Circa un anno fa. Al tavolo due Ministri attuali, Profumo e Passera. Chissà se nel 2012 questa vision si potrà realizzare?
Sotto la trascrizione (in inglese) di quanto volevo dire, ma non ci fu il tempo per tutto l’intervento, per cui parlai a braccio, cercando di farci stare quanto più potessi.
My two cents on the National Bank of Innovation
Edmund Phelps and Leo Tilman, proposed a new scheme to finance innovation in America.
Italy has all it needs to compete in technology innovation and entrepreneurship. We have the infrastracture, the money and certainly we don’t miss talents, brains and rich genetic material. Creativity and ability to adapt, key ingredients of any good entrepreneur, are some of the traits which caracterize our culture. The State spends billions each year to educate and train new generations. We have universities, incubators, research labs, technology parks disseminated on all the territory. A variety of companies and industrial districts sometimes absolutely excellent in terms of technology and innovation.
We have it all. But nothing seems to work in terms of generation of new companies, jobs and economic development.
According to the Union, except for Lombardia and Emilia, Italy belongs to the list of European countries that innovate less, in good company with the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Lituania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Spain.
Something has been done in the past to fill the gap, and I’d like to make some examples, which I’m sure are not the full list.
The high-tech fund, a fund of funds that has activated three new venture capital firms, which are starting to deploy capital in southern Italy. The recent reorganization of public research entities, which now enables institutions like CNR and the Italian Space Agency (yes, we have one) to promote and finance investment funds. “Principi Attivi”, the initiative from Puglia regional authorities, focused on residents less than 32 years old. The call has seen the partecipation of 5.700 young people, which presented 2.200 projects of new initiatives and and startups around the issues of territory, innovation and social inclusion.
These are all great initiatives, but too fragmented and too small for Italy.
We need to adopt a strategic plan to industrialize our capacity to create new companies and attract entrepreneurs, providing them with all the cultural and financial tools to compete internationally.
Too often I hear complaints about the lack of funds. However the amount of money available from the European Union on these topics for the period 2007-2013, is well above 12 billion euros. Only 20% of these money has been used so far and the funds will be lost if not used within three years.
We are talking about two billion euros per year, currently being deployed using logics and processes that hardly manage to make them work as subsidies in the best case scenarios. More often, bad management and corruption, change the economic mechanism, producing sort of a “reversed darwinism” that rapidly drains out our best talents.
When things work so badly, there is only one thing to do: change them radically.
But there are no recipes to ignite and develop a broad entrepreneurship culture or to create innovation districts such Israel, Silicon Valley, India or Scandinavia. Many governments have tried to develop these programs and failed.
But those who made it, have accomplished incredibile successes.
Rwanda, starting from zero, a dozen years ago, after the civil war, has surpassed Italy in the World Bank “Ease of doing business” index. They accomplished it, through a National iniziative on competitiveness and innovation, that has trained and funded over 20.000 micro-startups of first generation entrepreneurs in few well defined strategic industries. It has poured capital promoting talent, and a new generation of entrepreneurs has reduced poverty by 25% in the range of ten years.
Chile, has dedicated great attention to entrepreneurship, with several examples of successes. Startup Chile, a recent initiative has the objective to attract immigrants to create their startup on the Cilean territory.
It’s obvious that governments can do a lot and initiatives of this kind are active or being launched right now in Mexico, Brasil, Ireland, China, Russia, Armenia, Palestine and Singapore. Such intense activity is fueled by the internationally accepted understanding of the essential role that startups play in job creation within modern societies.
All the net jobs created in the American economy in the past fourty years come from startups: companies that had less than five years of existence. Something similar is happening with impressive scale in the developing world, through microcredit.
In our country one young out of three is unemployed today, and in the first eight months of 2010 we have granted 826 million hours of unemployment subsidies.
The National Bank of Innovation should be a private institution, partecipated by the State. A bank for new entrepreneurship, that is born with great strategic impulse from the government.
