Technology and knowledge connecting university and business
Issue 15 | Year 6 | July 2016


Matteo: a PhD in Physics and the move from university research to work in a technology startup

Versione stampabile
by Lino Giusti
Works in the Scientific Research and Technology Transfer Division of the University of Trento.
My studies at the University of Trento have been fully utilized in my work as a coordinator and member of a development team.

Lino Giusti interviews Matteo Franchi

Adding PhDs to the team in a technology startup allows the company to develop its products and services using the most up-to-date skills. Matteo Franchi followed this path, moving from the world of research to the world of business.

Matteo, can you tell us about your studies and about your current job? 

I did all my studies at Trento, from the Bachelor of Physics to my PhD. An Erasmus year in Lund (Sweden) let me add some experience abroad to my training. Now I work as the Chief Technology Officer for Atooma, an Italian technology startup. 

Why did you choose to do a doctorate and what do you think it gave you in addition to scientific skills?

The doctorate taught me to manage time and deadlines, and to organize myself. In addition, with two other PhD students and the support of the University of Trento and Confindustria Trento we came up with the idea for, and then organized, the first edition of Industrial Problem Solving with Physics (IPSP), solving technological problems posed by companies. Participating in IPSP allowed me to learn about the world of business and technology transfer.

How did the chance to work at Atooma come up and what does the company do? 

My first contact with Atooma was through Linkedin. After sending my CV I was contacted for an interview with Fabrizio, the Chief Executive Officer of the startup. The next step was a test in which the other candidates and I had 24 hours to solve some problems using machine learning techniques. Finally there was a further interview to discuss the solutions proposed.
The company produces the Resonance AI platform, which allows developers to create smartphone and web applications that are able to recognize the context that the user is in. I started at Atooma as a data scientist, with the goal of creating models and algorithms that are able to predict behaviors and learn the habits of users. Since June I’ve been in charge of the organization and management of the development team, in addition to my previous work.  At the moment we are looking for new developers to analyze the huge amount of data from the devices we support. 

Of what you learnt at university, what has been most useful to you? 

During my doctorate in physics I analyzed chaotic signals with stochastic noise; this study gave me a basis on which to learn the main techniques of machine learning and to apply them to real signals. This is the work of a data scientist, quite a sought-after professional these days, who may find work in fields from predicting movements of the stock exchange to oil drilling or the prediction of terrorist attacks. I can say that my studies have been fully utilized in my work.  

What are the most important character traits when you work in a young company that is trying to establish itself on the market through technology? 

A startup definitely has a less rigid and more horizontal hierarchy than a company, less defined working hours, the need for more flexibility in roles, and a much more streamlined decision-making process, which means more responsibility for each member of the group. 
The ability to listen to clients’ needs and to respect the production requirements of a company that is continuously innovating are two of the fundamental characteristics you must have to work in a startup, other than obviously the need to work in a team and towards objectives. 

You work in Trento. Do you think that this job will take you elsewhere or do you think you will stay here? 

Atooma is a startup that is spread between Rome, Trento and Milan. I think this model is an example of how some kinds of work can use new technologies and so you no longer need to be physically in the same space as colleagues, but just to have shared goals with a group of people who are working in a coordinated way. In Italy Trento is an technological hub at the cutting edge, so at the moment I’m not thinking of moving, but rather of creating a network of professionals to collaborate with to produce innovation.  Relationships with other organizations are vital; in the next few months I will have to go to Munich because Atooma has been selected by Techfounders, an important business acceleration program.