Rome: Startups Are A New Chapter In The Eternal City

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Being the centre of Italy, Rome provides great support and networking opportunities to entrepreneurs seeking to start up something of their own.

Infographic: How to start your startup in Rome!

“All roads lead to Rome” and that’s especially true if you’re launching a digital startup in Italy. Placed in the center of Lazio region, close enough to both Appennini mountains and sea, the city holds a strategic position at the center of Italy. In the last 3 to 5 years Rome has become a rich hub for startups and that is what you need to know to leverage its network.

The City Of The Seven Hills

Rome is a big city. Depending on which part of the city you’re visiting, your surroundings may change consistently. From the tall office buildings of Eur to the historical center to the distinctive suburbs of Trastevere. In most dynamic areas you can see Rome is struggling between the ancient and the new, globalization versus localization.

Even if the majority of entrepreneurial hubs are based in center of the city, basically any area has its own (big or small) hotspot where the culture of innovation proliferates.

If you’re starting a business based on a digital product, food & design you will find strong support by local community of entrepreneurs and investors.

Advantages Of Starting Up In Rome:

  • Rome has two main train stations and two airports. 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 of Rome like La Sapienza, Tor Vergata, Roma Tre or Luiss 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 move your first steps.
  • Even the public sector, represented by regional activities by Lazio, is willing to get involved in the startup world: both as facilitator as well 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 Rome. Microsoft, IBM, Google, Deloitte, Adecco, Gartner and more. This makes Rome a great place to meet your potential clients and not just investors or fellow startuppers.

What Startup Founders Have To Consider:

  • Daily Commute: while it might be easy to move out of Rome with trains and planes, the hard part will be moving from point A to point B in the city itself. Whether you have a car or you rely on public transportation you will most likely end up either stuck in traffic or by bus delays or both. You can always take the subway but you will soon find out that you are not the only one having this brilliant idea (now you finally get why there are so many scooters in Rome, do you?).
  • Taxation: taxation and bureaucracy are a tough hit for companies in Italy. Vat is at 22%. With maximum income we reach 45% taxation.
  • Cost of Life: Rome is not very cheap to live. But considering food, beauty and network, it might be worth the trouble.
  • Language: you would be surprised to know how many people are dealing with the tech market, and yet are unable to speak English. This is rapidly changing since past years, especially in the startup ecosystem. But you better be prepared.
  • Fragmentation: there are a lot of communities, hubs, co-working spaces and meetups happening in Rome.
  • Point is: there is barely any networking between them. Since Rome 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’s 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 from Rome but think internationally from day one.
  • Italian Business Mindset: same as English – we have many old-fashioned mindsets and olds-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 already mentioned, Rome is a big city. With all the downsides and upsides this implies. The startup ecosystem in Italy is generally young and even if it might currently lack enough funds to directly support your growth with major investments there are still plenty of opportunities to get seed funding and deliver your product to the market in months. Later on you might leverage on city’s strategic position to expand in Europe, or gain advantage of its lively scene’s business opportunities.

Discover Rome’s Vibrant Startup Community

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Rome offers a wide range of services for new businesses: it counts +300 active startups (420 in Lazio region by the end of 2015), +20 co-working spaces, many incubators and accelerators, fab-labs, private and institutional investors. The ecosystem might be in early stage but is vast. These are just some of the main players you should consider if you’re running a business in Rome:

Upcoming Events, Meetups And Other Occasions:

  • Roma Startup (FB Group) strictly connected to what happens in Rome.
  • Startupitalia! Roma (FB Group) niche community of the Startupitalia! Blog (biggest in Italy on startups) dedicated to the Rome community of entrepreneurs.
  • Italian Startup Scene (FB Group) general community for running a startup in italy.
  • Eventbrite: by running a local search on Eventbrite you might find events that your usual search sources might not track.
  • Meetup: we usually use Eventbrite rather than Meetup, but still some communities are based on the popular platform (like Startup Tea or the Growth Hacking Meetup). It might be a smart move to subscribe and start getting notifications on local meetups.
  • Roma Startup (association): Roma Startup is a local association monitoring the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Rome. It promotes events, activities and institutional initiatives to make Rome a major hub in the Medierranean area.
  • 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.
  • InnovAction Lab: this association runs a yearly program in which they select creative people and take them from Zero to Hero in months, turning them into real entrepreneurs and bringing them in front of investors on the final event.

