Lorenzo Barabani is one of the META Group members who has been with the company almost from its inception. He joined the team in 2007 after a first experience in the marketing department of a local company in Terni. Lorenzo is a particular type of engineer: a managerial engineer who holds a multidisciplinary academic background ranging from economy to business management and maths. He’s fluent in English, Italian and Hungarian. In the office, everybody knows him as a reliable colleague always ready to joke around and work hard.
Which is your current role and a typical workday for you?
Since January, I am responsible for managing the tender department. Over the past 16 years, I have fulfilled various roles. Initially, I was responsible for project management-related tasks in several national projects. Later, I joined the sales team and was responsible for writing proposals and tenders under the guidance of senior colleagues like Luigi Amati. I continued doing this for a long time until I began supporting the management of the Horizon Results Booster (HRB). As HRB is near its end, I have returned to my original position in the tenders team but this time as the head of the department. Currently, I am mostly involved in submitting proposals and evaluating new opportunities, alongside other responsibilities. Additionally, I am the project director for upcoming projects like DeremCo and HYSCALE. In summary, my experience allows me to assist in different areas.
What are some of your typical activities in a day?
To be honest, it's challenging to describe my typical day as it's quite diverse and lacks routine activities. If we have many proposals to write, I assist by writing, reviewing, and creating content. When I am not working on proposals, I do research for new opportunities. Additionally, I manage the projects under my purview and oversee META Group's participation in them. In the past, I've also worked with the IT team to develop our CRM and ERP systems. As you can see, my workdays cover a wide range of activities.
In which projects are you currently involved?
Currently, I'm involved in both DeremCo and HYSCALE projects. DeremCo is centred on the manufacturing and remanufacturing of materials derived from glass and carbon fiber, with a focus on circular economy principles and reusability. For instance, when wind turbines reach the end of their lifecycle, they must be dismantled. Through this project, we can repurpose the materials or convert them into smaller glass and carbon fiber components. Eventually, these components can be reassembled to create new materials and products.
In this case, we are the partner in charge of results exploitation and managing cascade funding. As part of the project, we are responsible for implementing a call for proposals to provide grants to a selected group of companies. These companies will then test new products and materials created through the recycling and remanufacturing process.
Could you explain further how cascade funding works within DeremCo?
Basically, DeremCo has a total budget of around €12,6 million. Out of this, €1.25 million are dedicated to cascade funding. This means that DeremCo will select several companies, what we call third parties, which in this case are companies but could also be other kind of organisations. They will receive funding directly from DeremCo, not from the European Commission.
These third parties are expected to carry out activities such as testing new materials or demonstrate that new products can be developed based on these materials. €1.25 million are managed by META Group, meaning that we will be responsible mainly for the selection of the third parties that will receive these funds. There is a limit of up to €60.000 that one organisation can be granted with.
Which will be the activities in the research exploitation activity?
When the European Commission funds a project, it's essential to produce tangible results that can be sustained beyond the project's completion. The exploitation of these results is a must for each project: each of them has to use and guarantee the sustainability of the results once the project ends. Therefore, it's imperative to include exploitation activities in the project plan, which will be led by META Group in this case. We will coordinate the partners, guide them on how they can better exploit the results, how they can make use of them once the project ends.
For example, should they create new startups, sell new products directly, or use a licensing model? Additionally, we'll assist them in other key aspects of the exploitation, such as the identification of potential early adopters, exploring licensing opportunities, etc. Overall, our role is to provide guidance, explain the options available, and create the roadmap to maximise and exploit the results.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
When it comes to project management, one challenge may be dealing with other partners and finding common ground. Sometimes, you may be lucky enough to work with partners who are very cooperative. Other times, you may find yourself working with partners that don’t have a strong collaborative culture, and this can make things difficult.
On the other hand, in the context of proposal writing, the most challenging part is linked to creativity. Each new proposal or tender submission is unique, making it difficult to rely on past success. Often, proposals must be tailored to meet the specific requirements of the call, needing a great deal of creativity to put different pieces together and determine the best approach, structure, and activities. We may have some standard formats to start and a lot of experience, but there is a lot of creativity involved. Some periods may be more productive than others, with times when creativity seems to flow effortlessly, but there are also periods where you can sit at your desk for days, but nothing comes to your mind.
What do you like the most about your role?
It may sound strange, but it is exactly this part. Because this means that most of the time you are doing something different. You are required to produce something innovative every time. Something that it is not repetitive, which is something that matches my personality. I don’t like routine even if there are times when it is well accepted. Having challenges is always stimulating, and I consider them an important part of the job.
What are some of the trends that you can identify in the sector?
The sector of business support services has grown continuously in the last decades, and I am convinced it will keep on growing in the coming years. I think this is because donors (like the European Commission) realise more and more that resources invested in research activities should have a return in terms of impact produced on the market, the society, the environment, etc. So they will require more and more “entrepreneurial” researchers to address issues related to exploitation, commercialisation, generation of an impact.
This does not mean that they have to become entrepreneurs, but they have to change their mindset and work in the direction of developing solutions that solve problems and generate an impact. On the other side, researchers have often difficulties in addressing such issues (because it is not part of their skillset and expertise) and even to understand their importance. Therefore, they need more and more specialised guidance and support, which is what META is offering them.
To be honest, in the recent years I noted an improvement from researchers (although the change is slow) in better understanding the importance of what we offer in terms of services: research exploitation, capacity building, commercialization, etc…
The other side of the coin is that more and more consultants see this as a market opportunity and the competition in our sector is becoming very strong, which motivates us to continuously improve our services in terms of effectiveness and innovativeness.
Could you share with us a nice META memory after all these years?
My nice memory has a name: Nina Mazgan. It's not a happy story, but I like to always keep her memory alive. We started at META Group at the same time, on the 14th of June 2007. Nina was a very nice and kind-hearted person beside being a very professional worker. She married with another colleague of us at META and was the mother of two wonderful children. Sadly, two years ago she passed away, which was a devastating loss for her family and our team. Despite this, she will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will cherish the memories we shared together at the beginning of our journey with META Group. She was not only a colleague. She was also a friend. I keep her photo in front of me on my desk, to remember about her every day.