DOING BUSINESS WITH ITALIAN INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

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1 DOING BUSINESS WITH ITALIAN INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

2 Office for Strategic Planning, Economic Research and Overseas Offices Innovation and Startup Team Via Liszt, Roma - Italy - Innovation desk - ITA Hong Kong Innovation desk ITA Mumbai Innovation desk ITA Los Angeles 2

3 Startup companies in Italy The concept of innovative company encompasses startups as well as established firms and researchindustry partnerships. In what follows we will focus on startups, although the Italian Trade Agency provides specific assistance to other kinds of innovative companies. While the Italian economy was going through a recession, its fabric responded in a positive way to government measures adopted for startups and a great number of companies were created. Italian startups exhibit new features, if compared to other companies in their early stages. They are bigger and highly innovative, do business in high technology sectors and compete in the world market since the day of their birth. They find a valuable competitive advantage in doing business worldwide moving from Italy. Indeed, not only do they bank on the Made in Italy image and on local advanced manufacturing in sectors like fashion, mechanics, robotics, furniture, food, wine, tourism. They also leverage on another distinctive competitive advantage, i.e. the ecosystem which supports their growth and where they learn to compete in the global market. As mentioned, in the last few years the startup world has been a fast growing reality in Italy. Since the establishment of the Italian Innovative Startup Registry, in 2013, thousands of new startups signed up. The majority (57%) is from the north, especially Lombardia, Emilia Romagna, Veneto and Piemonte, while 22% is from the south and 21% from the center, especially Lazio. The main startup poles are in Milano, Roma, Torino, Bologna and Napoli. Services prevail within the sector distribution, with 77% of registered startups. This category includes software, software consultancy and related activities, information services, architecture, Italian startup companies enjoy a valuable location advantage when competing overseas Thousands of new startups signed up with the Innovative Startup Registry 77% of registered innovative startups operate in the services sector 3

4 engineering and business consultancy. Manufacturing occupies a distant second place with 18%, mainly consisting of computers, electronics, optics and machinery, followed by commerce (4%) and tourism and agriculture (1%). Italy s research and development institutions: a solid background for enterprise development Innovativeness of SME and the excellent quality of scientific outputs are two major strength of Italy s R&I system Italy became the fourth most active country in the EU s Seventh Framework Programme Italy s share of GDP devoted to research and development (R&D) activities has increased moderately over the last ten years, reaching 1.27 % in According to most observers, Italian companies and institutions still have a long way to go to upgrade their R&D efforts and outcomes and should invest more in physical and human resources. The need to improve the administrative infrastructure is also frequently mentioned. However, positive trends were registered between 2007 and 2012 in both the knowledge-intensity of the economy and the contribution of high-tech and medium-tech products to the trade balance. Moreover, the innovativeness of small and mediumsized enterprises (SME) and the excellent quality of scientific outputs remain two important strengths within Italy s R&I system. This clearly indicates that the country has a huge innovation potential. Italy actively participated in the EU s Seventh Framework Programme, spanning from 2007 to 2013, and became the fourth most active country in its projects. Structural Funds are another important source of funding for Research and Innovation (R&I) activities. The innovative attitude of Italian SME appears to be an emerging strength in the Italian R&I system. Italy scores above the EU average for both SME introducing marketing and organisational innovations and those bringing in product and process innovations. Moreover, the overall quality of scientific publications is 4

5 quite high, as shown by the growing share of top publications. Science and Technology activities show substantial scientific specialisation in the health, automotive, and security sectors, while Italy s technology production is strongly specialised in the fields of other transport technologies, construction technologies, food, agriculture and fisheries, energy and materials. To foster a deeper public-private collaboration, the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) launched in 2013 a competitive call for new technological clusters in eight key sectors. Those clusters are injecting knowledge into both existing and new industrial and services sectors. In line with European policies, two other important initiatives were launched MIUR. The first one is Horizon 2020 Italia, a strategic document aimed at boosting the Italian R&I system by implementing the Europe 2020 strategy while, at the same time, focusing on specific national challenges. The second one is the new National Research Programme , dated January 2014, which acknowledges the obstacles that have made the development of a research policy in Italy difficult, and proposes an array of actions dedicated to removing those obstacles while making the best use of the positive characteristics within the existing production structure. In particular, it assigns strategic value to both public-private partnerships and knowledge transfer to improve Italy s competitiveness, and focuses specifically on the importance of creating good working conditions to retain Italian researchers and attract foreign ones. Italy s S&T specialization is stronger in health, automobile and security Horizon 2020 Italia and the new National Research Programme to boost Italy s R&I system and competitiveness 5

6 Italian business angels, venture capital and private equity funds: a network of reliable partners The range of sources of financing for Italian startups compares with other industrial countries, but there s still a volume gap Business angels: one out of seven investments scored a profit above 50% at exit Private informal investors, or business angels, venture capitalists, both independent and related to banks, together with incubators and the varied group often dubbed FFF, as in family, friends and fools (sic!), are the backbone of Italian startups growth. In this respect financing sources available in Italy are not very different from those prevailing in other industrial countries. Size matters though and when it comes to accounting for invested funds and other relevant indicators, room for manoeveuring appears quite small. A survey carried out with respect to 2013 by the Italian Business Angels association found about 250 investors who had committed Eur 32 million to over 320 projects, mostly in Information and Communication Technologies, Media and Entertainment and Medical Technologies. Half of the disinvestments entailed a loss or a refund of the mere invested capital, while in 14% of the cases the investor managed to score a profit above 50%. As far as venture capitalism is concerned, according to Bank of Italy s estimates dating back to 2012, in the previous 10 years about 15 funds invested amounts oscillating between 100 and 160 million euro in innovative companies, defined as less than five years old and active either in a high-tech manufacturing sector or in a knowledge-intensive high-tech service sector or in a knowledge-intensive service sector. Invested funds in innovative companies amounted to about 5% of those disbursed by all Italian private equity vehicles. Both financing sources have started shaping up at the end of last century, in response to an increase in demand by startup companies. As these basic data show, there is ample margin for growth and for co-operation with foreign financial 6