Regular Events And Meetups:

  • Startup Grind Rome: The rome chapter of Startup Grind originated from the LUISS university and started organizing events since late 2015. They follow the original format by inviting top entrepreneurs from the italian scene (like Gianluca Dettori CEO of dpixel, or Maximo Ibarra CEO of Wind) to be interviewed on stage and tell their stories. The Q&A session is very straightforward. You have to buy a ticket to enter, but it’s worth the price.
  • Digital Yuppies: A very young and dynamic community of designers, marketers, coders and startuppers that runs monthly events. 3 to 4 speakers hold 20 min speeches related to digital marketing, then a networking session follows. They have a Facebook page and a Facebook group that you should join if you don’t want to miss the next event (tickets are free but get sold out very fast!).
  • Growth Hacking Meetup Roma: This is the first growth hacking meetup in Rome and in the whole country. The Meetup group is dedicated to founders, CMO and CTOs that are interested in discovering how to overcome their growth issues and success at scaling. Once or twice a month small meetups get organized: there is a closed Meetup group you can join to be updated, but still an invitation from the founder is required to get to the actual events.
  • OpenIQUII: IQUII is an agency focused on developing and communicating high quality digital products. Fabio Lalli, the founder, is a top Italian tech influencer, also founder of “Indigeni Digitali”, and creator of TODI Appy days, the n°1 italian yearly event entirely dedicated to mobile apps. IQUII frequently hosts open workshops called “OpenIQUII”. The talk is focused on marketing or software development, and then a networking phase follows.
  • TedX: Recently Rome has seen an average of 3 to 4 TedX events per year. Mostly hosted into universities, you can find speakers presenting their breakthrough moments and disruptive stories as you would expect by 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!
  • Geek Girls Dinner: not just women and technology. A small community of women active in creative, innovative and technological activities that gathers in weekly meetups dedicated to the development of digital culture.
  • Pitch & Drink: a networking event where you can pitch your idea, get live feedback, and of course, enjoy your drink. You can apply from the website if you want to organize an official Pitch & Drink.
  • StartupTea: meetup group on entrepreneurship with more than 600 members. Usually hosting a road-show of meetups with speakers from Rome scene, and also presenting funding opportunities.
  • Men In Web: a group of digital experts running monthly events on using digital channels for your business. Events are held in a nice literary cafe in San Lorenzo.

Yearly Or Major Events, Festivals, Conferences:

  • Lean Startup Machine: 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. The yearly Rome event take place in November. You better leave your mail in the website if you want to be updated on early bird ticket sales.
  • Maker Faire Rome: The greatest Maker Faire after the bay area edition is the Rome Edition. A bit chaotic, but the event is a must for any tech entrepreneur. Here you can find everything a nerd can dream of. It lasts three days and you better plan ahead what you’re going to see if you don’t want to get lost in the crowd and leave the event empty handed.
  • World Usability Day: WUD Roma is an event celebrating web technologies, UX and user centered design. It’s a great opportunity to keep up with innovation in the field, taking part to talks and workshops on the topic. Usually held in Parco Leonardo near the Fiumicino airport.
  • Codemotion: 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. On a developer 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: Taking 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 the Rome scene have their roots dating back to a startup weekend. A must have experience and very good for meeting your potential team members.
  • Social Media Week: A full week of countless talks on technology, social media, and web marketing insights & trends. 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 like to join through their website. Actually you better do it ahead of time if you don’t want to find yourself left out.

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 into a community, gaining insights from a specific field, or positioning yourself as a .

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 Maker Faire or Codemotion actually call for volunteers to help putting a hell of a show.

