Did you know that there are 78 Fintech startups in Italy? Thanks to Riccardo Luna, editor at StartupItalia! and CheBanca! you can see all 78 in the Fintech Atlas of 2015 (as long as you can read Italian).
So, I sought a tour guide who was happy to speak to me in English. Luckily I found Fabrizio Villani of FintechItalia. Fabrizio is an Italian Fintech entrepreneur currently living in Barcelona and familiar with the London and Amsterdam Fintech scenes (so he can contrast what he sees in Italy with the Fintech scene in other cities).
Through Fabrizio I started to learn about the brain drain to places like London, New York and Silicon Valley, a story that I have heard in other European centers. Highly educated and skilled Italians take their talent abroad in search of better funds, career opportunities and payoffs. Despite Europe’s attempts to retain ‘brains’, 30,000 Italian researchers leave each year, while only 3,000 qualified scientists go to Italy.
The usual villains star in this brain drain story – difficulty in getting funding and lack of innovation by the big banks. Yet the big banks in Italy, such as Unicredit, Intesa San Paolo and Banca Sella are keen to find this innovation. For example, Unicredit has set up a Fintech Accelerator. If you know of any other Fintech Accelerators in Italy, I will add them to this list. Also CheBanca! is clearly seen as a digital innovator, what the UK market calls a Challenger Bank.
As with so many other centers, there are innovative startups and innovative customers but these two dots are not being efficiently connected.
Startups need three types of fuel:
- Technical talent. Italy has plenty of home-grown talent and a quality of life that will draw developers from other countries if the other types of fuel are there.
- Innovation Capital. Italy scores badly on this front. Germany, Switzerland, France, even Spain does better.
- Bandwidth. This is the simplest thing for the Government to fix and they are working on it. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi approved last week a 6 billion euro plan to build a nationwide fibre optic network by replacing the ageing cooper wires that run into subscriber’s homes and companies
Fabrizio identified the following promising Fintech ventures in Italy:
- Moneyfarm: is a Personal Financial Management robo adviser that enables people to get started with small amounts of around 20,000 euros, “without having to pay consultants that can cost up to 400 euros for half a day”, explains Giovanni Daprà, who in 2011 conceived the startup with Paolo Galvani and Andrea Scarso.
- Ekuota: is a corporate finance platform targeted at CFOs, using analytics and reporting tools in order to better understand their financial risk exposure, simplify hedge, value price derivatives and improve risk exposure transparency.
- Wadex: Wadex is a web-based platform that offers an innovative matchmaking service for supply and demand of Secondary Raw Materials. Their vision is to create a market of secondary commodities that is as structured and efficient as that of the stock market, but that excludes the speculative component. Wadex allows industries operating in the recycling market to bypass the auction system on the upside for the supply of lots of secondary raw materials, and to protect themselves from the volatility of the market price through an innovative method of pricing management, saving money and eliminating the uncertainty by deciding in advance their production budget. A proprietary algorithm, based on five factors (price – deposit – time Value – distance – customers), processes the proposals, thus identifying the best counterpart for the transaction.
- S-peek: analyzes the balance sheets of companies to calculate their health status, in order to come up with an easy and intelligible rating.
- Squeezol: is the new system for organizing events, gifts and other sharing experiences. It allows a group of people – friends, colleagues, family, groups – to build up a collection online where everyone can pay their share through. With Squeezol it is possible to create or join a collection in 3 clicks: create a collection and invite friend through Facebook or Google contacts, select “Pay with Squeezol on an e-commerce partner website.
- Sardex: In Sardinia in 2014 goods and services worth 32 million euros were exchanged without using a single euro. This small miracle was made by a startup from Serramanna, a community of 9,000 inhabitants in the province of Medio Campidano, founded in 2010 and, which, in 2014 earned 1.2 million euros. It is called Sardex.net and is a virtual currency that was created in order to support small local businesses during the credit crunch. Today, after a registration on their platform, Sardex can be used to make payments throughout the entire island of Sardinia.
So the question for Italy asks Frabrizio is: “can we convert these fine craftsmen of Fintech products into global players and see Italy raise again and live a new Renaissance?” These few examples raise our hopes.