Nestpick, website for seeking rooms and apartments, has for some years now been drawing up the rankings of the best locations in which to establish a start up. A list of global destinations that takes a selection of parameters into account, such as quality of life, services costs, average salaries, tax and so on. These features place San Francisco, New York, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam and others at the top. A string of huge cities and metropolises, but not once does an Italian centre appear on the list. After all, aside from Rome and Milan, this country has always just been the land of church bells, quaint squares and little villages. It is worth asking, then, if this is slowing down – or perhaps having an even worse impact on – our innovative progression. In other words, can provincial areas become the right incubator to bridge the gap that separates us from the world’s Silicon Valleys?
To give a response – map in hand – we need to look at the numbers. According to leading information provider Cerved, which studied data collected by its subsidiary SpazioDati, around 14,000 startups are active in Italy. Of these, 9,328 are startups registered with Infocamere – data management service provider to the Italian Chamber of Commerce – to which we can add the 4.847 companies in Italy that are producing innovative products. Around a quarter can be found in the five most densely populated provinces: Milan (2,311 businesses), Rome (1,470), Turin (521), Naples (507) and Bologna (415). The ranking changes if we consider innovation levels across an entire area. In that case, the wide expanses of Trento, Trieste, Ascoli and Pordenone win. They are places of a human-scale, rather than an industrial one. This is ideal for anyone who has an idea to develop, something of which the guys at H-Farm are well aware. This incubator, set up in 2005 by Riccardo Donadon and Maurizio Rossi, is based at Ca’Tron, a farming estate located in Roncade, within the green Treviso province. Over ten years, H-Farm invested almost 20 million euros in 80 projects, creating 450 jobs and transforming itself into a veritable – and large – innovation campus, extended across an area of 15,000 square metres. Its success came first from the other side of the Atlantic, then on the Italian Stock Exchange, and it also become a development model for other similar organisations in the country. Of 34 incubators in Italy, a good six are based in a city that is not the provincial capital.
The ranking changes if we consider innovation levels across an entire area. In that case, the wide expanses of Trento, Trieste, Ascoli and Pordenone win. They are places of a human-scale, rather than an industrial one.
A decision very often based on the particular strengths of a given area. And this means that in the new Industry 4.0 era, the most famous manufacturing districts are being brought back to life. As such, there is a particularly concentrated cluster of biotechnologies – startups operating in the field of biomedical and molecular engineering (around 1,060 businesses) – in the provinces of Trento, Ravenna and Trieste. The same can be said for component supplies (and, by extension, applications) for smartphones and tablets, for which the innovation indexes are particularly high in Trento, Belluno, Ravenna and Cagliari. Finally, the category of businesses designing and manufacturing lot software and solutions for computers, wearable technology and household appliances finds its home in Ancona, Aosta and Campobasso. New specialist epicentres are also hiding out there. For example, 215 innovative startups created in Abruzzo in 2018 (up 30% on 2017) took it to third place nationally, but first place in the energy and raw materials sector. This is all possible because of a focus on a limited blend of high quality pursuits: 16 are devoted to the provision of electrical energy, six on manufacturing metal products and three on processing non-metallic minerals. Many of these are based in Teramo, which has little more than 54,000 inhabitants.
Finally, there are individual startups, born in a provincial garage, trying to conquer a city (and win over some investors). WiBi from Crotone, for example, aims to conquer the digital divide by offering free Internet in exchange for advertising. The basic package offers a free 10-megabit connection in exchange for watching four minutes of advertising each day, which plays automatically as soon as you connect your device to the router (which is the only real expense required by the service – a one-off activation charge of 180 euros). Their objective is to take the service to the country’s largest cities by the end of 2019, by growing the team (currently made up of just three people) and expanding the packages on offer. In the medium-long term, though, one startup in Calabria is demonstrating success: Macingo is an express deliveries and courier service and, in its four years, has become the go-to platform in the sector. It has recently secured a new round of investments. Two better established companies are now supporting the startup (which was originally created in 2014): Mecar Corporate Transport Solutions, a leader in road transport with over 60 years of experience across most of southern Italy, and Digital Magics, the largest incubator for “Made in Italy” digital startups. It’s another another small success story. Which is something Foodracers wishes to replicate. This startup was set up in Treviso, inspired by the now traditional food-delivery models and in response to the demands of provincial towns and their users. Because technology is not just the prerogative of the big cities.