Unemployment. The protagonist of the Italian political cartoon Cipputi who represents an Italian factory worker no longer exists, banks and insurance companies are doing major layoffs, shops are closing, and young Italians between the ages of 25 and 35 who are unemployed have almost reached one million. Many of them could become entrepreneurs: according to Italia Startup, there are at least 300,000 aspiring entrepreneurs in Italy but 80% don’t even try due to the lack of funding.
I have been going around for years now talking about startups in Universities and schools and, I swear, when I talk to students about how to create an enterprise and the goals that they can reach I see their eyes begin to sparkle; when I bring a startupper who I financed along with me, the kids clap their hands raw in appreciation: give them a lever and they’ll lift up the world.
The discussion pertains to the Jobs Act; the expression refers to the acronym for the U.S. law that favors small businesses Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), and Italy is responding as well: we are thinking about our startups, the measures that the Government could launch spending the least amount of money possible, in order to promote the creation of qualified and long-lasting jobs in new companies with an emphasis on hi-tech and innovation.
I have two ideas: money and acceleration.
Money. To ensure a successful “kick off” for an entrepreneurial idea about 200,000 euros are necessary: for a service startup this is enough to pay the supermarket bill and four or five people for two years; for a manufacturing startup this fund finishes faster, but it can finance supplies and a pilot structure and no bank does this. The tools that are available from new EU programs are numerous and cheap for the State to use: with 4-500 million euros made available by the State, three-four times that can be invested by leveraging the European Community funds, financing ten thousand startups and providing enduring work opportunities for about 50,000 people.
An experience that we have already had is that of the Fondo HT della Presidenza del Consiglio: a 160 million euro government fund destined for rather elevated mid sized investments, generally over one million, for digital startups in southern Italy, managed by private funds that have put in half of the money with “best practice” criteria, a scrupulous selection of projects and an elevated capacity to manage the investments. As with every first experience, that of the HT Fund needs to be improved, even a lot, but it has the merit of having stimulated the entrepreneurial spirit and technological transfer in the South, which is the X-factor for real growth in a modern country.
What possibly limits the potential of the HT Fund, something I experienced firsthand, is the ambition to render elevated earnings, in line with those that are typical for venture capital operations, driven by the fact of co-investing one’s own funds or collecting one’s own funds. This ambition caused managers to discard operations that could have had sense from an entrepreneurial point of view but that did not show potential for the growth that is usually looked for by an investment fund.
Making smaller sized investments, up to 200,000 euros for operations, selected and managed by professional investors without co-investments, would give an opportunity to a lot of proposals that funds typically discard because they are too small or too new, or because they have low potential, like makers for example; it would contribute to a class of workers with abilities marketable worldwide, that companies would compete for to obtain, rather than laying-off, and which could attract Italian and foreign investors who are willing to finance those who are most promising.
Acceleration. In my experience, over half of operations that an investor analyzes are discarded for the inadequacies of the proposing team. Sometimes it is because of people who have a dream, but live on another planet, and no one would trust them with their money; others are very capable but with no experience, or not the right experience.
I live in Naples and travel throughout Italy, mostly in the South, and I have seen with my own eyes that this country is full of capable people, young and less young, with good ideas or with a robust technology, and a great desire to do things. It is necessary to help these people transform an idea or a project into an enterprise, accelerate their trip towards the market, supplying young entrepreneurs without track records a tool kit that contains a business plan created with the help of serious professionals, the rudiments of administration and management of human resources, the foundations of financing, marketing and management of intellectual properties.
We have launched the Tech Hub in Naples, together with the Banco di Napoli, la Federico II, and the Chamber of Commerce, which will help create thirty startups per year, distributing, at its best, contributions for a total of one half million euros per year, but there are also many other paths that work, in Milan, Rome, in the Northeast, often without a single euro, but they work.
They are itineraries that cost very little, absolutely not following any logic and without the troubles caused in financed creations, managed by professionals in the creation of enterprises who often have an “evangelical” spirit. Where “illuminated” institutions meet, just as it happened in Naples, and become sustainable and with a large source of opportunities.
Acceleration and seed money can create capable entrepreneurs and innovators and generate qualified and sustainable jobs. It would cost very little and could change the future of this country.