Welcome To Milan: Italy’s Biggest Startup Hub

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Just this year Financial Times declared Milan Italy's biggest startup hub. We digged a little deeper to give you advice on all info you need to start your business in Milan. Enjoy!

Check out Milan’s Startup Infographic!

The geography of Italy’s startup scene differs from most countries. While startups have bunched around big cities from San Francisco to London, in Italy it is more spread out.

In a reflection of the country’s postwar manufacturing clusters, startups gathered in all the main cities. Turin, Bologna, Naples and Rome all are startup hubs: however, Milan is the largest.
The city has become a destination for startups partly because of the impetus and increase in vitality that followed the city’s hosting last year of the World’s Fair,Expo 2015.

According to Financial Times, in fact, the university prestige, the availability of capital, the excellence of the food industry and high fashion, the cosmopolitan momentum resulting from the Expo 2015, as well as a number of pieces of legislation make Milan the best place to launch a startup in Italy.

Visiting Italy’s North: Milan

Advantages Of Founding A Company In Milan:

  • Milan has three main train stations and three airports: one in the city, Linate Airport and two outside the city: the intercontinental airport of Malpensa and the Orio al Serio airport mainly for low-cost flights. This means that you can be anywhere in Europe in 2 to 4 hours.
  • Lively scene of events ranging from pitch & drink, technology, entrepreneurship, maker movement and design. If you are a good planner you can do networking 24h a day.
  • Many universities in Milan like Bocconi, IULM, Politecnico or Cattolica are raising their interest in startups. Might be a good opportunity to connect with researchers, talents, or even getting office space.
  • Plenty of places to get seed funding and take your first steps.
  • Even the public sector, represented by regional activities of Lazio, is willing to get involved in the startup world: both as facilitator and as investor. Mind the not-that-fast workflows, but there is a lot of money at your disposal through this channel.
  • A lot of big corporations have offices in Milan: Microsoft, IBM, Google, Deloitte, Adecco, Gartner and more. This makes Milano a great place to meet your potential clients and not just investors or fellow startuppers.

What Founders Have To Consider:

  • Italian taxation: recently there are big talks on government efforts in supporting entrepreneurship and new business creation. The reality is that we are miles away from countries like the UK, Ireland or the likes. To start your own company you’ll need to budget a good deal of money to register and have it working (taxation, accountancy, etc.).
  • Taxation and bureaucracy are a tough hit for companies in Italy. VAT is at 22%, with maximum income we even reach 45% taxation.
  • Italian language knowledge: things are slowly changing with many young students being able to speak English fluently. But this is not the norm: public offices, banks, shops will require you to speak Italian most of the time.
  • Italian bureaucracy: money is not the only thing you should be worried about. Italy is very famous for having a set of laws that makes things complicated. It’s not easy to be updated and consistent with all our rules/laws. This is going to cost you a lot of time and strength.
  • Cost of living: Milan is not very cheap to live in. But considering food, beauty and network, it might be worth the trouble.
  • Fragmentation: there are a lot of communities, hubs, co-working spaces and meetups happening in Milan but the point is: there is barely any networking between them. Since Milan’s scene is divided into silos, you will need to leverage different groups to really get an overview of what is going on here. That might cost you time and sometimes even friendships. Kinda like Game of Thrones.
  • Ecosystem Maturity: getting your first round of investment ranging from 50k to 100k € shouldn’t be a big deal here. The actual pain will be fundraising for a follow-up or growth stage funding that’s closer to 1 Million €. That’s why you should start in Milan but think internationally from day one.
  • Italian Business Mindset: same as English – we have many old-fashioned mindsets and old-fashioned companies involved in the “startup bubble.” When you do business with them, mind that Italian policies and average Italian companies workflows can be really slow. And as we all know, a slow partnership can kill your startup.

As you can see there are many pro’s and con’s; deciding to immerse yourself in the Italian culture is both demanding and rewarding. Knowledge of the Italian language can help a lot especially if you have to deal with local customers.

