"Taking the plunge"

IE Focus

30 October 2013

Nazareno Mario Ciccarrello, entrepreneur and holder of an IE Business School International MBA, shares his experience at the helm of Functional Gums, the company that has launched Drivegum onto the market. Drivegum is the only mint-flavored chewing gum that contains caffeine, and is designed to sharpen concentration, and improve vigilance and wakefulness thanks to the effects of chewing and caffeine.  

Your studies were centered on the field of science, you worked for several years in a multinational pharmaceutical where you held a management position and had the opportunity to travel around the world.  Why did you decide to study our International MBA?

I think the recipe for success in life and work comprises several things: hard work, common sense, which is not as common as it seems, a bit of luck, which always helps, and a good working knowledge of the business on which you are going to build your springboard to success.

I did a degree in politics at LUISS  in Rome, a degree which is very enriching in terms of culture, and which, more than anything else, opens your mind, but  does very little to connect you to the business world.

I learnt a great deal at university, from my experience as a sports professional in the field of springboard diving, from my military service as an officer in the Carabinieri, and from my work as head of international business development. I’ve always felt that I lacked knowledge in the field of business management. I thought that my learning curve was starting to flatten out and I began looking for a business school with an international focus and which was among the world’s top schools, in a growing economy (which was the case of the Spanish economy in 2007) and I’ve always loved Madrid.  The net result was that it could only be IE Business School.

What made you leave your work in a multinational and become an entrepreneur?

I know it might seem strange, but I am where I am now thanks to my family coupled with two key events in my life, namely the International MBA and the economic crisis.

I have to admit that I wasn’t a brave person or someone who would normally risk leaving their work and embarking on the advantage of being an entrepreneur. The crisis was really frustrating for me after all the investment I had made in terms of both money and time in my education, and I felt that the only solution was to throw myself into finding a way out.

My main inspiration came from IE Business School’s VENTURE LAB, when I was a finalist in the Venture Day 2008 event.  The project was an online community focused on the world of wine, a project that never quite took off but which taught me a great deal.  From there, and thanks to the network and the things I had learned, I decided to start this adventure which is simply incredible, and from which I learn something new every day.

What stage is Functional Gums, your business project, at now?

We are already distributing Drive Gum through several channels in the Italian market such as tobacconists, cafes, convenience stores, especially on highways. We have signed an important partnership agreement with the safe driving school run by Alfa Romeo ( http://www.guidasicura.it/&lng=en) which has believed in our project right from the start and gave us their support. We have also enjoyed the support of international  sports stars who have agreed to let us use their name and image to promote the brand.

We still have a lot to do… but we’re very motivated and passionate about our project, and that’s why I think it would difficult to stop us.

How does Drive Gum work?

Drive Gum ( www.drivegum.com ) is currently the only mint flavored chewing gum which contains caffeine. It helps to sharpen concentration, improve vigilance and wakefulness thanks to the scientifically proven effects of chewing coupled with the energizing properties of caffeine.

Drive Gum is sugar and gluten free, is easy to carry on you at all times, and unlike energy drinks that need to be kept cold, the temperature does not affect the taste. These are the reasons why we believe that it’s the ideal substitute for coffee and all types of energy drinks that contain high levels of caffeine, sugars, vitamins, and stimulants.

You have already begun production and distribution in Italy. What expansion plans do you have? In which countries will web e able to buy Drive Gum in the near future?

The plans we have for our parent company, Functional Gums s.r.l., is to use chewing gum as a way to deliver active ingredients that meet the needs of the market in an innovative way.

Spain, Germany and Austria are definitely the markets we have our eye on.  Organizing distribution and the greatest possible number of points of sales are definitely the key challenges.

We are thinking about possible extensions in terms of lines and new products. The help we have received from IE Business School and, thanks to Professor Teresa Serra and Professor José Ignacio Gafo, the fact that the Functional Gums case will be used as a final exam for the GMBA class, will give us creative impetus and generate suggestions on how to develop the marketing plan for the next two years.

What advice would you give a professional who is thinking about launching a start-up?

Choose your partners well because it is not only about motivation but also transparency. The most important thing is to know right from the start what you can expect of each person and what they can contribute. Having your expectations clear from the word go can only do the company good and make for good results.

The more diverse a group of partners, the more probable it is that each person can mutually complement the group and the result will be better for the firm.

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