A very helpful experience especially for networking. With some disenchantment about being able to attract investors. But also with lessons learnt about how to improve. The 16 Italian startups that attended the 5-day NYC market accelerator (December 2-6) organized by VentureOutNY are back to Italy with plenty of stuff to think about and connections to use in order to grow. StartupItalia! met them at the Demo Night on December 3rd and afterwards asked them their impressions about the program; we asked also two of the investors attending the Demo Night what they thought about the Italian startuppers.
The Demo night at the Greenhouse – a cool club in Soho – was sponsored by the US Department of State’s Digital Economy Forum (DEF) and the Italian Business & Investment Initiative: Sandhya Polu for DEF and Gianluca Galletto for IB&II greeted the startuppers and explained that their organizations are there to help them. Four investors were the “judges” of the demos, which followed a different format than the usual one: each startup had to introduce itself in just one minute in front of the whole audience, and then each startup had a 4 minute one-on-one conversation with each investor, sitting at the startup’s “spot” in the venue.
Great excitement and energy were in the room. However maybe the Demo Night was the only moment that disappointed several startuppers, mostly because they had the unrealistic expectation that they could get funds from investors. On the other hand, startuppers appreciated a lot the rest of the program that introduced them to the NYC startup community.
«My first goal was to understand and ‘feel’ the US startup ecosystem: the program was structured correctly to achieve that, giving us the chance to meet many players of this scene such as incubators, accelerators, investment funds, immigration experts, co-working spaces and a PR agency that is essential to publicize your idea in a foreign market», said Fabio Busatto, founder and CEO of SexyDeal, a sort of “Groupon for sex”. Fabio was also happy to get feedback about the appeal of his business in the US and about the training for the one minute pitch. «Unfortunately – Fabio added – I understood that it’s very difficult for a venture capital fund to invest in a project that, no matter how good it is, is from Italy, because of our political situation».
«I knew already that in only five days we would not have had the opportunity to meet many investors and find somebody willing to fund us – said Silvia Sturla Avogadri, co-founder of boutiqueonclick and one of very few women among the startuppers. – But the program was very helpful for networking. My next step will be a follow up with of all the people I met. I firmly believe that in the US there is still much room for excellent made in Italy sold online and that my company can fill a gap in the American market for a careful and demanding consumer looking for a unique and original Made in Italy product that can be thoroughly selected only by people living in Italy like us».
Also Luca Perfetto, founder and CEO of Freeppie, was sort of “disappointed” by the Demo night: «I would have preferred to have investors acting more like mentors instead of judging startups as opportunities for investments. I liked the educational seminars at the co-working spaces and especially the meetings at the accelerators. I grew even more convinced that the US approach to technology, startups and entrepreneurship is completely different from the Italian one». Before the VentureOutNY program Luca was already in the city, where he recently moved to study the American market and prepare to enter it: «Our dream is to reward users who share their travel experiences on social networks, with discounts and free trips. Our online platform is rapidly growing in Italy».
Ruggero Frigoli, founder and CEO of Tonki – “Italian makers” of an eco-friendly frame for pictures – didn’t have any expectations. «I love NYC, my brother lives here and any occasion is good to jump on a plane and come here – Ruggero explained. – So I joined this program as a ‘cultural experience’. The most interesting thing for me was to witness the efficiency of the United States: every day we had three or four meetings with top level people who spent a lot of time with us and were incredibly open and available. The difference with Italy was almost embarrassing! The other thing I love about this ecosystem is to see thousands of young people who, rather than complaining about their uncertain future, struggle by all means to try and succeed. Although I didn’t have specific goals, I ended up with excellent results: at least two super interesting startups have fallen in love with Tonki and they’re likely to become our partners; and a couple of investors were interested to discuss our expansion in the US market. So I’m even more eager to grow».
Marco Turchini, founder and CEO of the social travel app Zucano, was impressed by the NYC tech community too: «I learnt that there are so many competent people willing to support startuppers and to understand their ideas without being immediately judgmental. This program helped me find connections that will be useful to settle down in NYC».
Lorenzo Cardelli, founder and CEO of Mygenomics – which from a sample of saliva analyzes your DNA and tells you how to prevent diseases – gave high grades to the VentureOutNY program because of its good introduction to the local community of startuppers and its network. His disappointment: «I would have expected more support from the Italian community in New York». Actually no representatives of the Italian authorities in NYC attended the Demo Night, while in similar events with other countries there have always been officers from the consulates or the trade commissions.
Simone Panfilo, co-founder of LoveTheSign – eCommerce for Made in Italy home design – appreciated three things: network, network, network; but he didn’t like the “Madison avenue” style of the new business of selling services to startups. Now he plans to study deeper the practical problems to export LoveTheDesign’s products from Italy to the US.
«We are very happy we invested time, energy and a piece of our budget to come to NYC», said Michele Aquila, CEO of Tweetbook, a program that transforms Twitter stories in books. For Michele it was invaluable to get feedback from two of the investors at the Demo Night (the other two left before meeting him, the only disappointing note): «We realized that some of the stories we tell do not work, so we have to fix them. Attending the program made us rethink our startup’s strategy. So the next step is to gather the team in Italy, fix what does not work and use what we learned in NYC».
«The way to tell your story is very important indeed and the Italian startuppers I saw at the Demo Night have a lot of room to improve their pitch», observed one of the investors attending the event, Alessandro Piol, venture capitalist with Vedanta and co-author of “Tech and the City”. «Startuppers who attend programs such as Techstars or Y Combinator are well trained to do their pitch: they can make any business look fabulous, while maybe Italian startuppers had interesting projects but were not able to explain them in a compelling way».
Another investor at the Demo Night was Brian S. Cohen, Chairman of New York Angels and co-founded of Launch.it, «the first direct-to-customer, self-publishing PR news platform». Brian was maybe the harsher critic of the startups, but he did it because – he explained to StartupItalia! – «we angel investors too often are too nice to startuppers. Yes, we cuddle startups. The hard reality is that most startups should go out of business. Around 75% of startups in NYC today are made of ‘wantrepreneurs’ not entrepreneurs, guys who live on hope. There is too much dumb money around and soon most angel investors will give up investing, because they’ll realized how difficult it is to get good deals». So Brian gave some tough love to the Italian startuppers, saying that he considers himself an honorary Italian (he was wearing a Cucinelli jacket with Zegna pants, Tod’s shoes and a Bulgari watch!).
The other two investors were Giordano Bruno Contestabile, VP of Tilting Point and Owen Davis, Managing Director of NYC Seed. The other startups attending VentureOutNY program were Atooma, Design-Apart, Fhoster, Hairdressr, Kuldat, Mysmark, Pedius, and Savesquared.