#1 Get To Know Milan’s Startup Community

Welcome To Milan: Italy’s Biggest Startup Hub

Milan offers a wide range of services for new businesses: it counts +750 active startups (1122 in the Lombardia region by the end of April 2016), +50 co-working spaces, many incubators and accelerators, fab-labs, private and institutional investors.

 

The ecosystem might be in an early stage but it is vast. These are just some of the main players you should consider if you’re running a business in Milan.

Info About Upcoming Events, Meet-ups & Other Occasions:

  • Italian Startup Scene (Facebook Group): general community for running a startup in Italy.
  • GARS – Gruppo di aiuto reciproco fra startupper italiani (Facebook Group): this group was born as a reference point for those in search of an opinion, advice or sharing of experiences between those who are founding a startup and who have experience in the field, are an entrepreneur in the digital or other areas.
  • Codemotion Tech Community (Facebook Group): a group where you can find developers and tech lovers united under the bigger Codemotion (big yearly development convention, read more below) community banner.
  • Startupitalia! Milano (Facebook Group): niche community of the Startupitalia! Blog (biggest blog in Italy covering startups) dedicated to Rome’s community of entrepreneurs.
  • Italian Startup Scene Milano (Facebook Group): a group to connect all the startups of Milano’s scene to create synergies, collaboration and exchange of information.
  • StartuppaMI (Facebook Group): Milan’s periodic event, usually the last Thursday of the month, strictly reserved for startuppari (from all points of view), to meet, discuss, try their pitch before an audience selected and lay the foundations for its success.
  • TIM #WCAP Milano (Facebook Group): TIM #WCAP Accelerator is the TIM Open Innovation program that selects, finances, and accelerates startups in the digital environment.
  • Milano Live Coding (Facebook Group): it is an initiative that aims to promote the scene “creative coding” in Milan through various appointments for meetings and performances.
  • Startup Business, is since 2008, the point of Italian innovation ecosystem reference that you do business, offering information, content, services, connecting the Italian community of startups and the world of investors and industry.
  • Digital District Milano is the online space of organizations, people and events of the digital community in Italy, starting from Milan.
  • Smappo is a free search engine that allows you to find events geolocated in your area and it is also a Social Calendar that allows you to create a real calendar of events in your town, then maybe share it with whoever you want on social media.
  • Eventbrite: by running a local search on Eventbrite you might find events that your usual search sources don’t track.
  • Meetup: we usually use Eventbrite, but some communities are still based on the popular platform. It might be a smart move to subscribe and start getting notifications on local meetups.

Regular Events & Meet-ups:

