Rome or the Tech Dolce Vita

Rome is not only “La Dolce Vita” and above all is not (only) the city of the decadent old characters of “The Great Beauty”. I saw it firsthand visiting the Maker Faire Rome on October 3-5. The event got 90,000 visitors, more than the Make Fare in New York that reached 75,000 visitors last September.

“Thanks to Maker Faire Rome, which this year was included in the Innovation Week, for nine days Rome was an inexhaustible source of energy for ideas full of innovation and creativity. All ideas shared one mission: to show the way to the Third Industrial Revolution and into the future, which actually has already arrived in Rome”, said the organizers, among which is my colleague and friend Riccardo Luna.

What struck me was the enthusiasm of so many young people I met in Rome. “In Rome young people are hungrier, they have less opportunities than in Milan so they must be more creative to invent their own job”. That was an explanation I got from several friends.

Let’s make!” – or “Daje facciamolo!”, in Roman dialect – is for example an association that hosts a Makers’ Lab and a co-working space, where Elio Alunno Camelia and his friends created Cube Code, an easy tool to teach kids – even 6 year old ones – how to code. They exhibited the project at the Maker Faire Rome and hopefully it will be used in Italian elementary schools.

Outside the Maker Faire, I was fortunate to have Paolo Merialdo (*) as my personal Cicerone, a great “startup guide” who introduced me to two special ecosystems, very different from each other but both very lively and interesting: Luiss EnLabs and Pi-Campus. The first one is a huge open space above Stazione Termini, in a very hectic environment; the second one occupies three luxury residential villas in the idyllic and very green EUR neighborhood.

Luiss EnLabs claims to be “the first Italian example in which venture capital, entrepreneurial system and university are linked together”. The venture capitalist is Luigi Capello, CEO and founder of LVenture Group (a participation holding listed on Borsa italiana); the university is LUISS, and then there are many startups that participate in the startup accelerator program or that have already graduated but stay in the incubator. Startups accepted in the accelerator program get 30,000 euros in cash plus 30,000 in facilities and services. The other ones can get up to 200,000 euros. “Micro-seed and seed money is not a problem, because in Italy there are a lot of angel investors”, says Capello, who is also a member of the association Italian Angels for Growth.
Among the startups currently working at Luiss EnLabs there are BaasBox, Snapback, WineOwine, Le Cicogne. One of the startups in the accelerator is FiloTrack that is designing “a small Bluetooth device that helps you find and locate what you care about”. Since the end of 2010, when Luiss EnLabs started, it has received over 1000 projects applications for the accelerator programs; it has admitted 24 startups; the LVenture Group has invested 2.8 million Euros into a portfolio of 22 startups, plus 6.6 million Euros has come from from other investors; over 200 jobs have been created. “By 2017 we want to have 59 startups in our portfolio – says Capello – and make our Startups’ Factory bigger and bigger”.

A totally different scenario surrounds Pi-Campus. “We chose this location superimposing different layers on a Google Maps: low noise, low pollution, easy parking, 5 min walk to public transport, 5 min drive to highways and 20 minute drive to both Rome airports”, explain the founders Gianluca Granero and Marco Trombetti. Gianluca and Marco are friends and serial entrepreneurs. In 2007 they created Pi-Campus as an “ideal work environment”: it’s not an open space, and it’s not an incubator nor a co-working space, they point out. “To become a Pi Campus citizen you have only three options – you can read on the website -: get hired by one of the companies already here (relatively hard); get up to 6 free desks for 6 months by getting a seed investment from Translated (hard); have a startup with a team of people smarter than the one we have here”. Who makes it, enjoys exclusive perks, including free massages twice per week, gym, fitness trainer, spinning classes, kitchen free access and 4% salary increase for quitting smoking, getting to office by bicycle and more”. That’s the Tech Dolce Vita!
The last company that Marco and Gianluca co-founded is Memopal, which makes the online backup technology used by some of the largest storage manufactures, telcos and anti-viruses in the world. Marco is also the CEO of Translated, “a leading professional translation service provider that uses artificial intelligence to make translator’s life easier and customer happier by removing unnecessary intermediation”. Two other promising companies hosted by Pi-Campus are Wanderio, “one stop website to make all reservations from doorstep to final destination”, and ClickMeter, “a click analytics tool that allows users to compare the performance and conversions of different traffic sources making them comparable”.

(*) Paolo Merialdo is a Computer Science professor at the University of Rome, and one of the organizers of InnovAction Lab, the most important startup contest for students in Italy. Every year InnovAction Lab involves more than 300 students, from all the Italian universities. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation has recognized it as the most effective experience to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Italy, one of the top-5 in the world. For the winners of the InnovAction Lab contest (two teams of 4 students) Paolo organizes a tour to learn about startup ecosystems abroad. For winners of the 2014 edition, InnovAction Lab chose New York City, that’s how I met Paolo.
Thank you Paolo for the awesome startup tour in Rome! Hope to see you again in NYC for the next InnovAction Lab mission.

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