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Dive into the Italian startup ecosystem

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Few months ago I published a map of the Italian ecosystem on my LinkedIn profile. That map, as the result of months of networking and exploring opportunities in Italy,  was an attempt to give some guidance to myself more than anyone else. Now, 8 months later, we published an updated version and with the occasion, I decided to share what guidance means for me, just going one level deeper: a proposal for a punctual and prolific use of the map itself.

Finding the North (Where I am going)

Not that North is always the right place to go/to be (guess at which latitude I was born!), but scientifically, more than metaphorically, it helps out to understand where to go. You must have heard the story of sailors in ancient times. Yes, they had no iPhone and while trying to navigate the Mediterranean they were only using the stars as compass. What star were they looking for? the North Star. Why? Because the North Start is always in the northern hemisphere of our planet. So? So, once they knew where north was, they could easily figure out where the other cardinal points were and find their way home or wherever they were going (Odysseus, one of my favorite sailors, really really did not want to go home. Ask Dante and his Inferno’s XXVI, ask Penelope who is still weaving)

An ecosystem is made of hundreds of operators and whether you are new or an experienced actor, it could be useful for you to identify some reference points (is it a VC? Is it an Incubator?) to decide ahead where you are going (Ithaca?) instead of navigating randomly. This is excellent timing for Italy. Cassa Depositi & Prestiti’s recent announcement to promote italian startups, the increased Business Angels reported activities make this country one of the  best kept secrets in the VC world. Wouldn’t you like to be smart and position yourself ahead of the journey and embrace this fantastic opportunity?

Identify the features of the landscape (How to make partnerships)

Now that you know where you are going, it is not time to rush things. On the contrary, take it easy and think. Soon you will  realize that you won’t be able to make it by yourself. 

In Italy there are nearly 200 incubators, a little bit more than a dozen VC Funds, several hundreds of  business angels and dozens of communities online and onsite. It is becoming an ecosystem so rich and diverse that certainly there must be opportunities for partnerships.

“I am an early stage investor,  how can I access an exclusive deal flow?” “I am leading a Tech Research center, who could be interested in giving visibility to the R&D projects and turn them into viable businesses?”

How do I find the answers to these questions? Simple: identify the features of the landscape. Try and understand what each of the players has to offer and what they would be interested in. Cold calling without being prepared will get you nowhere.

Instead understand what could be your value proposition and what could be a warm way to get to players. Use lists (or maps) as a starting point not as an ultimate goal. It is a little bit like dating, in fact, here,  you have a unique opportunity to check out what the dating scene looks like. Once you realize you really like that person, get prepared, find out what he or she likes ahead so you know you will make an impression.

Crosscheck where you have been & Improve the map (Where I have been)

And here comes Step 3. You know where you are going, you know where you are, how about using the knowledge acquired during the journey to make everybody richer? 

“Wait, what do you mean richer”. 

I mean that an ecosystem with more knowledge shared is an ecosystem with more opportunities. This is no time for keeping the good news for yourself. Did you find a really good incubator? Spread the word. Do you think that guy and that other guy should meet? Help them make the connection. 

Or you can gamble and assume that power comes from your exclusive access to knowledge.You may get very rich, true! but you may also get very alone and live in a valley of solitude and regret.

I hope the above was as interesting for you to read as it was fun for me to write, but I can’t and I won’t wrap up the discussion without mentioning the stars of the map. None of the above  means anything if we do not put at the center of the map the thousands of italian entrepreneurs, the sons and daughters of Meucci, Leonardo, Marconi, Colombo (that’s right, I said it) who fight every day to turn their ideas into business, who faces overwhelming odds, rejections, delusions, who cry over joy and and smile over dissatisfaction, skip a meal or a university test just to be able to say “I made it”.

About the author:

Andrea Orlando is Startup Wise Guys Partner in Italy. He joined our team at the beginning of 2020. He is serving as Entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) of the current B2B SaaS batch, as well as the face and main driving force behind our brand new JUMP for Italy program.

Andrea is Italian and has lived in 4 countries (U.K, Italy, Denmark, Norway) and worked across numerous industries mostly in strategy functions with a specific focus on turn-around and growth projects. Since 2015, he invested/developed 3 startups (2 as co-founder) and worked for Accelerators and Incubators across Europe, mentoring for the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship (DK), B-Heroes (IT), Venture Cup Denmark (DK), Connect Denmark (DK). He is also currently serving as president of the INSEAD Alumni Association in Denmark.