  • Startup Grind Milano is a widespread world community in 100 cities of 42 countries of the world, born in 2010 in the heart of Silicon Valley and powered by Google for Entrepreneurs. The Milan “chapter” is active since October 2014.
  • Bitcoin Milano Meetup is a group to share information and knowledge on how the Internet is changing the nature of money, and how new digital currencies will change the law, trade, economy, government, health, success, science and technology.
  • Milano eXtreme Programming User Group is a group dedicated to the study and investigation of the practices of eXtreme programming and an agile processes in general.
  • FWLAB is a group for FW LAB Cultural Association events in Milan: Practical courses and workshops on technology issues and related to startups as well as networking events.
  • Python Milano: a Python User Group in Milan and surroundings.
  • Non-Technical Entrepreneurs Meetup & Networking: This group is for the Milan’s chapter of “Non-Technical Entrepreneurs Meet-up & Networking.” Hosted by ProtoHack, the code-free hackathon. This group is for all the non-technical entrepreneurs out there who have a big idea and need help creating a product and/or navigating through the space. We cater to business people, marketers, UX designers, and anyone who has a passion to build something without being technical.
  • WordPress Milano Meetup are simple and informal events: if an argument is related to WordPress, it’s likely that they’ll discuss in a meeting.
  • Robots. The New Era! – Meetup di Robotica Milano: This is the meeting place for experts and enthusiasts of robotics (companies, startups, researchers, maketers), investors (PE / VC / BA and private investors) and end users (companies and individuals). In other words, the crossroads for robotics, economy and finance.
  • Milano Design Thinkers Meetup: This group is for those who are interested in learning more about design thinking and those who are already applying a people-centered, problem-solving approach in their projects.
  • Milano DevOps is a group for anyone interested in infrastructure automation, distributed systems and services delivery.
  • UX/UI/IA Milano is a monthly meeting of UI / UX / IA designers to discuss trends, tools, best practices, good things and colorful unicorns.
  • Milano Front End Meetup: This is a group for anyone interested in front-end web development. CSS, Javascript, jQuery, Frameworks, performances, etc.
  • DotNet Lombardia is a Microsoft Community Lombard that, since 2010, offers local events (mainly Milan and suburbs) to software developers and enthusiasts. The name “DotNet” is due to the fact that we are mainly there to discuss issues, news and special features of the Microsoft .NET platform and development tools, despite the sweeping changes to other platforms also.
  • Khronos WebGL Milano is a growing community of Software Developers and Web Designers into 3D Web, Modeling, Augmented Reality, VR, WebGL and ThreeJS.
  • #pugMI: PHP User Group Milano is a group of PHP developers programming enthusiasts who meet once a month to discuss a range of topics.
  • Docker Milano is your chance to meet other developers and ops engineers using Docker. Docker is an open platform for developers and sys-admins to build, ship, and run distributed applications.
  • TedXMilano is mostly hosted at universities, you can find speakers presenting their breakthrough moments and disruptive stories as you would expect at an official TED local event. Most of the times the organizing teams do not care that much about spreading the word outside the university network, so keep your eyes open if you want to attend!
  • Girls Geek Dinner Milano – more than just women and technology. A small community of women active in creative, innovative and technological activities that gathers in monthly meetups dedicated to the development of digital culture
  • Service Design Drinks Milano are open and informal meetings to bring Milan’s service design community together.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Lean Startup Machine is the world’s leading workshop in building successful businesses by validating your ideas using lean methodologies. Italy is actually one of the most successful countries in which the LSM workshop takes place. You better leave your mail in the website if you want to be updated on early bird ticket sales.
  • Codemotion is the biggest European technical conference on software development. If you are planning to hire developers, meet them, or sell something to them, you might want to be involved. From a developer’s side, Codemotion is both a career day and a technical conference with countless talks held by AWESOME speakers from around the world. Andrew Tanenbaum, Christian Heilman, Kevlin Henney, Bermon Painter, James Weaver, Bruce Lawson, just to name a few.
  • Startup Weekend takes place yearly, the startup weekend gathers designers, coders and marketers for a full immersion of 54h in which they must go from zero to hero and present their project to a jury of potential private and corporate investors. Many successful startups of Rome’s scene have their roots dating back to a startup weekend. A must have experience and very good for meeting your potential new team members.
  • Protohack exists to show non-coders that they can create something amazing from nothing. We empower and enable the non-technical community with the tools, knowledge and connections that will help bring their idea to life and visually communicate it through prototyping. ProtoHack requires no coding. Instead you’ll be using prototyping tools, drag and drop editors, mockups, wireframes and anything else you think of to visually demo your idea on stage. Competitors will work in teams (up to 4) or solo. You have 9 hours to prototype your idea and then you’ll present on stage.
  • Social Media Week is a full week of countless talks on technology, social media, and web marketing insights & trends. A great opportunity to catch up with what’s happening in the field and do a lot of networking with other participants. The talks are free and you can book the slots you’d like to join through their website. Actually you better do it ahead of time if you don’t want to find yourself left out.
  • Social Media Marketing Day is an annual event regarding Social Media Marketing that takes place in June.
  • IAB Forum Milan is the most authoritative event of the year on digital and interactive communication in Italy, expected by all industry players and promoted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau Italy (IAB).
  • SMAU: The landmark event in innovation and digital sectors for companies and the Italian professionals.
  • Mashable Social Media Day consists of two days of refresher and training at the same time, you will see innovation told through concrete strategies and successful case studies presented by professionals. There will also be a startup pitching competition during these two days.
  • Social Business Forum: The leading International event on collaborative and digital transformation organized by OpenKnowledge.

