In order to develop Innovation, we have to couple the beauty of our Country with the best infrastructure.
Luigi Amati is Vice President of EBAN (European Business Angel Network) and president of Zernike Meta Ventures, which is an Italian-Dutch joint venture specialized in early stage financing of start-ups company operating in the innovation industry. Luigi's company has been recently awarded as “Early Stage Fund of the Year” at the 12th EBAN Congress in Moscow. We meet him at D.SUMMIT, the Italian Summit on Digital Media, where he is one the panelists.
Luigi, you defined yourself as “a tennis player, an engineer and an entrepreneur.” What do you like most about your job?
I like having everyday new energetic people around me with their ideas, their businesses and their willingness to succeed.
You have developed start-up companies for years: which start-up you invested in gave you the most satisfaction? Which was the most challenging?
The one that gave me the most satisfaction is of course my own, META Group, there is no substitute than develop a company yourself. The most challenging investment so far was probably Pharmeste, a start-up operating in the biotech field, which at the time was an unknown very challenging territory for me.
Let us speak of your company. Zernike Meta Ventures manages public-private venture capital funds in a profit-oriented perspective. Which are the main advantages and disadvantages of operating with both private and public capital?
The main advantage is that you have an ideal combination of economic development perspective and risk mitigation possibility, the disadvantage is that there is some level of bureaucracy on one side and impatience on the other you need to mitigate.
Nowadays, new forms of financing are changing the industry. For instance, the crowdfunding phenomenon has reached the sized of about $300mln in US. Do you think that crowdfunding will grow in Italy as well? In your opinion, which are the main risks of this instrument?
Crowdfunding is too young to say if and how much success it will have. When I look at the young generations and the way they communicate I am inclined to think it has a bright future, but when I think at all the possible obstacles from an investor perspective the picture changes; probably it will be a good tool for collecting triple F money, more difficult it will evolve in something collecting millions of Euros for a single investment.
As you pointed out during the panel, the Italian legislation does not provide fiscal incentives to invest in innovation and start-ups. How should the Italian government change the current legislation along these lines?
In terms of fiscal incentives, I believe we should give start-ups tax exemption until profit is generated, moreover investors should be given incentives both as angel investors and investors into early stage fund. Similar schemes do exist in Germany, France and UK and we should only adopt them in a very similar fashion.
In your opinion, which other aspects we should focus on in order to support the innovation industry in Italy?
When we think more broadly at the Italian innovation ecosystems, for me there are two clear priorities. The first is coupling the beauty of our Country with the best infrastructure to develop Innovation: just thinking about Sophia Antipolis and the Cambridge Phenomenon should give policy makers a clear indication of what needs to be done. The second is promoting intensively an entrepreneurial culture as a positive engine of any sound economy, starting from primary schools
Do you think it is possible to import and implement the Silicon Valley model in Italy? How could we adapt it to the Italian environment?
Creating a Silicon Valley in Italy is not what our focus should be on; we already have some “valleys” in other sectors in which we still lead – like fashion, food and mechanical industry. We should be more aware, have perhaps a better branding and leverage from there.
How do you see the Italian innovation ecosystem in the next years? Do you believe that start-ups can make the Italian economy rise again?
What I have experienced in the last five years gives me some hope for the future. We have now reached a point where either we go towards a slow assisted death or we make a jump in the future, I hope we will be brave enough to take this second path.