7 investors. Indeed, a major player, the European Investment Fund, plans to increase its presence in the Italian scene, stepping up by several hundred million Euro its lending, in partnership with the Italian Investment Fund, owned by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. The new loans will be mostly made to funds specializing in startups and innovative firms and to a newly-created fund which will co-invest with business angels in seed stage startup companies. Room for growth: the European Investment Fund plans to increase its presence in the Italian scene Special incentives for startup companies In recent years the Italian Parliament adopted a number of laws, mostly thanks to the input of the Ministry of Economic Development, to provide incentives for the creation and development of innovative companies. The new policies are intended to foster sustainable growth, technological development and employment, especially among the youth, the development of a new entrepreneurial mindset and the creation of an innovation-friendly ecosystem. Other goals are to encourage greater social mobility and to attract foreign capital and talent to Italy. Law 221 of 2012 defines startup companies as follows private companies with shared capital, including cooperatives operating since less than 4 years headquartered in Italy generating a turnover of less than 5 million euros not distributing profits to shareholders developing and commercializing innovative products or services of high technological value not resulting from a merger, split-up or sellingoff of a company or branch innovative in character, matching at least one of the following New policies to foster sustainable growth, technological development and youth employment How is an innovative startup defined? 7

8 at least 15% of the company s expenses going towards research and development activities at least 1/3 of the total workforce being PhD students, the holder of a PhD or researchers; alternatively, 2/3 of the total workforce holding a Master s degree the enterprise being the holder, depositary or licensee of one or more registered patent. Lower fees, more flexibility with human resources, tax credites and incentives, easier access to loans and ITA s support abroad: these are only the highlights of the support package offered to startups by the Italian laws The law grants innovative startups the following incentives no registration fees tailored and flexible labour law possibility to remunerate team members and consultants with stock options and work for equity, respectively possibility to split the workers salary in two parts, one fixed and one dynamic, the latter depending on startup performance tax credits for the employment of highly skilled personnel tax incentives for corporate and private investments in startups for the years , ranging from 19 to 27% more flexible corporate governance tools access to equity crowdfunding portals fast-track, simplified and free-of-charge access for startups to a government fund providing a guarantee of 80% on bank loans targeted and tailored support in internationalisation, provided by the Italian Trade Agency fail-fast procedure, allowing the entrepreneur to start a new business project as soon as possible. In 2015, these incentives have been extended to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises, singled out through specific criteria. 8

9 Certified incubators also benefit from targeted incentives. Specific databases have been created by the national registry, which encompass companies and incubators eligible for incentives. The annual Prime Minister s Decrees on immigration of 2013 and 2014 envisage further measures supporting the Italian startup ecosystem, such as fast track procedures to issue a Startup Visa to any entrepreneur choosing to start up an innovative business in Italy and to convert a regular work permit into a Startup Visa. A number of regional investment attraction programs include provisions that cater to investors in startup companies with direct or indirect incentives. Further information about specific localities and relevant measures may promptly be supplied as needed. What is ITA? The Italian Trade Commission - Italian Trade Agency is a governmental organization working to develop, facilitate and promote economic and commercial relations with other countries and to support the marketing of Italian goods and services abroad. It further promotes the Made in Italy image around the world and Italy as a destination for foreign investment. The Italian Trade Agency is subject to the authority and supervision of the Ministry of Economic Development and of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among others. Through its international presence the Italian Trade Agency operates together with industry associations and other public and private entities to offer coordinated support to companies and service providers involved in the globalization process. ITA s main business lines include A trustworthy and proactive partner supporting the growth of startup companies on foreign markets and granting them opportunities to access new technological and financial resources 9

10 identification of possible business partners bilateral trade meetings with Italian companies trade delegation visits to Italy official participation in local fairs and exhibitions forums and seminars with Italian experts in addition to a wide range of other customized business development services. ITA s network includes 65 main offices and 16 liaison offices in 67 countries, an office in Milano and its Roma headquarters. The Italian Trade Agency reserves a special attention to startup companies and innovationpromoting entities, through dedicated programs aiming at strengthening their capacity to do business abroad and bridging their enthusiasm with foreign professional and financial resources. Innovation desks specializing in promoting innovative companies have been set up in Hong Kong, India and the United States. Updates and insights about ITA s activities in this area can be found at For more details, please contact the ITA office competent for your country or territory, listed at 10

11 Sources European Commission, Research and Innovation performance in the EU- Innovation Union progress at the country level, 2014 Ministry of Economic Development - Minister s Technical Secretariat, Executive Summary of the new Italian legislation on innovative startups, 2014 Osservatorio Startup Hi-tech, The Italian Startup Ecosystem: Who s who, 2014 Valerio Vacca, Financing innovation in Italy: an analysis of venture capital and private equity investments, 2014, Banca d Italia 11

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