It may not be Silicon Valley, but Southern Italy - islands included - is turning tech. In late 2017, the area counted 2,028 innovative start-ups registered in the local Chambers of Commerce, about a quarter of the national figure. In the lead is the region of Campania, with 623. Naples ranks fourth in Italy in terms of number of start-ups (285), after Milan, Rome and Turin.
The region at the foot of Mount Vesuvius is experiencing a sort of southern technological renaissance. Indeed, Campania is the only region in Italy to have a Councillor for Start-ups, Innovation and Internationalization, Valeria Fascione, 49, who also invented an Erasmus programme for young companies to learn best practicies from abroad and put them into practice at home.
And while many companies (and many young people) are leaving, the big names in the world of technology are taking root right here. In October 2016, Apple’s first European app development centre started a course in San Giovanni a Teduccio, a former industrial area of Naples on the Federico II University campus. Today, the course already has 200 highly-select "graduate" developers, 80% of them from the south of Italy. For the second year, places on the course have almost doubled, given that as many as 376 students have been selected for 2017. Local businesses have undertaken to hire the first one hundred graduates. Moreover, the Apple Academy is constantly on the look out for new agreements with multinationals so as to grant its students instant access to the labour market.
Campania is the only region in Italy to have a Councillor for Startups, Innovation and Internationalization
Apple's presence is also important as a driver to attract investments of other multinationals on the territory. In late 2017, the San Giovanni a Teduccio campus also saw the arrival of Deloitte Digital, a branch of the world leading services company, offering young people "the skills required to bridge the gap between companies and the Digital and industry 4.0 ecosystem". Then, in January 2018, the IT giant Cisco launched, at the same campus, the Cisco Networking Academy and Co-Innovation Hub. University students will be able to attend training courses on the Internet of Things, Cybersecurity and network technologies. And both students and companies involved in the co-innovation projects will have the Cisco DevNet community platform at their disposal, to acquire skills in the development of applications for software, devices and networks - a further element that contributes to increasing the importance of the capital of Campania in the Italian technological ecosystem.
But Cisco is not new to Campania. For 18 years, the multinational has been present in schools throughout Italy with its academy, which boasts the largest number of students in the country's southern regions of Sicily, Calabria and Puglia. "The idea", explained Luca Lepore, head of the Cisco Networking Academy programme in Italy, "is to put in place initiatives having a social impact, and to go there where there is the greatest need to develop skills, so as to create veritable centres of excellence". The aim is to work in synergy "with other companies in the area, contributing to the development of local start-ups and thus creating an ecosystem that can hope to attract investments that are current lacking in the South".
Almost nine out of ten of the students in schools throughout Italy who follow the Cisco programmes, also in the South, find work within three months of completing the course. "Cisco partners 1,700 companies, which struggle on a daily basis to find the qualified personnel they require," said Mr Lepore. "The main goal of our academy is to raise awareness of the ICT market, and guide young people in their career choices".
One of the feathers in the Cisco Academy's cap is in Campania: in the infamous neighbourhood known as Vele di Scampia, stands the technical institute Galileo Ferraris, "the best school in Italy to find work", according to the book La ricreazione è finita (Break time is over) by Roger Abravanel and Luca D’Agnese. Cisco has had its Academy here since 2007. It has re-cabled the entire institute for free, trained teachers in the use of new technologies, and allows 1,500 students to study global trends such as the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. Subsequently, other companies, such as Microsoft, have also taken root at the school, funding a number of coding courses. At Galileo Ferraris, students can create drones and apps, win international prizes and find work. "Some students found work within 60 days of leaving school," said the school's headmaster, Alfredo Fiore. Technology thus becomes a driver for social redemption, an alternative to crime in a difficult neighbourhood that people mostly associate with the Italian film, Gomorrah.
Galileo Ferraris was the first institute in Campania to be reached by Cisco. However, through the Clara Consortium (the Regional Academy that coordinates the activities of the Cisco programme in Campania), the giant now partners as many as 30 schools in the region, with a 70% yearly increase in students. In Campania, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria alone, roughly 120 institutes participate in the Academy, out of a total of 320 throughout Italy. But that’s not all. The Cisco Networking Academy programme has also been introduced in two penal institutions of Campania: the detention centre of Secondigliano and the juvenile prison of Nisida.
Apple's presence is also important as a driver to attract investments of other multinationals on the territory.
And just like the phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor, from the ashes of Bagnoli has arisen Campania New Steel, the largest incubator for start-ups in Southern Italy, certified by the Ministry of Economic Development - a point of reference for all of Southern Italy, where Bari and Salerno, as well as Naples, make it into the top ten Italian cities in terms of number of start-ups. However, the low propensity to invest in the South remains a problem. Very little venture capital or business angels make it south of Rome, so that many teams are forced to move to other regions or even abroad. Apart from Basilicata and Abruzzo, which have created regional funds, the only one to make the difference is Sardinia, previously home to Tiscali, and second in Italy (after Lombardy) in terms of investments in nascent companies.
The secret of success, of course, lies in the collaboration - as we have already seen in Campania - between companies and universities. A case in point is Cosenza, where the Japanese technology giant Ntt Data has recently landed. The city of Calabria is home to the first Italian technology district of cybersecurity, thus becoming one of the multinational's three global research and development centres, together with Palo Alto and Tokyo. The secret lies precisely in the company’s collaboration with the University of Calabria: academic institutions ask the company for information on the most skills they consider most important, so as to include new subjects in their study plans, thereby making new graduates more attractive to companies and preventing brain drain. Moreover, in Tokyo, they are considering recruiting a further workforce of 300 new recruits in the headquarters of Cosenza and the smaller ones of Naples. This is not just motivated by the recruitment incentives offered by Southern Italy (also because the local workforce is undoubtedly more expensive than in India). The main reason - say the folk at Ntt Data - is given by the skills and human capital emerging from southern Italy's universities.
It is no coincindence that, after Naples, Digital Magics, the best known incubator of digital projects in Italy, has decided to open new offices in Palermo and Bari. The same goes for the Spanish Indra (boasting 37,000 employees in the world), which opened a hub in Matera, connected to the centre of Naples, which employs over 100 people. And then there's another major name, Exprivia, which has joined the board of the European Cyber Security Organization, and which has retained its headquarters in Molfetta, Bari, despite having offices worldwide.