Italians Take Up The Torch To Ignite Their Own Tech Startup Scene

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A Tech Way Around “Creative Block”

Last year, Italy’s official statistics bureau, ISTAT, produced a report on the state of the Internet in Italy. It found that in world terms, Italy was below average in terms of Internet usage. The European average is 73 percent usage by population, and Italians were hovering around the 63 percent mark. But official statistics can be cruel and out of date – and it’s clear now to any observer on the ground that whatever is happening in the home market, Italian tech startups aren’t just shooting for their own country but for yours, as well.

Evidence of this emerged when Facebook bought Italy-based Glancee, this year. This was the location-based mobile story of the year. And there have been other undercurrents. The Italian Startup Scene Facebook Group, which now has more than 8,300 members, up from fewer than 3,000 last year – is still growing. Clearly many of the old attitudes are changing fast and are probably out of date as we speak. For instance, the TechCrunch Italy CrunchUp event in Rome this last week was originally supposed to be a simple meetup. But it’s a sign that Italy’s startup ecosystem has exploded in the last 18 months or so that we ended up having to find a venue for over 1,000 people who wanted to come. Italy has clearly changed since I scratched around a tiny Italian-only event in 2008.

And it is the young people who are driving the change, as well as forcing politicians – usually obsessed with the economic crisis – to sit up and take notice. Refreshingly, the Italian government hasn’t been sitting on its hands. The business minister is currently prepping new legislation dubbed “Startup Italia,” which should be passed in early October. A huge consultation process happened on the campus of investor H-Farm, where a number of Italian startups and VCs could contribute. Eventually the legislation is hoped to include new tax breaks for angel investors and a new kind of limited company allowing for faster hiring and firing compared to traditional companies.

Much of this has been initiated after a report called Restart Italia, drawn up by the fask force and established by the Minister of Economic Development Corrado Passera. The report suggested that startups needed more support in Italy and could boost economic growth and employment, especially among the young, and could have a widespread impact on Italian society.

But it hasn’t all been plain-sailing as the largely conservative Italian culture and society has not always been welcoming to tech entrepreneurs. This, despite its long history of fascination with cutting-edge fashion designers exhibiting on the catwalks of Milan and its well-earned reputation as a crucible of innovation in the world’s leading high-performance sports cars.

But the signs of the times are changing. Regional governments within Italy – which often have more autonomy than central government – are dreaming up their own initiatives outside the dead-locked corridors of Rome. Perhaps one of the fastest moving is the tiny regional state of Trentino around the city of Trento. A semi-autonomous region that effectively makes it own rules, it is currently planning to launch a scheme, called Trento Rise, to incubate more than 100 companies from all over Europe in partnership with other Italian accelerators. It’s no coincidence that its head, Prof. Fausto Giunchiglia, once worked at Stanford University. And because Trentino’s local government can raise its own taxes, some years ago it decided pump its wealth into innovation initiatives, allocating close to 3 percent of its provincial GDP to research. By contrast the national Italian government as a whole puts just 1 percent of GDP into research. The result has been that Trentino is one of Italy’s wealthiest regions and is almost sealed off from the economic pain in the rest of the country.

Tiny Trento is also part of the European Union-backed project called the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) ICT Labs, along with Stockholm, Paris, Berlin, Helsinki, and Einhoven. This means it has access to millions of euros in funding to promote the real-world spin-out of companies from academic research at the master and PhD levels.

Thus, at the TechCrunch Italy event this week, the buzz was palpable in the venue, a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, created 10 years ago by an Italian entrepreneur. Some highlights of the day included appearances by Rome city officials and the Italian business minister to support the event. And the fact that Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Hillary Clinton, took time out to speak about how to create a society and culture that is open to startups and innovation also showed the attention the scene is garnering. Despite the Wi-Fi not holding up and the weather being too hot, most agreed it was a great event, attracting pan-European VCs such as Index Ventures, Doughty Hanson and Balderton Capital.

During the day we had 50 speakers, a great agenda, a startup showcase, and some great sponsors. We even had a hackathon organised by Hackitaly. There were almost 5,000 people on the live stream and the hashtag #TCItaly trended on Twitter in Italy. Thanks to Populis and Mind The Bridge Foundation for putting it together.

