Interview Edition: Italian Startup Guru Riccardo Donadon

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Riccardo Donadon, Italian startup guru & founder of the venture incubator H-Farm, explains what it takes for a new business to be successful and how Europe should handle talent aggregation.

H-Farm: The most remarkable startup incubator in Italy, born in 2005 from the innovative mind of Riccardo Donadon, it continues catalysing the attention of media, public and private bodies.

H-Farm, an acronym in which the letter H stands for Human, is a place where nowadays about 500 people work. These most likely include startuppers, innovators and digital experts, who engage themselves in supporting the development of the local entrepreneurial tissue into a brand-new digital transformation. H-Farm is a venture incubator that creates new companies, through their whole life-cycle from the initial idea, to the investment, then shifting towards its execution and finally the exit on the market. In ten years, this incubator has created about 50 startups from the headquarters based in the province of Treviso, right next to the Venetian lagoon. Once land of farms, Italy’s new ‘Silicon valley’ thus emerges with its technologic estates, attracting the world of startups and welcoming innovation farmers in the ‘golden horn’ of the Italian North-East. The founder of H-Farm and former President of Italia Startup, Riccardo Donadon has been widely defined as the Italian Guru for Innovation, embodying the role of an advisor for the Italian PM Matteo Renzi in his digitalization strategy.

Riccardo, I would like to know from you what you think makes a startup successful. Which qualities does H-Farm look for in potential companies?

For H-Farm, it is fundamental to find people who can appropriately respond to the market’s needs with the punctuality that it actually requires, at the same time being able to unravel their own ideas in an extremely timely and dynamic way. As a matter of fact, in the vast range of activities that we support, one crucial factor is to be able to catch the most appropriate timing, in order to make something happen. Another thing that determines the success of initiatives is the ability to remain very flexible in adapting to changes of the market’s needs. People should rather be able to work in teams, because sustaining a company’s growth is not an easy job. This is extremely important, as nowadays all kinds of innovation are developed with other people. There are way too many variables and complexities to be covered. Therefore, you must be able to plan, but also to accomplish all the conditions for the success of a startup. For H-Farm, it is important to find people that could express leadership towards a team, guiding such a team and being able to express a kind of empathy towards the market, consequently adapting to it.

If you think about your most remarkable achievement, which startup success story went through your program already?

As of today, the most important story is the one of H-Art. This is a web agency, which today invoices roughly €20mln. H-Art was able to put together 200 extremely successful young people, representing the diamond point of the Italian ability in the context of web and digital innovation. However, I believe there are many other things that are growing within our structure and that could remarkably depict the kind of excellences in the investments we support. Notwithstanding the success of H-Art, I truly think that all our startups can be conceived as success stories: They should be conscious that the decision to invest in their digitalization and innovation deserves the respect from all the people who actually know what the true meaning of “doing business” is.

For what concerns the current focus that H-Farm now has on education: in ten years from now, where do you see its future role?

I can see our future role in the further development of a formative platform, in the sense that I believe that H-farm can create the right conditions for putting people at ease who want to express their value and appreciate the values of others. This aspect is getting increasingly important, because the Italian territory, like other part of the West, must be able to evolve very rapidly in order to adapt to the fast changes that our society is experiencing every day, due to technology. Therefore, it is necessary to be aware of the upcoming possibilities and challenges.

The future educational offer of H-Farm will embrace this strategy, targeting 6-year old students up to 25 year-old ones, from an international school for children, then moving to a bachelor degree program (3 years) from 19 to 22 and eventually to Master’s from 23 to 25 years. Investing in youth education and training will make new generations more conscious regarding the market’s opportunities in innovation and digitalization, while investing in companies’ executive training will keep supporting them in the conservation or eventual improvement of their market positioning. I imagine that H-Farm will be able to show everyone an accurate entrepreneurial model, thanks to its mentoring activity coupled with its entrepreneurial and educational role, assisting young entrepreneurs making their new companies become successful realities.

If there is one thing you can wish for improving the European startup ecosystem, with an eye on the Italian legislation, what would be functional in order to meet the needs of young entrepreneurs?

I think that the need for a more efficient aggregation of talents in different places should be favoured; therefore, at the European level we should support the creation of some areas that would be function as talent aggregation poles. H-Farm is trying to do this and we would like to expand our role in the Italian territory, in order to create other situations for talent aggregation. From an external point of view we could be seen as the Italian spearhead of startup incubators, but from the internal one we are trying to do this in the best way, hoping to become a replicable model, which could inspire the creation of new ones also abroad.

All in all, Europe should favour talents’ aggregation strategies and more generally, the entire West should be able to adopt an interconnection logic with the companies that make Europe richer. New aggregation places should be created to launch new communication bridges and to talk more about innovation, favoring the generational change and innovation within companies thanks to the entry of young people with new ideas into the market.



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