What is the typical day in the life of a business angel?
Angele: To start, let’s first explain what a business angel is because many people know we are investors, but they mix us up with venture capitalists. In fact we are actually very different. A business angel is a professional with years of experience, entrepreneur, or retired entrepreneur that is looking to invest his or her money into businesses that are normally still starting up. It’s not just money that the business angel gives, but also mentoring, experience, holding, and networks. Although a business angel might invest a small amount of money, they do it at the riskiest point in the life of a company, which is when they are still starting up.
A normal day would be speaking with early-stage entrepreneurs by email, social media, or LinkedIn that are opening up a business. They normally give a pitch with a PowerPoint or video conference call and ask if I am interested. If at that moment I have the liquidity and I’m interested, I might start a conversation with them. If not, I will at least point them into some direction because the whole point of doing this is because I’ve been an entrepreneur for 22 years and I want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Is there a criterion for becoming a business angel?
Angele: No, but it does help to go through some training because even for entrepreneurs, learning about the investment side is different. Therefore, there is some very good online training for business angels or you might get in touch with other business angels because at times we may invest in a group.
For example, I am also a part of a group of women-only business angels called Rising Tide. I promote this because there are not enough business angels, but also women business angels, so we help each other understand more and invest together therefore the financial risk is lower.
Can you share your story behind AcrossLimits?
Angele: Acrosslimits has been in business for 19 years, I started back in 2001. I originally started it as a normal software company, since my background was IT and that’s what I studied at University. I wanted to know how to improve things but to be fair, I quickly got bored with building software. So then I got in contact with research projects especially in the areas of IT and health, and IT and education. So that to me was closer to my values, putting IT at the service of society.
The majority of these projects were funded by the European Commission and back then in 2001, Malta was not even a member of the EU. We became a member in 2004, but as a candidate, you can already participate so that is what I did. I also got lucky and was chosen to be an evaluator so I was able to see things from both sides, the commission, and the people applying. Through that, we became good at what we do and then we branched out into consultancy.
Today we offer consultancy to entities that are public or private, that do not understand how the EU works. There are many different agencies with different roles, so we guide entities to all the different European opportunities. To be clear, we are not funding consultants, we are European opportunities consultants. So I help people understand where the opportunities are in Europe so they can grow their business. It could be through tendering, networking, joint biddings for projects, but it all depends on the client.
How has the COVID crisis lockdown affected your business?
Angele: We were busier than before since health projects became more important. More money was pumped into health projects by private institutions, not just European institutions. Also by being home, I think people had more time to think about how to grow their business. Some clients from years ago even contacted us now saying finally they had time to think about future plans.
The only thing that affected us negatively is that we run a lot of workshops and events which were normally in person, but now we had to move everything online. With that, at times there is bad internet connection but also quite tiring to do online calls all the time. But in general, I have to say it was good for business.
In terms of revenue, how much of it was consultancy versus workshops and events?
Angele: In a way, they go together because we never sell consultancy to someone that has no idea. So the first step we take is to help them understand through training and workshops. Once we know they have a certain level of understanding, that’s when we handhold them and go on with the consultancy stage.
So in a way, I would say the revenue stream is around thirty-three per cent the workshops, and sixty-six per cent the consultancy. But one leads to the other so there is a bit of symbiosis between them.
Was it easy to adapt to go directly into consultancy since workshops are no longer possible?
Angele: We did more of one-to-one communication on whichever platform we were using. Travelling was one of the major changes for me personally because normally I’m travelling every week or every other week, but now I’ve been in Malta for months.
Usually, we have 10 people in Malta and 15 people as project workers who travel often, so it is a challenge but we are handling it.
With the lockdown being lifted, do you already have travel plans?
Angele: I think some people are looking forward to the lockdown being released and therefore they started hinting about dates in the autumn. But we have not yet booked any business travels so far because we don’t know if there’s going to be a second wave.
We have been getting more flexible by blocking the dates and we will see then if it is online or in person. But at least we are filling up the diary with different dates.
What is the outlook for your company in the next few months?
Angele: Normally the summer months are relatively quiet, but we definitely want to take time off for holidays because I think we’re all very tired. The majority of us have been working from home, and actually this week we started coming back to the office in shifts.
So today I am talking to you from the office but I’ve decided even if things get back to normal, I think we will work from the office only two days a week, like Mondays and Thursdays, and the rest of the week everyone works from home.
I found people to be more productive and there is also less time being wasted travelling. We are saving an hour a day by not travelling to work.
How does your team feel about those changes?
Angele: They are positive, I spoke with everyone and they all are happy with it as long as there are a couple of days where we all meet. I think what was difficult when we were not meeting for three months was that you don’t align yourself.
I think what is difficult when we are not meeting is that you don’t align yourself.
So if we were working on the same client and the other person was doing another task, we may sometimes overlap and therefore waste time. So we are trying to have two days where we meet each other in person and figure things out together.
As a business angel, did you see a lot of difference in how entrepreneurs behaved during the lockdown?
Angele: Well, people are more risk-averse during a time of crisis. So if someone had ten or twenty thousand euros in the bank that they were going to invest before, now they may say let’s wait on the investment because they may need the funds for personal reasons. But what I have seen is much more support and mentoring. So the part of the business angel role of support and mentoring new entrepreneurs, that has definitely gone up.
So we’ve been doing events online, hackathons online, where there is a variety of business angels and experts that give their time for free. It's like online volunteering for the new generation
For more info on AcrossLimits, please visit their website.
About the Guest
Angele Giuliano has been an entrepreneur for over 22 years in the areas of ICT, Research, and European Opportunities. She is now also a business angel and mentors to budding entrepreneurs or those that want to pivot their business model.
AcrossLimits is a technology company with a heart. We believe that ICT should be put to good use in society and therefore we push for excellence in areas like eHealth, eLearning, and Digital Culture. To do this we create and collaborate in large projects mostly based in Europe, that makes the impossible just a little bit more reachable. We are a small office but we aim high and are keen to collaborate with you if you share our passions.