Here’s a great wrap of the event in 4 minutes.

Here’s a rundown on the startups that presented on stage, the startups that exhibited, and some others we found out about on our travels.

You can check out all the video from the day here.

Startup Pitches Winner

Atooma

The winner of the startup pitches, Atooma, is a mobile toolkit to create your own mini-apps. It’s like IFTTT for mobile. You can set up conditional events that automatically trigger simple actions based on things like time, location, your favourite apps, email and so on. Because it’s a contextual app, it is aware of your environment and your behaviour, effectively making your smartphone smarter. People can then publish their mini app in the Atooma community and others can download it. It has a very simple user interface. An example is getting your inbox SMS or e-mail to automatically read to you while driving or preventing your phone from ringing or logging onto a network when the battery is about to die. This was a great startup.

Other Companies That Pitched

ADmantX

ADmantX matches ads to brand-safe-appropriate content. Its semantic technology and dynamic categorization matches ads with consumers in the right frame of mind with the right message. Because keyword targeting makes mistakes, ADmantX is semantic data for ads. You can create an ad base on the best content and increase click-through rates and thus the yield. Operating in Italy, the UK, and the U.S. they have $1.5 million in revenue and are raising another round of financing after a $2.8 million round last year.

Iubenda

Iubenda is basically a site with the ability to create a privacy policy for your site on the fly. It’s solving a real problem for startups. They have generated 8,000 already. Eventually they want to allow anyone to easily generate cheap legal documents. The subscription service has realised 100K euro so far.

NextStyler

NextStyler is an exclusive fashion brand, made in Italy, created by emerging fashion designers, and directly chosen by its customers. NextStyler creates a competition for designers based around a theme like winter wear. Designers upload their sketches and compete through a voting system. The best rated sketches are manufactured in Italy by skilled people and sold on NextStyler’s online shop. They have raised 500K euros seed fudging and are aiming for a new 1.5 million euro round.

Staq.io

Created at a TechCrunch Hackathon last year, Staq is a back-end as a service. You upload your code and they create a REST API out of the bios, with scaling and everything. You can create mobile apps, Facebook apps, web services, etc. They are in private beta right now. From Monday they will be in a “major accelerator” in Seattle.

MoneyFarm

MoneyFarm is a little like having a personal banker. It recommends users a free portfolio of investments based on their profile and goals. The portfolio is then divided into different Asset Classes. MoneyFarm does not take commissions but offers the techniques that big investors use to grow a client’s portfolio. By doing this they know how to reduce the costs of traditional mutual funds by 50 percent.

Others That Stood Out From The Crowd

Urlist

Urlist is a collaborative tool to collect, save, and organize your Web resources. Our atomic unit of information is the list of links, which is a collection of resources about a chosen topic. Lists can be public or private, collaborative or personal. And with the play button, browsing a list is as easy as flipping through a book. Urlist <3 the Internet.

Stereomood
Stereomood is the music service that delivers curated playlists from independent artists and labels to best suit your current mood. It’s an alternative, serendipitous method of discovering fresh sounds from the top 150 music blogs from across the web, the perfect accompanying soundtrack, or whatever your activity or mood may be.

Metwit
Metwit is an interactive weather data service in the cloud. Metwit API allows you to build interactive and simple apps that collect hyperlocal and crowdsourced environmental data and/or embed this data into your geobased platform using simple web development skills.

Pick1
The most amazing tool to get active feedback from your users while boosting traffic, generating sales, and building a demographic database of your users. Pick1 is an active learning engine, necessary for any self-aware brand. Pick1 is an end-to-end real-time marketing solution based on market research automated to super-personalize a web users’ experience.

Selfloops
You can improve only what you measure. Selfloops has created an integrated sensor and tracking fitness platform. Our mission is to provide the tools to people that are serious about sports, that want to track and analyze their fitness activities, and want to be in control on how to improve.

