Innovative startups looking for space may try and find a place into the incubator at the Polo Tecnologico di Navacchio in Cascina, near Pisa, Tuscany. At the moment there are only seven startups hosted in Navacchio, after 40 ones graduated in the last ten years. So the managers – managing director Elisabetta Epifori, CEO Alessandro Giari and president Sandra Vitolo – are going to select new entrants. Be aware, they are quite picky: out of 93 applicants only 47 have been accepted since the beginning of the program, and the 93 applicants had already passed a pre-screening process.
What’s the advantage of settling in Navacchio? I can tell you it’s a great infrastructure because I’ve just visited it, while staying in Pisa where I gave a speech, kicking off the PhD Plus program at the University of Pisa.
The collaboration with the university is exactly one of the strengths of Navacchio, which – I thought immediately when I learnt about its history – could be the twin town of Newark, New Jersey. In fact Navacchio used to be a distillery, which went out of business and was converted into the Polo Tecnologico thanks to the efforts of a visionary mayor, Carlo Cacciamano, who happened to be the son of the last manager of the distillery. Also Newark used to be an important hub of the alcohol business in the US (for example it was the home of Ballantine) and it started declining when the distilleries went out of business: its former mayor Cory Booker – who is now a senator in Washington, DC – tried to re-launch the local economy in partnership with tech entrepreneurs, including Don Katz , the founder and CEO of Audible. Not an easy task, but besides Audible – which was moved to Newark in 2077 – there is now a technology center with the incubator CCIT (Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies), whose startups specialize in life sciences and biotechnology.
What about the startups that are currently in Navacchio? One the most promising is Pitom, “a tailor’s shop for drones” as his co-founder and CEO Roberto Mati explains. «We are the only Italian startup that does not assembles drones, but creates hardware and software to make them work – Mati goes on. – We started in 2011 and we have already many big companies as clients. We hope that in the next future we’ll be able to launch products with our own brand».
Another startup with ambitious projects is Casalife that invented a “cube” able to monitor all kind of pollution you can find in a home: its founders recently came to New York trying to find American investors, but they realized it takes more than a trip and a pitch to reach that goal. So now they are about to launch a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com ), which is probably a very good idea. Since 2009 Kickstarter has in fact raised $1 billion for many cool projects, including tech products such as the famous Pebble smartwatch. So using this platform maybe be the right move to reach a global audience and potential customers. Casalife’s device was conceived within Cubit, the Consortium Ubiquitous Technologies, which is a lab aimed to invent and test wireless technologies.
Rank it Live is enjoying a free one year staying in Navacchio because it won a competition: it’s a platform to stream events for “niche” sports or for junior leagues of all kind of sports. The founders want to sign deals with federations to allow their athletes and fans to watch live games and matches for a fee: they are talking with organizations of sports such as kickboxing, martial arts, table tennis.
Here you’ll find the other startups currently in the incubator: http://www.incubatoreimpresa.it/en/companies-currently-incubated.html
In Navacchio there are also well established companies with a long experience like Gruppo Scienzia Machinale (GSM), which was founded in 1990 and moved to the Polo Tecnologico in 2000. «This structure is very efficient and it helped us grow from 15 to 50 people, with a €6.5 million revenue – explains Gianluca Parrini, vice president. – We do R&D for big groups such as General Electric and Finmeccanica, we make robots for the marble industry and robots for medical applications». GSM created the “electronic knee” for Officine Rizzoli Ortopedia di Budrio, which last year went into bankruptcy because of the Italian public administration not paying its bills (a very sad and unfortunately common problem in Italy!). «We are trying to get back the patent from the liquidator, – says Parrini – because we are already talking with an American potential partner to sell the electronic knee in the US».
Energy and enthusiasm are high in Navacchio, which is ranked one of the best incubators in Europe (it won 1st prize in 2011). But even better results in my opinion could be achieved if the incubator’s space were conceived in a more collaborative way, following the American example. The incubators I visited in New York while doing the research for “Tech and the City” are designed as open spaces meant for collaboration and for sharing ideas among startuppers.
In Navacchio instead each startup has its own traditional office, along aisles where doors are closed. I was told that startuppers meet in the cafeteria and that a new parcel of Navacchio will have indeed an open layout. I can’t wait and see it when it’s ready.