We spoke to Mattia Corbetta from the Ministry of Economic Development in Italy, and Giacomo Putignano, founder of the startup WalletSaver in Milan, to dig a little deeper into the Italian startup scene.
Ah, Italy. Land of sunshine, love, fashion and pizza. A country that ranked #5 on the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s list of top 10 destinations around the world.
What if we told you that you can now live and work there and have as much pizza, pasta and gelato as you want? And for all you Italy-based entrepreneurs out there, what if we told you:
Assumere professionisti stranieri non è più un incubo burocratico.
(You can now bring in much-needed overseas talent without a huge fuss.)
As of 2014 in Italy — a country notorious for its bureaucracy — hiring globally is no longer a big problem, thanks to this new program called the Italia Startup Visa (ISV).
Basically, the ISV allows both Italian and foreign entrepreneurs to establish startups in Italy with ease (online, free-of-charge, decision made within 30 days of submission). It also allows these startups to hire foreign talent. If you combine this with the Italian Startup Act, under which startups can receive the following benefits:
- Tax relief provided to VC firms and Business Angels wanting to invest in Italian startups
- Free-of-charge, public guarantees covering 80% of bank loans, or up to 2.5 million euros per startup
- A “fail-fast” mechanism that allows startups to restart quickly without suffering repetitional and financial cost in case things go wrong
Italy begins to sound like a pretty attractive place to have a startup for entrepreneurs both within Italy and without.
What was the motivation behind this program?
Mattia Corbetta — member of the Directorate General for Industrial Policy and SMEs at Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development: The motivation to take action for attracting foreign talents comes from the mere observation of the most prominent innovation ecosystems worldwide. There is a feature common to all of them: the existence of a strong entrepreneurial class with foreign background. Economic studies have shown that migrants are, on average, less risk-averse and more entrepreneurial, and that they have played a key role in the process of creation of new employment in micro-SMEs.
Can you tell us about what the current startup scene is like in Italy?
MC: The scene is brimming with vitality, with more than 5,400 startups with a strong innovative character currently registered, and approximately 30,000 people involved as associates and employees. We are confident that, thanks to the launch of a public co-investment VC fund (Invitalia Ventures), those numbers can potentially skyrocket soon. Three years after the Italian Startup Act, we can say that the new legislation has really shifted the ground: while three years ago our startup ecosystem was scattered and lacked self-awareness, it’s now rapidly catching up.
How do you think Italy is faring in the global economy?
MC: Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone, the second manufacturing power in Europe and the eight country in the world by merchandise export. Having said so, we have regretfully lost in the last decades some sense of our role in Europe and in the world, and even lost the curiosity to look for inspiration at what is happening around us. Luckily, things are changing: the Ministry of Economic Development, for instance, has been very active recently in designing policies to favor foreign trade, and as a result our export figures are sharply turning for the better and constitute a more and more relevant share of the Italian economy.
Whom do you hope to attract under the ISV program?
MC: We’d like to attract young, innovative and cosmopolitan talents who want to change the world for the better, regardless of their geographical origin. The more countries they come from, the better: up to now, the applications that have caught our attention and pleased us the most are those coming from particularly remote areas, which have few obvious links to the traditional Italian trade paths.
Are there any success stories you are particularly proud of?
MC: One in particular. Sharon Ezra is a young creative from Israel and her brainchild is the innovative startup Quattrocento Eyewear. The company sells handcrafted eyeglasses in a truly innovative way: first, through a “fit-and-try” system based on face recognition software, the customers can send accurate information on their facial features; then, those data are passed to Italian artisans, who produce a high-quality and ecologically sustainable product tailored to the needs of the customer.
Sharon passionately chose Italy because of the quality of Italian handicraft, something that she couldn’t find in her home country, and co-founded her startup jointly with an Italian entrepreneur.
Case Study: WalletSaver
Giacomo, the CEO of WalletSaver, was going through hurdles with the visa process for his two new international hires found through Jobbatical, when he discovered the ISV program. Suffice it to say, it changed his life.
How did you find out about the ISV program and what was your initial reaction?
Giacomo Putignano: I was talking with a friend about the excitement of my two newly hired team members, one Brazilian and one Ukrainian. The main topic was how interesting it is mixing different cultures in a small team but, at the same time, how frustrating it is to hire foreign talents.
At that time I had already talked with 2 legal firms in order to speed up the working visa process but none could ensure me the outcome in a reasonable timeframe. Then my friend suggested I check out the Italian startup visa. That was my last hope before giving up to Italian bureaucracy so I decided to give a try and called the number on the website.
After a few rings, one person replied to my call in perfect English and told me that in a couple of weeks we would have solved the issue. I thanked him a lot but I didn’t believe it 100%. I should have shifted my expectation from 3 months to 2 weeks, such a big gap! Actually after 10 days we received an email for both employees about the conclusion of the process.
Why did you want to hire overseas talent for your company?
GP: Every startup dreams to be a global startup. Then in Italy you approach some of them and you may discover that simply speaking English could be a big issue. I believe that if you want to be global you have to SPEAK and THINK global. Building an international team is the best way to have the fundamentals before scaling your company up. Of course there are also some downsides. If company culture is one of the biggest challenges for an early stage startup, finding common habits and shared beliefs among people with different traditions may be much more complex than doing it with an “old classmate” startup team.
How much of an influence does the ISV have on your hiring process?
GP: To be completely honest, if I hadn’t discovered the ISV I would have never suggested an international hire (of course I’m talking non-Schengen zone) to any of my startup friends. Mixing culture is powerful but waiting 2–3 months in order to formalize a hire is pretty dangerous.
What do you hope to achieve for your company through the help of the ISV in the next few years?
GP: Having an international team now looks more like reality than a dream. For our next hiring we will be keep looking for worldwide talents!