Boost Your Productivity In One Of Rome’s Working Spaces

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This is a list of the main office spaces in which you may easily find startup enthusiasts. Some of these coworking 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 Rome:

  • LUISS EnLabs: Luiss Enlabs is both an accelerator and a co-working space. Working here you would be in Rome startup ecosystem’s center which is a great opportunity to join regular events and network with digital entrepreneurs. It’s biggest advantage is the central position: the place is INSIDE the station of Roma Termini, at the second floor.
  • Pi Campus: not a regular co-working space but rather a selected elite of entrepreneurial projects that are allowed to work in the “best environment ever” for creative people. Pi Campus is distributed through a series of beautiful villas in Eur, and it represents an exclusive and valuable network.
  • Cowo 360: A nice co-working space near Roma Tiburtina station of Rome. It often holds interesting events about technology and startups.
  • Anticafè: a peculiar bar and co-working space in San Giovanni. Here you won’t pay for what you consume, but actually for how much time you spend in the cafè bar. Exactly: you get electricity, free Wifi and unlimited coffee and pastries.
  • Impact Hub Roma: a series of coworking spaces for innovators. They also host events and provide you with consultants to support your startup.
  • Regus Roma: a global network of office spaces well distributed all over Italy. They have 4 offices in Rome.
  • Fab Lab Roma Makers: a space connecting all the single activities related to the makers movement in Rome.
  • FamoCose Maker Space: based in the dept of the Pigneto area of Rome, FamoCose is a beautiful co-working space for freelancers and makers. “FamoCose” literally means “Let’s do stuff” in rome dialect.
  • TOGETHER: They call themselves “cross-inspirational space”. “TOGETHER” is a community house shared by a collective of people active in the field of arts, communication, and innovation.
  • ON ROME: IQUII has its own co-working space names ON, a campus where innovation grows. A place where digital realities live together, sharing knowledge, unique events and creating new opportunities for business networking.

Reach Out For Budget Support In Rome

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Incubators:

  • Bic Lazio: regional network to support entrepreneurship and help in business development. They are interested in startups and can offer co-working spaces and the network of business innovation centers as well as connections with public entities.
  • 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.
  • i-Lab LUISS: a startup program run yearly by the university Luiss Guido Carli. The program is very intense and ends with a demo-day in front of real investors and influencers that will act as a jury for the finalists.
  • TecnoPolo: the tech hub of the Tiburtina area offers space and support for companies. The incubator “Spazio Attivo” is run by Bic Lazio. It is also supported by ESA and ASI (European and Italian Space Agencies)
  • SpinOver: the startup incubator run by the Tor Vergata university. It supports birth and development of tech startups.
  • Digital Magics: a young incubator with the goal of managing an innovation campus to support digital startups. Activites are coordinated together with the soon to be opened Talent Garden Rome.

Accelerators:

  • LUISS EnLabs: launching calls for startups twice a year, the program is based on 2 weeks sprints, and lasts 5 months. It takes already formed teams from the focus-on-product phase, to building metrics and then revenues.
  • TIM #Wcap: an open innovation program of Telecom Italia selects, funds and accelerates startups in the digital field. It’s well connected with corporate world and especially telecommunications.
  • Programma Ego: launched yearly by Ericsson, it selects and accelerates ICT startups in the Ericsson Campus in Rome.
  • Startalia: a small startup foundry and accelerator with an accent on product and service design.

Grants And 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!
  • Regional Funds: here you can find a list of phone numbers to get public funds for your innovative startup or creative project.
  • Start Cup Lazio: regional contest to qualify for the national prize for innovation. Even the regional Lazio contest grants cash prizes (bigger prizes if you make it to the national level). Strong focus on business plans here.

Crowd Investing 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 constituted startups. You can apply with your project directly from their webiste.
  • IBAN: italian association of business angels. The Rome chapter is based in BicLazio.
  • Angel Partner Group: APG is a community of Angel Investors. LVenture Group is among the founding memebers.

Venture Capital Investors:

  • LVenture Group: the seed venture capital fund connected to Luiss Enlabs “The Startup Factory”. They invest in high potential digital 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 StartLab acceleration program.

Look For More Advisors In Rome

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Here are some tips to survive in the Rome 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 Rome is offering. Serendipity is and will always be the n°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. Also use AngelList to get a quick overview of the startups and Wanted In Rome to scout the foreign community.
  • If you are looking to make some experience you can find startup-related jobs on 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 of course. 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). You could start a dialogue with LazioInnova: administrator of regional funds and well connected to European international initiatives.

The roman startup rainforest may be a little overwhelming, but it is indeed a dynamic environment full of potential. And since Rome is perfectly aware of its stage, we are eager to welcome international wannabe-entrepreneurs to share and grow together.

Welcome to Rome : )

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Last updated: August 25th, 2016

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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