Weatherheadlines staff writer Kim Palmer had the opportunity to catch up with Weatherhead 1994 MBA alumna Nikki DiFilippo this month to learn more about a new local organization focused on economic growth she is working with to help accelerate information technology in greater Cleveland.
There is an advertising campaign that shows two people, unaware of each other, riding escalators running in different directions or on the same planes in different rows with captions attached to each individual that say something like: ‘Looking for an international supplier of boxes,” with the other saying, “Trying to increase customer-base of his multi-national box company.”
It’s a good campaign because you can imagine this is the case everywhere -- business people unable to find the very contacts that might be sitting next to them in a restaurant or riding in the same elevator.
“If there was a company from Indiana who wanted to move here to develop innovative IT applications for health care -- with whom do they need to talk,” asks Nikki DiFilippo, (MBA ’94) president and CMO of Via Vera Group. “In Cleveland, right now, it is hard to know who to call and what to ask for these types of things.”
DiFilippo, as the marketing director of the newly formed Red Room Revolution, asks and wants to answer these questions and others like: How does Cleveland move from heavy industry to high technology? How can the business community, and the city, support high tech start-ups?
DiFilippo has been involved with providing marketing services for high tech companies in Cleveland for a quite awhile, so she’s a natural fit for the Red Room Revolution.
The Red Room Revolution, a new local initiative named after a room in City Hall, was formed to support and facilitate the start-up of new emerging technology companies and increase the optimization of existing companies with the use of technology.
The mission and vision of Red Room Revolution may sound familiar as DiFilippo explains, “What it really is about is transforming the city through technology,” she says but the Red Room approach involves something that makes it unique from other like-initiatives in this area -- stakeholder investment.
“The members are stakeholders in the success of this program – they are true stakeholders rather than non-profit employees,” explains DiFilippo. (except that I, personally do get a paycheck – RRR is my client.)
She goes on to call herself ‘an enabler’ – some one who is trying to link up the right partners. “We are not out there trying to reinvent the wheel but what we are trying to do is to provide investment and other support where necessary.”
For DiFilippo the old saying, ‘It isn’t what you know, but who you know’ might be a bit of a simplification but with her connections and those of the rest of the group, “and by getting cooperation from Case, the city and the technology and civic players, we can get people to operate outside of their silos and make things happen.”
Although in it’s still in the early stages of development, the Red Room founders have a well-articulated mission and vision. Red Room has a five-pillar approach with the fifth pillar incorporating “K through PhD” education initiative.
Because of this fifth pillar, DiFilippo is talking directly with fellow Weatherhead graduates and faculty, and envisions the entire school working as an integral player in the whole transformative process.
“I’ve been on the alumni board of Weatherhead, so I have that connection,” she explains. “A lot of these start-up companies are going to need Weatherhead help – whether it is business expertise or recruitment. It is a school with the right resources, they are breeding entrepreneurs.”
She also credits her time at Weatherhead as good preparation for this -- her most recent business challenge.
“My concentration was in banking and finance and international business,” she explains that while she worked in marketing all her career, she thought it would be a good idea to expand her knowledge. “Knowing the finance side comes down to understanding return on investment. Because you know that in the case of marketing, we are the ones who spend all the money and it's good to be able to explain cost justification.”
DiFilippo is hoping that her time spent in her international business classes will come in handy as Cleveland expands its reach to multinational companies. “That is why going to Weatherhead was great because something like 40 percent of the students are international and you get a real perspective of the issues.”