More From The Demo Area

Applix / Viewerplus
Their pitch: “Applix is an ‘Apps Enabler Company’ specialized in the development of innovative solutions for mobile devices (Apple, Android and Windows 8) with two products: Appdoit and Viewerplus. “Viewerplus” is a platform for mobile publishing and “Appdoit” is a White Label and Self Provisioning platform that industrializes the process of creating mobile apps without technical skills.”

AppsBuilder
Their pitch: AppsBuilder is a DIY platform for mobile applications development. No coding skills are needed! Trough a single building process users can create an app for iOS (iPad, iPhone/iPod), Android (Tablets & Phones) and Windows Phone. Last but not least, your app will be available for the Chrome Web Store and with a Mobile Site Html5 version. All our apps are stored on the cloud, providing the opportunity to modify an app and see it updated in real time.

BeMyEye
Their pitch: BeMyEye is an innovative tool for crowdsourcing store checks and mystery shopping. Thanks to a large and widespread network of on-demand workers, BeMyEye can provide certified observations in 48 hours from any location in Italy. The service is currently used by some primary corporations to monitor, for example, if a promotional display is available in 10.000 stores. BeMyEye integrates a self-service website, where buyers can ask for images and data from faraway places, with an iPhone App allowing sellers to earn an extra wage by completing simple tasks in their neighborhood.

CHATme
Their pitch: ChatMe is about people from all over the world, it is about making new friends around you and sharing pics of you and your life. ChatMe is available for free on the iPhone App Store and soon on Google Play. smartphone app. like photo sharing and dating.

Chupamobile
Their pitch: Chupamobile is a community marketplace for Mobile Developers to discover, sell and purchase cutting edge source code and components for Mobile App development. Developers can buy and easily integrate components saving lots of money and hours of development. Authors can make money selling their code, gain widespread reputation and distribution.

Cloudweavers
Their pitch: Cloudweavers is a startup that created a multipurpose private cloud toolkit , distributed as a self-contained portable USB device with a powerful automated management, distributed geographical storage, self-tuning: the commercialization of 10 years of research in EU programmes on Grids and cloud computing.

Cocontest
Their pitch: Cocontest is a crowdsourcing platform for all those users in need of new design ideas or projects for renovating their house. Architects compete in design contests with cash rewards and specifications set by end users. Cocontest is useful also for companies as a new outsourcing channel for low cost projects.

Commercialista.com
Their pitch: Commercialista.com is a geo-powered search engine built to easily find accounting professionals and get online/offline consultancy. It is both a marketing tool for professionals and an effective help for users who need to hire a consultant. Albeit specific, the platform is actually a pilot project for more professional categories.

CryptoDrone
Their pitch: CryptoDrone is a service developed by Ants in order to share
confidential documents quickly and without troubles. CryptoDrone encrypts the confidential documents and shares them with a group of people that can securely access data through the web or tablet app.

DriveFarm
Their pitch: Zero12 develops mobile and cloud solutions for companies like DriveFarm, File Server in the Cloud, to store enterprise informations like docs, projects, photo, video etc with: hierarchical organization and user monitoring.-security on three levels(infrastructure,application,human) policy definitions for each users. Real-Time file sharing between users close via mobile app.

Dropis
Their pitch: Dropis is a new way to exchange work and favors without using money. The “dropis” is an online credit you earn when you share something you love to do.You don’t need money: you can only get Dropis by offering something in the Dropis community. It’s a currency for barter marketplaces.

Fhoster
Their pitch: FHoster is an innovative Platform-as-a-Service delivering tactical business application in the cloud (cloudlets) much faster than other platforms, by effectively combining conceptual data modeling and patterns mapping. Cloudlets are based on open-source technologies, provide a rich API and can be deployed on many IaaS in seconds.

Fubles
Their pitch: Join or organize soccer matches in your city.

In3D Gallery
Their pitch: In3D Gallery is a cutting edge tool, based on 3D real time technology, that improves image and pictures visualization and is able to answer both to beginners and professional photographer’s needs. In3D Gallery is both a Facebook App (free and basic, an amazing app to show your pictures with a different and fresher look) and a Web App, available in “pro” or “premium” version, upgradable with new features to increase functionalities and improve the look. A perfect tool for photographers, real art galleries and museums or everyone who wants to share his own pictures in an innovative way. In3D Gallery is made by Esimple, a creative studio dedicated to technological innovation.