Volunteering Possibilities:

The concept of mentorship is not that well spread in here. Nonetheless, in my experience basically nobody in Italy will say “no” to volunteers that are willing to work for free.

I suggest you to do that if you’re planning on getting involved with a community, gaining insights from a specific field, or positioning yourself as a volunteer.

Volunteering for events logistics, shooting videos, social media coverage, or writing some articles on your blog might be a good way to exchange value and start building connections with local influencers. Structured events like Social Media Week or Codemotion actually call for volunteers to help putting on a hell of a show.

#2 Ready To Find A Co-working Space In Milan?

Welcome To Milan: Italy’s Biggest Startup Hub

You can find the complete map and list of co-working spaces and Fablab in Milan under the following link: Map of co-working spaces and Fablab in Milano.

Here below is a list of the main office spaces in which you may easily find startup enthusiasts. Some of these co-working spaces will be very aligned with the startup attitude and disruptive style, some of them may be more ordinary (and silent).

Co-working Spaces In Milan:

  • Base Milano: a unique co-working space by size (2000 square meters between co-working and laboratories), functional and designed to stimulate creativity and concentration, contamination between different disciplines and facilitate new synergies.
  • Copernico: a unique construction of spaces, content and networks to forge a platform ecosystem evolving where professional and private spheres are in the right balance.
  • Co-working Login is the technological working space for freelancers,
    startups and companies who want to work in an innovative environment.
  • FabriQ is the incubator for social innovation of the City of Milan. FabriQ deals with social innovation by supporting new and future business people to realize their ideas, projects and startups in order to create a positive impact in the social, environmental and cultural fields. They create impact in both, the Italian Social Innovation arena and the local community.
  • Impact Hub Milan is part of Impact Hub, an international network of beautiful physical spaces where entrepreneurs, creative professionals can access resources, be inspired by the work of others, to have innovative ideas, develop useful relationships and identify market opportunities.
  • StartMiUp is a hub for talents and startups located in the heart of Milan, near the Central Railways Station and inside Copernico Business Center.
  • Talent Garden Milano – Merano is a co-working campus with a focus on digital and tech. Smart working space, services and community for digital entrepreneurs.
  • Talent Garden Milano – Calabiana is a global network of co-working spaces for digital, tech and creative professionals.
  • Fablab Milano: where entrepreneurs are redesigning and developing their creativity, exploiting the potential of the digital fabrication.
  • The Fablab, Laboratory of Manufacturing Digital, is where you can build almost anything, especially your future. Print 3D, Arduino and CNC cutters are waiting.
  • WeMake: a community makerspace where you can make things and connect with people in Milan.

#3 Where To Go For Funding In Milan

Welcome To Milan: Italy’s Biggest Startup Hub

Incubators:

  • FabriQ, the incubator for social innovation of the City of Milan.
  • Digital Magics is an incubator certificate of innovative digital startup, offering content and high-tech products.
  • Make a Cube: the first incubator and accelerator in Italy specializing in high social value in three aspects: businesses, environmental and cultural.
  • Polihub: the incubator of the Politecnico di Milano managed by the Fondazione Politecnico di Milano, with the assistance of the City of Milan, via the service company PoliHub Services Srl.
  • SpeedMiUp is a joint initiative of the Chamber of Commerce of Milan and the University Bocconi, with the assistance of the City of Milan, it helps new entrepreneurs to face the formidable challenge of the future, supporting them from the start to the development of their business idea.
  • Wind Business Factor: a startup award by Wind. They provide an incubation program offering education, mentorship and networking to help you bring your idea to market. At the end of the program there is an investor day, and the best startup will be accelerated by “Mind the Bridge” startup school in Silicon Valley.
  • Fondazione Filarete was founded in 2008 as a center of excellence for the generation of new knowledge and technology transfer to SMEs in the fields of Life Sciences, Biotechnology and Health.

