Italy boosts startup ecosystem with a National Innovation Fund

Some highlights of what Minister Luigi di Maio said at the presentation of the National Innovation Fund, a new lever of the country’s industrial development.

Pubblicato il 07 Mar 2019

Luigi Di Maio, Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policy, announced last March 4 his plan to reform public investments in startups and the launch of a National Innovation Fund, that could start operating next May with a budget of one billion euros.

Here are some highlights of what he said at the presentation of the National Innovation Fund.

“The great challenge is to turn the National Innovation Fund in a lever of the country’s industrial development. Technological innovation and investments will be a fundamental issue in the coming years. The National Innovation Fund is strategic for our economy, the knowledge of our country, to keep many young Italians at home, and hopefully attract young people and ideas from abroad. In addition to the billion of public money the Government is investing, we point to reach two billion with some fiscal measures.

Maybe this won’t be enough to offset the time lost, but will surely let our country a leap forward. This fund is born around the idea of bringing together all stakeholders and team up, connecting all the actors of the ecosystem: business angels, startups, venture capital funds. We aim to be a catalyst, to increase the number of Italian venture capital firms and attract foreign ones as well”.

(Official Press Release) Minister of Economic Development, Welfare and Social Policies, Luigi Di Maio, presented yesterday in Turin the National Innovation Fund (hereinafter NIF) as well as other initiatives regarding the venture capital sector. The Fund, established at the initiative of Minister Di Maio, has a starting budget of 1 billion €, set out in the Budget Law 2019, and will be managed by Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (Deposits and Loans Fund), through a coordinated control room aiming at unifying and multiplying public and private resources dedicated to the strategic topic of innovation.

Innovation and adequate support to the entire sector of innovative companies are essential to guarantee Italy the opportunity to grow, compete, generate new opportunities for qualified workers, create and distribute new wealth uniformly throughout the territory. Without these elements, a country is not able to grow stably and sustainably, especially in a sector such as the innovation, nowadays dominated by foreign (usually extra-European) operators, largely supported by markets, investors and large public and private entities.

The operational tool used by the National Innovation Fund is the venture capital, meaning the investments, both direct and indirect, in qualified minorities within the capital of innovative companies, aiming at supporting start-ups, scale-ups and innovative SMEs, in order to avoid the sale off and dispersion abroad of talents, intellectual property and other strategic assets.

The National Innovation Fund is a multi-funded entity, operating exclusively through the so-called venture capital methodologies. The investments are made by the dedicated funds of NIF in a selective manner, in accordance with the best practices in the sector and based on the ability to generate impact and value for both investments and the Italian economy. The selectivity, flexibility, and speed of investments are the elements that allow the VC to be the key market tool for developing the innovation and the best way to align the interests of investors and entrepreneurs towards the common goal of economic growth.

General principles

Inclusion. Italy considers the right to innovate as a fundamental right, so we support a technological innovation that is accessible to everyone, businesses, citizens, and territories. Innovation is a powerful tool for growth and social mobility, an engine of opportunities for talents and businesses for the whole country. National Innovation Fund has among its fundamental missions, the guarantee of exercising this right. It expresses, therefore, the approach of the State towards whoever has the talent, the competences, and the vision to contribute to the growth of the Country, in every aspect of the development cycle: from accelerators and incubators to the global expansion phase.

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Growth. The challenge of growth requires to be able to mobilize huge investments, both intelligent and long-term (so-called patient investments). National Innovation Fund is an anti-cyclical market tool that intends to support and develop a more mature ecosystem of innovation, also by attracting private and international capital, and by coordinating public resources, including those functional to the growth of the territories, from North to South of Italy and vice versa. National Innovation Fund does not replace the development of a private capital market for innovation, but it is a driving force for growth that accompanies and completes its evolution and sustainability in a virtuous way, from which the whole community can benefit.

Strategic Presidium. Innovation has generated, in the last 20 years, phenomena of the social crisis on a global scale. Also in Italy. Inequalities have increased, traditional sectors have been hit in the whole supply chains, resulting in serious job losses. Digitization and the Internet-generated revolution have led to the concentration of potential opportunities in new planetary monopolies and deeply impacting on the ability to innovate. Among its missions, the National Innovation Fund also sees the task of managing the most innovative technologies and emerging markets for our country, guaranteeing our innovative startups and SMEs all the necessary strategic support. We, therefore, consider a strategic mission for the country to support the whole cycle of the so-called Technology Transfer and the link between research and business, as between Universities and the Market.

Ecosystem. The National Innovation Fund was created with the aim of accelerating the growth of our innovation system. A particular attention will be paid to the cultural and structural delays affecting our ecosystem, in order to expand the market for Venture Capital operators (today limited to a dozen of subjects, compared to the tens or hundreds operating in France, Germany, UK); create space and opportunities for a generational change; to rebalance the gender gap, favouring a greater and more qualified female presence; accelerate the birth and development of the so-called Corporate Venture Capital in Italy, offering the major Italian Groups a Venture Capital platform of absolute standing and professionalism; offer regional territories and financial companies the opportunity to contribute to a major national challenge.

International leadership. National Innovation Fund, giving its 1 billion EUR budget, immediately qualifies itself as one of the leading European venture capital operators, and has the ambition to play a leading role. The breadth of the challenge is consistent with the status of a country like Italy, the second manufacturing power in Europe, a leader in many sectors and with a dynamic and qualified export, which is decisive for the national economic balance. National Innovation Fund, therefore, is a privileged interface to EU institutional investors, such as EIB and EIF, in a non-subordinate relationship of collaboration and planning. At the same time, NIF intends to operate effectively to attract large and qualified European and international VC operators and investors, including Sovereign Wealth Funds, and large international companies to Italy, acting as a catalyst and fostering the growth of national innovation towards a global scale.

Expected impact. The overall impact of the National Innovation Fund on the Italian innovation system can be decisive. Together with the natural growth of the private market and thanks to the attraction of new national and international investors, it can make Italy one of the most competitive countries in Europe in just two years. At the same time, the specific nature of the intervention and the tools can help the country to resume, after more than twenty years, the road to growth. Making Italy a “smart nation” is obviously not just a financial goal, but a political, civil and cultural one. Generating qualified work in the innovation sector not only improves the ability of our country to grow and compete, but it is a powerful engine of opportunities for new generations, for new talent, for the positive rebalancing of inequalities, also for gender. The approach is that of a fair and sustainable development, which beliefs in Italy’s potential. National Innovation Fund contributes to this idea of development, directly and indirectly, aiming to make and raise investments for a total of € 5 billion over 5 years, generating in parallel qualified work. Today, the total number of employees in start-ups and innovative SMEs is estimated in at least 50,000 people. It is not a utopia to imagine that the new opportunities created can soon double or triple this number. New talents and new entrepreneurs who will be the driving force of a country looking to the future.

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