Invitalia Ventures, Exclusive Interview with CEO Salvo Mizzi

smizziWith no doubt, Salvo Mizzi is one of the pioneers of the Italian startup ecosystem. He was the creator of Working Capital (#WCAP), Telecom Italia’s digital startup accelerator program, and Tim Ventures, the TLC giant’s corporate seed venture fund, which was recently named as one of the most active venture capital firms in Europe by CB Insights.
The two initiatives, which give selected companies not only access to capital but also the opportunity to enter the service providers register of Telecom Italia, marked one of the first attempts to create a virtuous circle offering startups and large corporations a real chance to connect and collaborate.
Salvo knows that creating systemic exit opportunities in Italy still requires additonal efforts.
His new role, as CEO of Invitalia Ventures Sgr (owned by Invitalia S.p.A., the National Investment and Enterprise Development Promotion Agency), manager of Italia Venture I Fund, which actively co-invests with national and international VCs to boost the venture capital industry and Italian innovative startups, goes exactly in this direction and represents the continuation of his work.

FinSMEs: Hi Salvo, let’s speak about this new adventure….What’s you personal target?
Salvo: There is a time in our life to serve your own country, kind of giveback. The birth of new venture government fund like Italia Venture I is a long bet on Italy’s future, I’m very proud, as a civil servant, to play a role in such a tremendous challenge.

FinSMEs: What’s the overall strategy of Invitalia Ventures Sgr?
– Geography
We’ll invest only as a matching Fund in tech startups in high growth innovative sectors: 80% in Italy, 20% abroad to support the most talented young Italian Entrepreneurs to scale up and go global.
– Co-investment strategy
In the next weeks, no longer than mid september – Invitalia Ventures will launch a public call to set up our Investor Network. We are looking for national and international private or istitutional venture players ready to invest in the most outstanding Italian startups. We’ll invest up to 70% in each single operation, in order to strengthen the size of Series A rounds in our country. Today our A rounds are too weak to help our entrepreneurs to compete on a world scale.
– Sectors
The Fund is not a vertical one, it will operate across all the high growth innovation sectors and markets. We’ll start with €50M already committed by our Government, with a final closing target of €100M. That’s why we are also planning a fundraising campaign and an “Italy Opportunity” roadshow to explain to international LPs, institutions, large corporations – that the time to discover again Italy’s tremendous opportunities has come back.
– Check Amount
The Fund will invest in Round A co-investments alongside private VC players with our check in a single operation being between €500K and €1,5M.

FinSMEs: Invitalia recently closed a partnership with Polo Tecnologico di Navacchio (Pisa). Why? Do you plan to close other similar deals across the country?
Salvo: In the last years an unreasonable separation between the national startup ecosystem and the university network (ie, spin off and R&D extreme tech projects) created a kind of double deal flow pipeline, wasting time, talents and money. We would love to put all our national outliers together. Working on a sort of re-balanced, unique deal flow generation. Other issue: we need to overcome the dominant all digital obsession which took place in the most recent years. Italy is the second EU manufacturing powerhouse, we must take the right advantage of our export oriented production structure. The struggle for yet another app or social network is over: we already know the winners. That’s why we are on a mission to scout, explore and discover more hard tech stars.

FinSMEs: What do (and what don’t) you like to see in young entrepreneurs? Some examples from your personal experience are appreciated
Salvo: Personally, I would rather prefer to invest in the future. It’s wrong to imagine the Future according to the laws of history, traditions etc. It would be only the mimick of the past. So far, I mostly appreciate entrepreneurs that have courage and no kind of fear in stopping obey to their environment’s legacies. I don’t like the so called copycat entrepreneurs, or teams that after their first seed stage start to act as the Holy Graal winners. Often, they’re only pretentious losers.

FinSMEs: What do you think about Italy in terms of opportunity of development a (really working) startup environment? What does Italy lack? What’s your recipe for startup success?
Salvo: Italy has just started the long run to achieve its own future and its place in an always more competitive world. Our Innovation curve is up and rising, it’s a good news. Moreover, it’s the time to boost risk capital up to our peers’ level and volume: let’s say a 10X compared to the actual ridicolous amount. To do so, we need to have a better balanced pipeline, to enable and incentivate exits, to push public sector and large corporations to massively invest in startups, avoiding predatory behaviours and embracing Innovation as a mission. Not for the sake of innovation itself, but to survive. No recipes, indeed.

FinSMEs: What’s would you say in order to attract investors and entrepreneurs who want to come to Italy?
To entrepreneurs: be a founder in one of the most skilled country worldwide, in the next five years Innovation will be Italy’s primary production powerhouse.
To investors: come back to the country that already invented everything, even banks almost 1000yrs ago. Don’t miss the Opportunity to make EU the ultimate destination for successful tech Entrepreneurs. Italy could lead the big bet.

FinSMEs: Personally, which global tech trend do you follow with particular attention? (fintech in general, bitcoin in particular, wearables, IoT, etc.?
Salvo: I strongly prefer disruption rather than comfortable low end Innovation storytelling. Don’t love buzzwords or fashionable copycats. More than sectors, I relentlessly believe in great founders. They will teach us all how to create the future, that as you know it’s not evenly well distributed.



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