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The Italian path: Founders Factory launches startup hub in Milan

Credit: Founders Factory

Early-stage investor and company builder from the UK, Founders Factory, has announced their new partnership with a leading Italian telecommunications company Fastweb, and the launch of their new venture studio and accelerator in Milan.

The London-based startup builder was already working globally, but this partnership means they will not only have a physical presence in Italy but also work closely with a strategic ally. The new venture aims to help up to 30 startups over the next five years, aiding Italy’s emergence as a startup destination. Henry Lane Fox, Founders Factory CEO, says their new presence “will allow ambitious entrepreneurs, from Italy and Southern Europe, to benefit from our wealth of knowledge and expertise of how to build great businesses.” While Alberto Calcagno, Fastweb’s CEO, notes their shared vision will help “make Italy a destination of choice for startups looking to launch new businesses.”

Founders Factory Chief Commercial Officer, Damian Routley, joined TFN to talk about the partnership, new startup hub, and their ambitions for Italian startups.

The growing Italian startup scene

Routley joined Founders Factory four years ago, after being a founder himself and exiting in 2016. He describes his current role as ‘the best job in the world’ because of his unique position, “between founders that are working on such a broad and diverse range of enormous problems, and some of the world’s largest corporates,” he told us. “My role is to try to make those founders successful and go some way to helping the large corporates solve some of their big strategic challenges.”

Founders Factory has already worked across Europe, including Italy, having helped create 80 startups and scale over 200 startups with its accelerator. But Italy’s growing startup sector helped influence the choice of that nation and Fastweb as their partner. More than €2 billion in venture capital has been invested in the last year, helping Italy position itself as a viable competitor with the more established European markets.

Founders Factory lists a number of Italian founders among their successes, such as ShopCircle’s Luca Cartechini and Gian Maria Gramondi, who exited from stealth with £54 million in funding last summer. Other names that Founders Factory has supported include co-founder of Hammock, Marco Ferrari; founder of Oanda, Luca Del Bono; Alice Ferrari, who is developing retail tools for airlines; and Lucrezia Bisignani, who founded Kukua, an education company increasing child literacy in Africa.

The aim is to bring the advantages of Founders Factory closer to home for more Italian entrepreneurs. Offering not just pre-seed finance, but also access to advice and potential partners for Italian founders that previously might have felt forced to move to other markets, or simply see their ideas fail to grow. Routley believes this will help increase the diversity within the startup sector.

“We’re right at the start of the venture capital ecosystem,” Routley observes. “We can have a really positive impact in addressing some of the diversity metrics downstream.” Founders Factory have already made a public commitment to diversity, having published their diversity commitments and implementing internal measures to track their progress. Routley believes their existing portfolio reflects the success of those measures, but, as always, there is more work to be done and in, “getting opportunity out there into the systems where diverse founders hang out. Diversity of thought gets much better outcomes.”

Taking Italy’s next generation of startups global

Founders Factory and Fastweb plan to build, fund, launch, and scale more than 30 Italian and international businesses from the new Milan-based operation. “Coming together with Fastweb as our launch partner is really exciting,” Routley says. “We’re right at day one for Founders Factory in Milan, and the first thing that we will be doing is really understanding the areas that Fastweb can help our founders and build strong, successful businesses.” They are already starting to put their team in place — Fabio Trojani, a consultant with over 30 years of experience with corporates and startups, has already been named as Founders Factory Italy chair — and will be adding companies into the programme in the coming weeks and months.

The partnership also influences the focus of potential startups. Routley suggests that they are likely to be looking at areas like ‘cybersecurity, privacy, smart home healthcare, education, and industry 4.0’. However, as is often the case for venture capital, the most impact criteria are the ambition of the startup. “We’re looking for people with a global ambition to scale in large markets,” Routley told us. “If you’re a founder and that’s something that’s interesting to you, I’d love to talk.”

In return, startups have access to the resources that Founders Factory and Fastweb can offer. “Founders Factory has some incredible people with deep domain expertise. Ultimately, founders get to work with that incredible team. It’s a very hands-on programme, and we’re there, side-by-side with founders as they build and scale their business.” Routley continued, “They also have access to the enormous opportunities afforded to us by our partners. We can help these startups achieve step-changes in their trajectory.” And for those that want to benefit, Founders Factory is now inviting formal applications for their programme.

For Routley, it’s an incredibly exciting time to be working in Italy. “There have been a few standout successes … and that has inspired a whole generation of founders and potential founders,” he says. “Also, lots of incredibly talented Italian founders who have been working in the US and UK are moving to Italy, so we’ve got an influx of talent. It’s an absolutely brilliant time to be doing this, and an absolute privilege to be a part of it.”

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