Korallya
Their pitch: Korallya is a new mobile networking tool aimed at simplifying and sensibly enhance the experience of people meeting people in its manifold occurrences: for business, education or fun, in planned or unexpected occasions, in a connected or temporarily disconnected environment. However it happens, too many times people lose important details. And this, too often, translates in a lost chance. Anytime and anywhere, Korallya has been designed to be there to save the identity and value of every meeting, giving each event the chance to become a great opportunity.

Mangatar
Their pitch: Mangatar is a social game in the manga universe. A collectible card game game where people can fight against each other. Create customized cards, prepare your game deck, improve your cards’ skills. Collect power and skill cards and challenge other users in one-to-one clashes or in group missions.

MiSiedo
Their pitch: MiSiedo is an on line reservation service for restaurants and bars. MiSiedo combines an on line booking service via web or iPhone app with an iPad app for restaurant managers: restaurateurs will be notified when a new reservation is made through MiSiedo and the availability of the venue will be automatically updated; walk-ins and telephone reservations can also be easily registered with one single tap

openPicus
Their pitch: openPicus connects the real world to the Cloud. We offer stand-alone open hardware, Flyport Wi-Fi and Ethernet modules, and a free IDE for embedded applications to interact via web, email and more with simple sensors or complex electronic equipment. A full range of nest expansion boards is available to speed up development.

Paperlit
Their pitch: Paperlit supports traditional publishers in their digital distribution strategy providing branded apps and digital services in all the relevant ecosystems: iOS, Android, Windows8, Facebook. A simple and effective digital publishing and mobile monetization platform for newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. A beautiful and easy to use reading experience for readers.

Qurami
Their pitch: “Time” is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Qurami offer time saving solutions through the use of mobile devices. The first solution gives users the ability to reserve their place in the queue and it keeps them informed in real time about queue flow. Qurami aims to launch a new entire “time saving market”.

Risparmiosuper
Their pitch: This compares grocery store prices helping consumers save money and retailers and brands check competitors prices in real time. Risparmiosuper.it finds for consumers the cheapest supermarket in their neighborhood according to their shopping list and gives companies access to real-time analytics on competitors’ prices and consumers’ behavior.

Rysto
Their pitch: Rysto is the first social platform for the restaurant and hospitality labor market. We enable businesses in the food service industries to geolocate workers in real-time and fill temporary and permanent job vacancies within minutes, in order to deal with employee “no shows”, peaks of demand and seasonality effect.

Save The Mom
Their pitch: Save The Mom is a web and mobile platform that simplifies the communication among family members, making it easy to share information and collect important moments. Furthermore, you can connect with other families (friends, grandparents, etc.) and share useful tips with all the community.

Spinta
Their pitch: Spinta is a marketplace for beauty and wellness services. Beauty and wellness professionals can generate more revenue and manage their business while beauty enthusiasts get on-demand access to beauty professionals and their services anytime, anywhere, at a salon or at their home or hotel room.

Sporthis
Their pitch: sporthis is the mobile app where users challenge friends by forecasting on sport events. It’s a foursquare for sports, that gamifies sport events by introducing points and badges for the best users. sporthis rewards sport fans. Teams or brands can create their own branded missions through the app; users who complete a branded mission get coupons to buy products or match tickets.

Stamplay
Their pitch: Stamplay helps marketing professionals create and manage engaging marketing campaigns and loyalty programs thanks to a broad catalogue of white label software solutions. Our apps are ready to use, can be easily customized and are billed on a pay-per-user/pay-as-you-go basis.

Style4Real
Their pitch: Style4Real turns personal wardrobes into digital closets. Fashion lovers can upload their clothes and outfits, find new ideas, share tips, receive personalized recommendations and special offers. Via mobile or web, Style4Real is the social runway to show, share and spice up your style everyday.

