A cross section of the Bay Area public gathered in Palo Alto for the recent BAIA Panel event on October 14th. With the generous support of SAP Labs we were able to use the global software company’s Silicon Valley headquarters as the setting for our panel discussion.
After mingling over great wines and food, offered by Cafè Renzo of Palo Alto, Italian and American entrepreneurs, professors, students, along with many expats joined in (check out some photos) to tackle this fascinating and controversial topic: Transplanting Start ups in Silicon Valley: does it work? Can Italian tech companies be successful at home? Must international entrepreneurs move their companies to Silicon Valley if they hope to compete on a global scale? What’s the evidence?
This was the starting point for the discussion, which, along with moderator Massimo Arrigoni, BAIA Board member and CEO of Early Impact, a California-based eCommerce software company, featured prestigious and lively panelists such as Vivek Wadhwa, the inspiring Berkeley professor and senior research associate at Harvard Law school. Sharing the stage with him, seasoned and new Italian entrepreneurs such as: Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of Funambol, Marco Marinucci, Google Manager and founder of Mind the Bridge, Aldo Cocchiglia, CEO of M31 USA, and Augusto Marietti, 22 year old co-founder and CEO of Mashape.
When talking about success in Silicon Valley, the Italian business community questions itself. It looks as if transplanting start ups from Italy hasn’t been very successful so far: why do always the same names come up? Why so few success stories? Is it an Italian problem? Has it worked with companies transplanted from other countries?
The speakers addressed these questions from different perspectives. Vivek Wadhwa, who is also a regular contributor for the online blog Tech Crunch, pointed out the importance in changing the idea of exporting Silicon Valley around the world. “Why do you bother to come into the USA? Why don’t you build a new Silicon Valley in Europe?” was his provoking question. But how do you recreate the same vibe you feel here in Silicon Valley? Vivek gave us the example of Chile. The country is hoping to lure private companies by granting $40,000 grants and providing cheap office space and accommodation to budding entrepreneurs from around the world. “We should teach each other to build ecosystems to create new Silicon Valleys around the world”, emphasized the columnist for Business Week.
So what is the “Italian problem” then? Too many internal policy issues? Or do Italians lack the attitude to succeed in this environment? Marco Marinucci, founder and executive director of Mind the bridge (a non-profit organization that aims to link the most innovative Italian start ups with Silicon Valley resources) pointed out at some of the issues: lack of management skills and auto referential politicians are important limits, or more specifically, “barriers”, as Augusto Marietti mentioned; structural barriers which limit Italian company to go global.
On the other hand success is repeatable as Marinucci emphasizes: "We need to use success stories to mentor and encourage new entrepreneurs." In a country where there is little investment in research, where the public discourse and the media are often focused on old political and economic patterns, it is important to find new ways to package content in order to reach the public. “It can be done” is the positive attitude and thinking that can persuade Italian entrepreneurs to empower new ideas, building a diverse culture that encourages risk taking and openness.
“Italy is the best place to develop software” said Fabrizio Capobianco. Italian universities produce a continuous stream of fresh bright minds even though as Aldo Cocchiglia - who has over 30 years of extensive experience in the world of start ups and technology entrepreneurship - underlined: “Professors don’t stimulate entrepreneurs as they do here in Silicon Valley”. Italian Universities lack the connection with the real world of business.
The hybrid model looks like the best option so far: it is important to keep good creative and relatively inexpensive engineers in Italy while transplanting financial and marketing resources to Silicon Valley, opening office with sales, marketing and finance teams. But still Silicon Valley seems to be the place to go “to change the world and get what you want”.
We hope you will join us at our next events!
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