Monday, October 22, 2007

Something is cooking in Italy

Yesterday I watched another Italian triumph in sports. I could not believe my eyes, but Ferrari won the F1 World Championship. For those that like Nascar, F1 is the second most watched sport on the planet (second to soccer ;-)

This is not just a triumph of Italian determination and never-give-up attitude (like in the soccer World Cup). This one represents the excellence of Italian technology. Of Italian high-tech. Of Italian engineering. And it is the second this year, after Ducati in MotoGP.

During my last trip to Europe, I stopped in Rome for the Venture Camp event. We talked about entrepreneurship in Italy and the lack of venture capital in Italy, despite the high tech competence.

I sensed something very interesting. A group of entrepreneurs with real drive and extreme talent. Willing to push forward, despite the rest of the country holding them back.

There were those who made it, like Gianluca Dettori (who brought Vitaminc to IPO, then sold it to Buongiorno) or Marco Palombi (who created the #1 blog site in Italy - Splinder - then sold it to Dada). There were those who are still trying, like me, Marco Rossi (CEO of Movenda) and Andrea Genovese (editor of 7th floor, a superb magazine). There were those who are just starting, such as Marco Barulli of Clipperz (a fantastic online password manager. If you are like me and you are tired of remembering 10,000 passwords, give it a try).

I sensed there is something new boiling in Italy. People that are there to make a difference and not planning to give up. Sadly, the only government help is coming from the other side, the American Embassy in Italy ;-) We'll take it, Richard Bohly is doing a terrific job and he is hundred times more effective than any Italian bureaucrat...

The issue is just access to capital, not lack of skilled entrepreneurs, human capital or clever technology.
Exceptions are rare, like Luca Ungarelli of the Golden Mouse fund, who first believed in Funambol. At ETRE, I spoke to many European VCs and it is unreal to see the stats about Italy, comparing innovation vs. capital invested. We are at the bottom of the chart for capital invested, and at the top for innovation. Something must be wrong...

As usual, my hope is that the Funambol model (getting the capital elsewhere, since they are impossible to find in Italy) is the one for the short term. Moving that to a fully VC-backed Italian Silicon Valley will take some time, but we'll get there. What I saw in Rome was an eye-opener. There are more Ferrari and Ducati out there, I can tell you that.

Something is cooking in Italy, and it is not just pizza.