Styloola
Their pitch: Styloola is the app that follows you while you’re shopping helping you to dress better and spend less. Thanks to Styloola you can find the coolest boutiques and dresses, share your looks and those accessories you love most. Vote and get votes to become a fashion icon. Foursquare on steroids for fashion!

Tanaza
Their pitch: Tanaza provides a centralized cloud-based solution to manage Wi-Fi Access Points. Tanaza approach eliminates the need for an expensive, dedicated hardware controller and is compatible with consumer level access points. The company aims to enable operational efficiency to Systems Integrators and Managed Solutions Providers that work in the SMB space (small offices, hotels, hospitals, schools, colleges).

Ultimoprezzo
Their pitch: Ultimoprezzo.com is your go-to resource whenever you’re on the hunt for consumer electronics: wherever you are and whatever device you’re on, you can access quality and timely information allowing you to exploit the most appealing offers and promotions before they start.

Uribu
Their pitch: Uribu is a new platform for social complaints. It has been available via web for a few months and at techcrunch they launched the Android app. With Uribu you can report daily inefficiencies, problems, and other issues sharing them with the whole world instantly. The main purpose of Uribu is to help citizens participate and connect with the institutions, like local government, and companies in order to address widespread problems and inefficiencies through a transparent web platform, free and easy to use. Uribu won the startup audience choice, as chosen by the techrunch-italy’s attendees by collecting the most poker chips from participants.

videOMG
Their pitch: videOMG is a video discovery network that lets you discover and share the best videos created every day by hundreds of high quality channels. The platform is based on an innovative semantic technology used by more than 35 million unique users per month including third-party sites.

Vivocha
Their pitch: Vivocha is a an Online Customer Interaction platform that enables businesses to seamlessly communicate with prospects and customers right on the website, using any combination of VoIP, chat, audio callbacks and collaboration tools like assisted browsing, form & document sarin. Thanks to the super user friendly “web foundry,” any business can be up & running with proactive customer engagement in less than five minutes. No tech skills required. Vivocha is totally free for most users. Premium accounts will enjoy a pay-per-interaction model: your success is our success.

YooDeal
Their pitch: Yoodeal is the premier online shopping platform for personalized deals and offers. Our innovation lies in our search and ranking algorithm: our ability to gather and personalize online promotions based on natural language analysis, and further categorization and ranking for each particular shopper. Users find the most appropriate offers for their unique interests, which ensures member loyalty and reuse for our partner sites.

Youppit
Their pitch: Youppit collects deals from coupon sites, private selling site and outlet on-line and shows according to users preferences all deals in one page. It’s a free aggregator to find the best deals on the web, that allows to satisfy every day a different need.

Turise.Me
Their pitch: Turise.Me is a platform dedicated to tourism in p2p mode. Tourists can experience a tailor-made tours based on their own interests, flexible and not too expensive courses offered by turisers, people with strong vertical expertise to ensure a unique and safe trail for tourists, where he can find the tour suited to his tastes, availability of time and curiosity.

Cortilia
Their pitch: Cortilia is the first online marketplace for genuine and fresh food from local farmers in Italy. We select the best farmers and connect them directly with consumer through our website and home delivery service. Our products are always seasonal, genuine and coming directly from the nearest producers in order to build a sustainable mobility of goods.

HyperTV
Their pitch: The HyperTV second-screen interactive platform allows applications running on second screens, such as smartphones and tablets, to automatically recognize the content being played on the ‘first’ screen, the TV, and synchronizes with it. Upon synchronization, relevant gaming content can be triggered to the second screen enabling consumers to benefit from unique social media experience and offering broadcaster an effective solution to engage their audience with the primary show with compelling experience, with real time behavioural and traffic analysis. To enable the gaming experience across multiple screens and devices and design innovative audience engagement, the platform uses the Hypertv proprietary widgets and authoring system, together with Civolution’s Automatic Content Recognition (ACR).

Others We Found on Our Travels in Italy

NextMags – social publishing platform

Soundreef – alternative to copyright collection society

Blomming – like Etsy but mainly FB based

Spreaker – a platform to make your own radio station

Photospotland – A Photo aggregator.