The Italian Startup Scene & The Talent Pool
In my previous columns I started digging into the argument that Italian startups were world-class and with later columns I will continue the analysis of these impressive companies. Let’s look, quickly, at the “startup scene.”
Dinner & a Dumb Question? At dinner parties in Milan perfectly respectable people often ask me “Why are you spending your time with startups? It’s such a small part of the market.” Well, maybe it is, in euro terms, but in terms of activity—and Italy’s future—it’s pretty impressive.
In the period from mid-September through Mid-October, there were more than 120 events for startups in Milan alone. 120 events. I managed to attend, oh, 25 of them. In that same period, I saw pitch decks from more than 50 Italian startups. The Facebook page, Italian Startup Scene, sports more than 3,200 members. In a lecture hall that could seat over 250 it was SRO for my presentation (and others) as part of Social Media Week’s “Investor Day” (www.socialmediaweek.org). Journalist Emil Abirascid publishes the magazine about entrepreneurs, Innov’azione, along with his invitation-only network, startupbusiness.it. He, too, has several thousand subscribers.
This is an astonishing level of activity. Many such events were primarily networking occasions (nothing wrong with those) but other events were substantive.
Institutions Pay Attention. Slowly. Most notable were events of Intesa San Paolo’s longstanding Startup Initiative (www.startupinitiative.com), led by Livio Scalvini, and the Mind the Bridge Foundation Startup Bootcamp which fed into the VentureCamp (www.mindthebridge.org). Marco Marinucci and Alberto Onetti lead Mind the Bridge. Torino Piemonte Internet Exchange (www.top-ix.org) was the principal sponsor, with Leonardo Camiciotti being their principal contact during the bootcamp. (See “full disclosure” at the end of this column). A bit further afield, at its beautiful Veneto campus H-Farm Ventures runs startup workshops and programs for introductions to investors.
While both the Intesa and Mind the Bridge programs differ in their execution—and one is a bank, the other a foundation—they share methods, goals and results. In essence, they each run a startup competition along with training for the selected entrepreneurs. Finalists then go through additional training and on to present to seed, angel and venture investors.
Intesa and Mind the Bridge train the entrepreneurs well. In particular, they focus on the practical, and necessary, skills of honing brief presentations for potential investors—the well-known “Pitch Deck.” And the entrepreneurs responded, also quite well. On the basis of these pitch decks some of these startups should certainly get funded.
Party Time: Social Media Week & e-Festival. Milan participates in the worldwide series of events organized under the global brand, Social Media Week, coordinated this year by the irrepressible Marco Antonio Masieri and Marco Montemagno of Augmendy. They organized well over 100 of the startup-related events in Milan under the SMW umbrella. While the events spanned a broad range from technical presentations to cocktail parties, the entire effect was to create a massive network for, well, networking.
The Results: Creating an Italian Talent Pool. Intesa, Mind the Bridge, H-Farm Ventures and all the rest should be happy with the training and the likelihood that some of their charges should get funded as a result of that training. But their impact is far greater. They are creating an Italian startup “talent pool”, a broad a deep group of people who have at least the start of training in the areas that count. People in that group are building their network of contacts, people who will be resources for skillsets to build new startup teams or provide specialized consulting.
That sort of talent pool is probably one of the biggest assets of Silicon Valley. A startup team that fails to get funding dissolves and its members join new startups. Or, they know someone who knows someone who can be the CFO for that new startup. Or, they can make that crucial phone call to the right person in the potential new client. So on and so forth.
So this Italian startup “scene” is beginning to build one of the much-needed parts of a strong foundation. The talent pool. Well done.
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If you would like to contribute to this discussion, post some comments. Moreover, contact me if you want to write an article or be the subject of an interview. If you are a startup and you would like to have it showcased here, then contact me. James C. Roberts III. email@example.com.
(Full disclosure: I was a “faculty member” in the Mind the Bridge Startup Bootcamp and a mentor for several of the finalists in the VentureCamp. I was also one of the judges for one part of the Intesa San Paolo Startup Initiative.)