Sunday, March 27, 2011

Winds of change: building the Italy of the future based on innovation

All over its history Italy has been a land of ideas, innovations and inventors, who have made a precious contribution to the whole mankind. One of these innovators who changed Italy, and let me say it, perhaps has changed also the whole world, is surely Leonardo da Vinci, according to which:

"All Our Knowledge Has Its Origin in Our Perceptions".

And my perception is that a new wave of knowledge is starting to spread, once again, all over Italy as it was during the Italian Renaissance. While The Renaissance was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life, here the Renaissance I am talking about refers to a change which is finally taking place in Italy, but which this time is made by young entrepreneurs and innovative ideas.
Signs of this change which is taking place in Italy are
some recent and upcoming events:
  1. the launch of the "Tour dei Mille" by Working Capital of Telecom Italia, and
  2. the Italian Innovation Day.

Tour of 1,000 and Working Capital
Working Capital is an organization whose main goal is to support italian innovation, entrepreneurial initiatives and research projects by providing extensive support for their implementation. The 2011 edition is part of initiatives to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Just as important to celebrate this anniversary, Telecom Italy launched this year the Tour of 1,000, the Working Capital journey in search of ideas of the new heroes of italian innovation. Between 2009 and 2010 Working Capital has supported 36 projects with pre-incubation contracts, 29 research projects and 13 business ventures, aggregating a large community of innovators and enthusiasts of new technologies. Just last Just last 18th March, the 2011 edition rang its corns. One million euro for start-ups on the showcase and other pizes for €100,000. Here's what happened at the official presentation of the Tour of the Thousand:

Rome, Foreign Press Association Hall. The Working Capital Tour 2011 puts its red shirt on and dresses formally as Tour of Thousands. A tour rich in every sense. Several important partnerships at stake: apart from partnerships with Esperienza Italia, Regione Piemonte and CRT Foundation, this year's Tour earns the partnership with PNICube (the association which groups together the academic incubators and the Italian academic business plan competitions - named Start Cups -) and the Quantica Fund, which looks for startups competing for a million euro investment. The four sectors (Internet and ICT, Green, Bio & Nano, Social Innovation) will also see prizes amounting to €100,000 for the first classified and other minor prizes to be awarded to the second ex aequo.

Riccardo Luna, director of Wired Italy, participating also this year to the Working Capital Tour has introduced the presentation of a very special edition 2011. Now-a-days, in a moment of crisis in which "we need to roll up our sleeves and do something", comments Franco Bernabé, CEO of Telecom Italy, telling about his excitement at the prospect of extending the search for talents more broadly to innovators and to asociate symbiotically "the thousands of garibaldini (partisans) who made Italy 150 years ago to the one thousands innovators who will remake Italy today" and clarifies that "the ideas and projects that these thousand young people will bring won't be part of a communication draft, but a real business project strongly supported by Telecom Italy." Loris Nadotti, president of PNI Cube, announced the partnership between Working Capital and the National Award for Innovation 2011, for the startups competition (which will be called seeds working alongside all research projects in competition, called grants, ed.) PNI has selected 60 finalists among 786 business ideas, companies that achieve a turnover of €79 million in total. "With this partnership we will create a proper contamination between our vocation to reward business plans, i.e. formalized projects, and that of Working Capital for the search of ideas". 

According to Sergio Chiamparino, chairman of Italy Committee 150,"sometimes you just need to change perspective for understanding the innovation potential of situations." The Tour of the Thousand, is for him, "a way to innovate outside of your own fences" and a way to finally turn into reality words, talent and merit. "Searching for talents and achieving excellence," says Chiamparino, "is a common good that should be enhanced and supported." And in this 2011 edition testimonial will be Linnea Passaler, a young doctor and founder of, a startup prized by Working Capital in 2010, a representative of Italian talent durinf the Tour of the Thousand. An exceptional Garibaldina (partisan) who was really excited at the time of wearing the red shirt in the role of spokeswoman for this special edition of the Working Capital Tour. "We are innovators as we are because we are dreamers first of all". The most important moment is when someone says, "Your dream is the world's most beautiful one: realize it." This is what we need the most in this moment: "Italy can start over from dreams." It is from here that starts Working Capital 2011 in search of the new Thousand who will remake Italy with the disruptive power of their ideas, turning their dreams into reality. 

