Startups are showing new features

Serenella Marzoli, Director of Ljubljana office of Italian Trade Agency, on promoting Made in Italy and how startups are extremely innovative, develop business in high technology sectors and are used to compete in the world markets since their birth.

Italian Trade Agency promotes business opportunities, supporting Italian companies and their innovative force. How has the Italian economy changed through the decades, especially in the last one?
“As a Government Agency, for over 90 years our missionhas been to promote foreign trade and Italian products around the world.We work with Italian companies to ensure their broadest success in international markets and encourage foreign investors to consider Italy as a reliable global partner.

Since the twenties, the basic structure of our industry hasn’t changed very much: its backbone is represented by SMEs, that still today count for 99 % of our companies and for over 34 % of the total Italian labor force. About 95 % of Italian SMEs has less than 10 employees and works in services, ICT and commerce, while more structured SMEs work in the industrial sector. Some of them represent real excellences, while many work as subcontractors for bigger companies, especially in machinery, automotive, transport and logistics.

As we all know, in the past decade all companies faced the global economic crisis that has weakened the markets:  management costs and taxes increased, consumption decreased – also primary goods – triggering a widespread concern. In this scenario, Italian small and medium-sized enterprises have shown an unexpected vitality, being able to grow and undertake new investments, especially those with a greater innovation drive.”

What are the top reasons for foreign companies to do business in Italy?
“Export has always been the propulsive force behind Italian GDP growth. We have a long tradition and a strong vocation for international trade, and our production has been able to adapt to changes, especially in terms of customized goods.

Moreover, the strength of Italian manufactures, especially in recent years, lies absolutely in the excellent pre and post sales services they can offer, in their capacity of innovation and, I could say, in their vision and courage: even before the introduction of Industry 4.0 and its incentives to boost growth and productivity through innovation, investments were most growing in companies from highly automated manufacturing sectors and that went digital.”

What is today’s role of startups and scaleups in Italian economy, and how it has changed through the years?
“Startups are showing new features compared to other Italian firms in their early stages: they are bigger and extremely innovative, develop business in high technology sectors and are used to compete in the world markets since their birth.

Moving from Italy, they find some valuable competitive advantages in going worldwide: not only they benefit from the Made in Italy image and from the national advanced manufacturing in fashion, mechanics, robotics, furniture or agroindustry. They also leverage on an ecosystem that supports their growth and where they learn to compete globally.

The last official Report from the national Innovative Startup Register indicates that counting from 2013, today the registered Italian startups are more than 10 thousand and represent around 3 % of all newly established companies. On average, Italian startuppers are between 30 and 49 years old and more than 70 % hold a Master’s degree.

In 2018, big Italian startup and scaleups have attracted investments for over 390 million euros, while since the beginning of their activity they have exceeded 500 million. For venture capital and private equity dedicated to SMEs, 2019 promises to be particularly interesting, as in March the Italian Ministry of Economic Development launched the National Innovation Fund with a starting budget of 1 billion Euros to be used in 3 years through venture capital.”

How would you describe the role of the Italian Trade Agency and its activities in Slovenia and in the Alps-Adriatic and Western Balkans region?
“The Italian Trade Agency is a Government organization, which means that it is our institutional mission to develop, facilitate and promote economic and commercial relations with other markets, supporting the export of Italian goods and services.

We also promote the Made in Italy image around the world and our country as a destination for foreign investment. We have a worldwide presence and operate in line with the strategies of the Italian Ministry of Economic Development. Our Trade Commissions are in all the countries that are important for our export, both in mature and emerging markets.

Besides Ljubljana, my colleagues are working all over this region: in Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, as well as in Belgrade, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Skopje and Tirana. We all offer support and assistance to Italian companies involved in the internationalization process.

We organize specific training programs for University students, businessmen and companies; B2B meetings, seminars and workshops between Italian and foreign companies – identifying possible business partners – as well as Italian Pavilions to the most important international trade fairs.

As for Slovenia, I am particularly pleased for the business climate that I found last year, when I was appointed as Italian Trade Commissioner in Ljubljana: my Office has a very good ongoing cooperation with all the main Slovene institutions, and the number of Italian entrepreneurs that are contacting us to do business with your country is constantly increasing.

After all, Italy is Slovenia’s 2nd business partner, with a commercial interchange between our two countries that in 2018 reached 8.4 billion euros, higher than Italian trade with any other country in the Adriatic and Balkan region and with some of the G20’s, and this makes my activity even more challenging.”

PODIM Conference has proven to be the most influential startup event in the region. So, what is the reason behind the partnership of Italian Trade Agency with PODIM? 
“Our participation to PODIM is part of a broader project this year the Italian Trade Agency is organizing in Slovenia: we already coordinated the visit of a Slovenian delegation of incubators, accelerators and venture capitals to the Rome Start-up Week last April, we were recently present at Koper FestINNO and – last but not least – Slovenia was included in the Global Start Up Program promoted by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, as one of the 6 international acceleration destinations for 120 selected Italian startups.

I think that PODIM, where Italy is now officially participating for the first time, will result in a very valuable asset for Italian startuppers, who can find themselves in an international and very creative environment that brings an added value to our activities in Slovenia for the whole sector, and I look forward to repeating this experience in the future.”

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