Lino Giusti interviews Giuliano Zendri
A new business has come out of the academic laboratories of the Department of Physics, ready to change for the better the approach of students and the wider community towards the hard sciences. We discuss the business with Giuliano Zendri, its CEO.
Doctor Zendri, can you describe what Level Up will do?
Level Up is a laboratory for the design of educational materials and the spread of scientific knowledge. Our aim is to develop and offer educational tools and learning activities that are innovative in their content, their methodology and the technologies they use, as well as offering events for the promotion and spread of scientific knowledge.
How did the idea come about for an academic start up in a sector like this one?
The need for a wider understanding of science is obvious, and is something that is discussed at an international level. The idea for a company comes from the numerous educational and popular science projects developed by the Communication of Physical Sciences Laboratory, coordinated by professor Stefano Oss. Academically, the development of the idea and the assessment of the effectiveness of the projects are the two cardinal stages of the work. After these stages, the research can be considered substantially over, and the learning activities developed are offered at selected events, for example at the Researchers’ Night, the Genoa Science Festival, or BergamoScienza. At these events these activities are always a great success, so we decided to offer them on a permanent basis through Level Up. This initial idea grew over time, to include the development and production of teaching tools and the opening of a space/laboratory where we can offer science education activities.
Why should this work be done by a private company?
As the founders of Level Up, we believe strongly in the role of public services – such as schools, universities and museums – in science education. But these organisations often need support in what they are doing. For example, there is the recent introduction of work experience schemes into schools: without adequate private companies that are able to provide suitable work for students, the students could end up doing activities that have no clear learning objectives. Such needs require teaching and scientific communication professionals who have access to a structure that is fast and elastic, qualities typical of a private company.
What does the Communication of Physical Sciences Laboratory at the Department of Physics do?
The laboratory deals with a range of educational aspects of physics. Its main activity is research into teaching methods, designing and trialling new teaching activities or developing new experimental techniques to be used in scientific education. As well as this central nucleus of activities, other important activities include coordination with IPRASE (the provincial institute for research and educational experimentation) regarding initial and in-service teacher training, the development of university orientation activities for secondary school students, the scientific supervision of the Jet Propulsion Theater for their science-theatre shows, participation in science festivals, and much more.
What professional skills did you develop within it?
In the laboratory I learned especially how complex this sector is that we are moving into, which could help me to look beyond the problems that need to be dealt with. Among the “professional” skills I learnt were the importance of the preparation of each project/meeting, and the need to put yourself in the shoes of the people you meet, in order to have effective communication of whatever type.
What do you think will be the most significant difficulties in developing your project?
In these first few months since Level Up started, many of the hypotheses we included in our business plan are being confirmed. The first difficulty is certainly that of establishing ourselves as professionals in the sector and making people aware of our existence, an aspect that requires a great investment of time, as personal trust is a key element in this area. The second difficulty is definitely scalability, given the need for space and special equipment to complete the second stage of our project.
Who is in the Level Up team and how did it come together?
Level Up consists of three partners. As well as myself, there is Tommaso Rosi, a PhD student in physics at the Communication of Physical Sciences Laboratory, and Giovanni Formilan, who has a PhD in management. The team started from Tommaso and I sharing the same intentions and methodologies, and then Giovanni has added his experience in management and the organisation of cultural events.
Which public and private organisations will you be working with?
We have already started building relationships with schools and teachers in the province, a fundamental step to be able to plan effective and interesting projects. We have made initial contact with local businesses regarding developing equipment and tools for us, and later, offering them to schools and organisations. And finally we will work with museums and with companies, to cooperate in synergy, focusing on the local area but also looking nationally, and – why not? – internationally.
What advice would you give to those who are considering setting up a company based on scientific research?
In science, especially as a student, you tend to give a lot of importance to numbers, and to think that they speak for themselves, trusting in the “scientific” truth to a large extent. I would advise people not to neglect the human and personal aspects, which are important in doing business. Having a good idea or a good product is not enough. For people to understand and support you, you need to know most of all how to get on with the people you meet and how to present your ideas effectively.