There is no innovation without venture capital. The Bank therefore should initially start to operate as a fund of funds, with the objective of developing dozens of new venture capital firms active on our territory in different competence and investment scope areas.
It should have a lean structure, its managers should operate, be managed and remunerated according to the typical mechanisms of venture capital, commonly used in the rest of the world. It should operate using the same merit, risk-taking, transparency and learn-by-mistake principles it aims to teach young entrepreneurs.
The National Bank of Innovation doesn’t need a physical presence bur rather a powerful digital strategy, an agenda and a community that can connect those already active in the eco-system and those who aim to partecipate. It should use the Internet to be transparent and operate like a “glass ball”, describing online its activities, objectives, plans and people.
It can only be a private bank, with a strong governance, since it would have to operate far from political contaminations and able to decide freely on investments. It should have a sole criteria: merit, feasibility and potential of the projects analyzed.
It should be funded by institutional investors: banks, insurance companies, unions, bank foundations, large industrial groups and by the State through Cassa Depositi e Prestiti.
However infrastracture and capital will not be sufficient to achieve success, as the current situation shows. We must nurture the most important ingredient: entrepreneurs. The National Bank of Innovation, must promote a cultural change and fill the gap of perception and skills we have in Italy on the topic of high-impact entrepreneurship. It must be an educational resource and build a “cultural infrastracture”, by teaching and training venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. It must train whom already is in charge of commercial banking coupling them with field experts.
The State should orchestrate and co-finance the iniziative, but mostly it should make sure to support it, by building a more favourable environment for startup formation in Italy, it should incentivate it and facilitate risk taking from private investors.
It should be the instrument to funnel in a more efficient and coordinated way the 12 billion euros of public funding we have in our hands now.
Within such scheme, it could given – similarly to what has been done abroad – the the capability to assigned sort of a “fundable business” label. A label that would indicate a certain degree of validation in the business case presented. The label would enable the startup to activate sort of an automatic or semi-automatic access to public grants or bank credit dedicated to innovation and newly formed companies.
Such a mechanism if well tested, would enable the banking sistem to start a virtuous cycle of financial innovation, as envisaged by Professor Phelps. And a vital transfer of competences and processes in the financial industry.
The State should favour private investments in startup, reducing its fiscal impact, like it has been done successfully in France. It should incentivate hiring young developers, scientists, creatives and technicians by a startup, cutting all related taxation in the first 2-3 years of work.
Through time, it should adopt different fiscal regulations in order to maximize the social function of this type of bank, or by the revenues generated in innovative departments of this kind within commercial banks.
We miss in our civil code a legal structure that enables launching in Italy in a simple and cheap way a venture capital fund, according to International standards.
We need to resolve the issue of options for founders and managers. A problem that makes our startups less competitive against their international peers, since they lack an instrument widely used to attract the best talent at low cost with the right set of incentives.
We need to relaunch the National Agency of Innovation, that could ensure constant effective support to public entities involved in planning and deploying public money. The Agency could support them and activate joint programs with professional investors.
Once launched and consolidated the National Bank of Innovation, the State should exit it, selling most of its quota. Maybe through a listing on Borsa Italiana (the Italian Stock Exchange), which would put it into the hands of a distributed shareholding.
Two million young Italians are facing great difficulties, they are the best trained generation in the past 150 years of our history.It’s time to put our most efforts to give them a Bank of the Future. Today.
Edmund Phelps wrote in 1961 that the golden rule “do others what you would like to be done to you” can be applied in an intergenerational way. The National Bank of Innovation can be a mechanism to transfer wealth toward the new generations.
Our honorable deputies Alessia Mosca and Beatrice Lorenzin, have paved the way, depositing at the Finance Commission of the Parlamient a law proposal to “create a fund of funds through the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti Spa”. The law proposal aims to discipline a private-public partnership that would boost venture capital. There is a workgroup, you are all invited to partecipate.
My two cents, thank you.