Spotlight on Milan - An Interview with Bird & Bird's Massimiliano D'Amico

Milan has long been revered for its Creativity. From the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century, to High Fashion, Architecture and Design, to such recent Innovation “Heights” as the incredible €65 million Bosco Verticale, the world’s first Vertical Forest - a high-rise living space, complete with 730 trees, 5,000 shrubs, and 11,000 plants - a kind of “Ecology Billboard,” designed to be beautiful, and to help clean up the city’s air.
 
HighTech? ... Absolutely.
 
In fact, according to Bird & Bird Milan’s Senior Associate, Massimiliano D’Amico, it’s exactly this kind of “Milanese Creativity” that is driving the Tech Entrepreneur Scene forward in Milan!

Massimiliano has experienced first-hand the evolution of his city and the entrepreneurial climate within it. Previously with 360° Capital Partners, he joined Bird & Bird in 2009, on its march to the forefront of European Innovation.
 
I had a chat with him recently to get his perspective on Milan and Italy’s place on the Innovation Landscape. …
 
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Elizabeth Perry/WB:
Many will say that Italy is not exactly the first European city that comes to mind when speaking about Technology and Innovation. So, why Italy? Why Milan?
 
Massimiliano D’Amico/MD:
I’ve been in the Entrepreneurial/Venture Capital arena since 2005, as Operating Partner with 360° Capital, and since 2009 with Bird & Bird Milan, focusing on corporate/M&A transactions involving venture capital and private equity funds as well as industrial players. In 2005, there was a totally different ecosystem here. There was a natural selection of players in the ecosystem here …  and very few of them. Needless to say, I’ve seen a great deal of change. Now in 2013, we see plenty of startups/entrepreneurs, and also a tremendous increase of VCs in Italy compared to 8 years ago. There is now a wealth of knowledge about the importance of startups among VCs but also in the mainstream. There is a dynamic and very “cool” entrepreneurial vibe here in Milan, with plenty of events, plenty of incubators, plenty of everything a young business needs. Milan is in fact the Financial, Economic, and Startup capital of Italy.
 
There is a really great energy here. And Now it’s time to try to focus that energy and take it to the next level - to build up something more important ... to have a real “scale” on the ecosystem.
 
Micro-electronics, biotech, Pharma, Cleantech, Mobile and Apps are just a few of the areas of strength here.
 
WB: Italy has been criticized for its lack of risk takers ... investment, in other words. But now we hear Jusp just secured a $6 million equity round with two Italian VCs! Is this a sign of things to come?
 
MD:
I think this is incredible news for the Italian ecosystem and yes, a sign for sure.
 
But the “signs” really started before then. Looking back on 2009, Yoox was the only Italian IPO on the market (valued at €217 million that day). What’s more interesting is that the only IPO was a Tech IPO. ... and of course, Bird & Bird was Yoox’s VC selling shareholder (assisted by Nestor 2000 - formerly 360° Capital Partners and Balderton) and legal advisor!
 
WB: What needs to change?
 
MD:
For one thing, Italy lacks visibility from abroad. So, we’re trying - with events like White Bull, just for example - to change that. We need to strengthen our part in the International Ecosystem. It is true, there are more people now coming from abroad, and we need to continue that trend.
 
For sure, what also needs to change is the fund raising process in terms of Italian institutional investors - to raise capital in order to invest in Italy. In my view, there is a good deal flow, in particular for seed stage and we have also had some interesting Exits. However, we still lack the growth expansion capital in terms of series B money. In 2012, 35% of funds raised by Venture Capital was coming from public funding, so we need more private institutional capital.
 
WB: How is Bird & Bird going about making a mark on European Innovation?
 
MD:
Bird & Bird has long been recognized internationally as an IP-IT firm with 14 strong sector focuses. It is absolutely fundamental for us to continue developing our Venture Capital, and startup legal and tax assistance. In Italy in particular, we are on the leading edge of this trend. And we are constantly building this up with our other offices across Europe. We are the “first mover” in this arena here in Milan we want to take advantage on this.
 
WB: What are you seeing in terms of strengths in the Italian Entrepreneur?
 
MD:
Creativity and Flexibility - largely due to the fact that we are constantly having to fight against difficulties. Entrepreneurs here are absolutely focused on problem solving.
 
WB: What role do the Universities play in the Entrepreneurial scene there?
 
MD:
In 2013 especially, there has been an enormous focus on Technology. Politecnico - just one of Milan’s great institutions - where we will host the upcoming Tech Entrepreneur Milan event, is among the top Global Schools for Tech and very focused on tech startups with the launch of PoliHub, an innovative tech incubator for startups and for the Italian VC ecosystem.
 
WB: Does the government help or hinder Entrepreneurial progress?
 
MD:
In general, the government is very supportive of the Entrepreneurial ecosystem. They are now trying to introduce some tax deductions along with incentives for investors in startups. Also a sort of tax-specific package for startups is being introduced - and the government is still working to simplify the process of setting up and managing a company. Stock options for employees, and stock capital are at really low rates.
 
WB: What is your advice to the budding Milanese entrepreneur? Do you send them to Silicon Valley? ...
 
MD:
Absolutely not. This is another Bird & Bird strategy. “Stay in Milan, stay in Europe.” Because this is the right place to be to try to build something ... and to make an impact on the Innovation ecosystem in Milan and Europe. There is a Venture Capital ecosystem in the US, but there is a totally different one here in Europe. Milan is European, after all, and we need to move forward from here to continue to strengthen our own ecosystem.
 
WB: What else should we know about Milan?
 
MD:
In 2015 there will be a Global Expo here in Milan. Millions of people will be here from all over the world. A lot of public funds are in place to aid in the development of Milan as a Global City. This is surely the start of a boom. Now is the right time to come to Milan to build up something over the next two years!
 
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On July 4th, for the first time, White Bull will pay a visit to Milan as a part of its annual tour of European Innovation - The Tech Entrepreneur Series. We’ll take an intimate look at the Innovation scene there, hearing from local entrepreneurs, investors and dealmakers. Our host: Bird & Bird Milan.
 
I mentioned to Massimiliano that my last trip to Milan was in 2008, mostly with shopping in mind. …
 
MD:
“When you come, I will show you a side of Milan you’ve never seen,” he said. “You will see that there is so much more to this city than fashion!”
 
We look forward to seeing all of it soon!
 
If you’re interested in joining us for Tech Entrepreneur 2013 – Milan, please contact us to request an invitation.