Italian Innovation Day, March 31 - Stanford

The Italian Innovation Day is the natural evolution of the "showcases of the best Italian innovation" (focused on a startup business plan competion) that has been organized for the last 4 years by Mind the Bridge Foundation. Moreover, the other novetly is the attempt to create an environment. Such an event required the joint effort of several actors. Hence the involvement, alongside Mind the Bridge, of Intesa Sanpaolo which promotes with success the Startup Initiative, and Booz & Co., which is one of the main supporters of the Fullbright BEST program. These actors will be followed, for each stage, by important local institutional (such as BAIA - the Business Association Italy America -, the Italian Consulate, ICE - Italian Institute for International Trade -, just to name a few of them).  

The Italian Innovation Day is an innovative "platform" which is destined to grow and evolve over time. The initiative is divided into two events: on March 31 in Silicon Valley (at Stanford University) and May 5 in the Big Apple, New York City

Aim of this event is to provide to a selected group of Italian companies a great opportunity of visibility to about 250 people: VCs and investors of various types, academics, researchers, managers of large corporations); by so doing this visibility, once duly exploited, will allow a great opportunity to start partnerships and agreements for business development, and earn a "I like" by investors from overseas, otherwise difficult to reach.

The initiative gathers together the 12 (startups) Finalists of the Mind the Bridge business plan competition and Intesa Sanpaolo Startup Initiative, and are: Agroils, Minteos, Glossom, Super Compare, PorcoVino, Fubles, VisualSport, Xapio, Skipso, Mopapp, KITEnrg and 2SN (Siena Solar Nanotech).

The half day event will consist of 2 main moments: a conference and a showcase of the best Italian technology and innovation startups and SMEs ready to scale up. The conference held in collaboration with the prestigious Harvard Business School with the  significant presentation of a white paper written by from  together with Alberto Onetti and Fernando Napolitano on the topic: "Why Italy Matters to the World?." A macro economical framework which will allow to understand whether Italy is capable of attracting foreign investments.

At the event in Stanford there will also be a super panel titled: Does Silicon Valley still matter? The panel will be moderated by Fabrizio Capobianco (founder of Funambol) as well as by three investors who have made the history of Silicon Valley by investing in some the world's most famous technology companies: Tim Draper (among his peals we can find Skype, Hotmail, Baidu, Overture, etc), Scott Sandell of Nea (Salefoce, WebEx, NetIQ, etc) and Jeff Clavier of SoftTech (Mint, Eventbrite, Milo, Ustream, etc). They will evaluate the selected (and adequately trained) Italian startups for the occasion. 

In this moment of renewed national unity (never seen so many "tricolori" outside the world Cup) it warms the heart and gives hope to be able to do group around the flag of innovation. 
The New Italy Starts Here
150 years after its unification, and therefore its anniversary, Italy finds itself facing some hard times, and probably the most challenging since several generations. In order to see the light at the end of this long tunnel, the country needs to focus firmly on nurturing its best talent, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. The above-presented events are the first sign that something is changing, or better said, now Italy is starting over from its pride for the Italian genius, of which everyone in every corner of the country, feels we've got some gene, scattered among our thousand-year old chromosomes. The same genius that in over two thousand years of history has produced the most creative minds in all fields: law, art, music, style, fashion, design and science.

The world is permeated with the fruit of Italian creativity. Starting over from them, from the heroes of Italian history who have rendered Italy great in the world: and from all those who today, quietly and with great effort, are the makers of many small Renaissances which will make Italy great among its citizens. In the hope to arrive at mature unity, which overcomes all divisions, long life to Italy! long life to all italians!