Accelerators:

  • TIM #WCAP is the corporate TIM accelerator that selects, finances and accelerates the best startups in the digital environment. It’s the open innovation program of Telecom Italia & selects, funds and accelerates startups in the digital field. It’s well connected with the corporate world and especially telecommunications.
  • Boox is an accelerator for digital startups that combines experience and innovation. Our lean and efficient structure – along with the expertise accumulated in over 20 years in business – gives continuous support to the new generation of entrepreneurs who work in the creation of digital companies.
  • Fashion Technology Accelerator is a management consulting company that offers a business acceleration program aimed exclusively at young companies working at the intersection of fashion and technology.
  • Nuvolab is a business accelerator, a catalyst for change dedicated to all entrepreneurial ecosystem reality. Based on a selected group of real people, collaborative, it aims to create and help to concretely exploit the opportunities latent in the national innovation system.
  • Unicredit Start Lab is an initiative created to support young entrepreneurs, innovation and new technologies.

Grants & Subventions:

  • Innovative Startups Loan: if your company meets the requirements, you can apply to get a loan with no interests, covering up to 70% of the expenses. Read carefully!
  • Chambers of Commerce: here you can see if your project meets the “startup innovativa” criteria which might bring some tax advantages to your venture.
  • Regional Funds is a website managed by the Lombardia region where it’s possible to find information, special deals, laws about startups.
  • SME: website dedicated to small and medium businesses. In case your business has overcome the seed stage, you might find additional resources here to succeed in your activities.
  • Assolombarda: Incentives and soft loans. Startup and Restart: an integrated program to support the creation and corporate revival.
  • Start Cup Lombardia: this competition is organized by the university and from the University Incubators Lombard, promoted by the region of Lombardia, which supports the creation of new high-potential businesses, created, hosted or linked by relationships with universities and University Incubators Lombard.

Crowd Investing Platforms:

In Italy there are currently more than 70 platforms of crowdfunding, you can find a comprehensive list of all platforms at the following link, updated on 8th of July 2016: Crowdfunding, tutte le piattaforme attive in Italia (e come usarle). Here below is a list of the main platforms:

  • Eppela: italian crowdfunding platform. You can often find co-investing projects where after a certain threshold a partner will commit the remaining % and help you reach the goal.
  • SiamoSoci: here you can get visibility from investors and receive manifestations of interest for your project. The platform gets a fee if you reach the goal.
  • Starteed: a young crowdfunding platform that is also a tailor made solution for custom crowdfunding campaigns to be embedded on your site.

Angel Investors:

  • Italian Angels for Growth: IAG is a large network of business angels. They invest and co-invest usually in seed stage startups. You can apply directly on their website.
  • IBAN: italian association of business angels.
  • Angel Partner Group: APG is a community of Angel Investors.

Venture Capital Investors:

  • Innogest SGR: invests in sectors characterized by technological innovation and growth trends. The Innogest mission is to generate high returns for its investors by transforming business initiatives based in Italy in highly successful companies and global players.
  • 360 Capital Partners is a management company specializing in venture capital investing through funds managed in the whole of Europe and particularly in Italy and France. Its investments are aimed at companies with high innovative content belonging to the sectors Digital, Industrial & Cleantech and Medical Devices.
  • Dpixel is a venture capital firm specializing in innovative companies with high potential in digital technologies, an investment company specializing in seed capital backed by a team of managers and investors with a long international experience in the digital economy.
  • KeyCapital is an investment company specializing in the financing and support of business ideas into startups and early development. Companies are selected on the basis of membership in specific areas by analyzing the capacity for growth and the validity of the business idea.
  • Principia SGR operates in the Italian market since 2002 with two venture capital funds, Principia and Principia Fund II, which to date has financed about 40 companies. For August 2014 Principia launches Principia Launches III – Health, a fund dedicated to Venture and Growth capital investment in the Healthcare sector, which in Italy is suffering from the shortage of financial support, although it is characterized by the presence of very high skills – and internationally recognized – quality.
  • United Ventures invests in high technology companies and helps them climb in a global perspective. United Ventures is a venture capital fund that is based in Milan with an interest in the world Consumer Internet, Mobile and Software.
  • Vertis SGR is the contact partner for innovative companies in Italy and Europe in the High Tech Industrial sector. It invests in the best companies of Italy’s industrial tradition and in the most revolutionary projects of applied public and private European research. It offers not only capital, but supports entrepreneurs in growth in all global markets, day by day.
  • Invitalia Ventures: The Italian Government accelerates the development of highly innovative enterprises in order to set an impulse for growth. Invitalia Ventures is the SGR call to take up this challenge. It is controlled by Invitalia, the National Development Agency. Venture capital, innovation and entrepreneurship: these are the project’s keys to the successt. The SGR will cooperate with national and international private venture capital, to immediately strengthen the Venture Industry and innovative Italian startups.
  • TIM Ventures: the seed investment fund of Telecom Italia Group, connected to Tim Wcap accelerator.

Other Investment Opportunities:

  • Banks: many big groups are launching startup related initiatives, like BNP – BNL hackathons, open innovation challenges or Unicredit’s StartLab acceleration program.
  • Intesa San Paolo Startup Initiative is a comprehensive program aimed at technology startups looking for concrete business opportunities: every few months, a rigorous selection and training process leads the best startups to high-profile, technology-specific events called Arena Meetings, where they can pitch to international investors and corporations.

#4 Want To Get Additional Advice In Milan?

Welcome To Milan: Italy’s Biggest Startup Hub

Here are some tips to survive in the Milan’s startup scene:

  • Italians will hardly ignore you if you ask for help. Don’t be shy to introduce yourself and connect with people during the many events Milan is offering. Serendipity is and always will be the #1 recipe for successful networking.
  • You already have a startup and you would like to be introduced to the startup scene? Grab the contacts of the main incubators and accelerators and ask them to give you a tour of the place. These structures are typically eager to provide international networking to their startups.
  • If you are looking to make some experience you can find startup-related jobs on StartUs, as well as the websites of main accelerators and incubators of the city. You might also get some useful contacts by joining local communities and online FB groups that are vertical on software development or digital marketing.
  • Pay attention to taxes and paperwork. Italy is not the leanest country on that. You might want to find an accountant (lookout for “commercialista” but you could also seek help for free at so called CAF centers) to take note of tax paperwork and consult you on how to move smartly among the italian bureaucracy jungle.
  • Do network a lot, but also do background checks. The ecosystem is still young, so there are very few elements with a proven track record of success. Beware of those players that like to mentor and administrate without a solid background. You don’t want to waste your precious time. So my invitation (I dare you) is to ask politely but frankly “What is your background? What is your business here? What have you done to be here today?”. It’ll make things much easier. Speaking of investors, you can do a quick check on the Italian Business Register.
  • Mind the existence of public institutions. Our policy is slowly changing to favor entrepreneurship and innovation. Therefore you will find public entities, with access to new funds, that needs to prove they are able to deliver competitive value to startups (cleaning up their reputation of big and slow paced bureaucracy giants).

As told before in this guide, the recognition of the Financial Times for our city is the sign of a vital ecosystem and a big work to create its own in Milan, already the country’s economic capital, a breeding ground for the establishment and development of new business initiatives.

Definitely, welcome to Milan – the Italian startup capital!

_____________________

Special thanks to Mauro Biasolo & Luca Barboni, the authors of the Venice & Rome guide,
for providing extra inspiration.

The guides are like startup communities – they constantly change and grow. Make sure to check for updates and if you have something to add to one of them or want to publish one for your city, get in touch right away! And don’t forget to enrich the startup ecosystem by creating your company profile at StartUs!

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