Luca D’Alessandro is the Co-Founder of Phononic Vibes, an Italian anti-noise and vibration startup, developing and marketing innovative solutions based on metamaterials.
Stefano Peroncini is the CEO of EUREKA! Venture SGR, the first Italian alternative asset fund manager, exclusively dedicated to deep tech investments, with € 100 million AUM in two venture capital funds.
In July 2022, Phononic Vibes announced the completion of a € 6 million capital increase led by CDP Venture Capital SGR together with EUREKA! Venture SGR and 360 Capital Partners. It is the third fundraising round after a € 500k round in 2019 led by 360 Capital Partners with Pantecnica S.p.A., and a subsequent € 2.3 million round completed in 2020, involving EUREKA! Venture SGR and 360 Capital Partners.
Luca, you started your career as Researcher and Professor at Politecnico di Milano, and then, in 2018, together with Giovanni Capellari and Stefano Caverni, you founded Phononic Vibes, a spin-off of the Politecnico di Milano, in the field of metamaterials, i.e., advanced materials for acoustic and vibration control. What led you to this decision, and how did the idea of Phononic Vibes come about?
Luca: I graduated in civil engineering at the Politecnico di Milano. After graduation, I worked as a civil engineer. I started to develop technical structural software to automate some processes, which I began to sell to companies and on which I wanted to set up my own company. However, I got in touch with a professor at the Milan Polytechnic who pointed me towards a PhD opportunity in Milan and Boston at MIT. I applied and won a research grant.
At MIT, I started research on metamaterials. Metamaterials are structures where the vibration absorption performance of acoustics is not generated by the material itself but by the shape. As a result, you can reshape any material, such as plastic and metal, to become sound absorbing. This opens up many possibilities for applications in the industrial world, where traditional technologies such as foams are still widely used.
When I returned to Italy, I wanted to implement the basic research developed during my PhD at an industrial level. At Politecnico di Milano, researchers can submit their projects to PoliHub for a grant of €30k to test the research on the market. And that was when Giovanni Capellari and Stefano Caverni joined the team.
Subsequently, thanks to PoliHub and Politecnico di Milano, we presented our project to the Polimi TT Fund, promoted by 360 Capital Partners and Politecnico di Milano. It is a technology transfer fund set up at the time. As a result, we obtained a seed round of € 550k. And it was there that, with Giovanni and Stefano, despite having research career opportunities abroad, we decided we wanted to stay in Italy and found Phononic Vibes as a spin-off of the Politecnico di Milano.
The establishment of our company is a story of the Italian ecosystem of which we are very proud. And that is why we pursued Italian investors. Having Italian funds backing us is important. Our following investors are EUREKA! Venture and recently CDP Venture Capital.
So, Phononic Vibes develops and markets solutions for noise and vibration protection that, compared to traditional solutions commonly used in the market, allow for high customisation of acoustic solutions. Can you tell us more about the business model of the company?
Luca: Phononic Vibes was established four years ago, and since then, we have been offering our customers innovative technology to solve acoustic problems. We provide an alternative technology that uses alternative materials and allows higher performance.
Initially, we did a lot of co-development and proof of concepts; after 4 years, we realised where we could industrialise. Therefore we have identified 3 “killer applications”.
The first is in infrastructure. We industrialised a highly sound-absorbent transparent panel, which we placed along railway lines.
The second is transport, where we lighten the acoustic treatment while keeping the mass even. For example, in cars, we have reduced the weight of the soft acoustic parts by 30% while leaving the performance unchanged. This has an impact on lowering Co2 and costs.
The third application concerns appliances (e.g. vacuum cleaners and cooker hoods) where we improve sound quality and reduce noise.
EUREKA! Venture is one of the first investors in Phononic Vibes through the EUREKA! Fund I – Technology Transfer. What prompted EUREKA! Venture SGR to invest in Phononic Vibes?
Stefano: Phononic Vibes matches our investment criteria since the beginning: highly motivated and well-balanced co-founders team, technology and IP well protected, and a broad range of applications in different industry sectors. Moreover, the company achieved the first successful proof of concept and pilots were sold to big corporates.
Therefore, Stefano, how do you support startups in the technology transfer phase? In the case of Phononic Vibes, what kind of involvement did you have, apart from the purely financial one?
Stefano: We have been supporting Phononic Vibes in different areas, like ESG and good governance practice implementation, networking for a new business opportunity with corporates, press releases and communication, and identification of a new business model based on a fab-lite approach (that enables in-house small production capacity).
Phononic Vibes recently announced a € 6 million investment round subscribed by CDP Venture Capital SGR, EUREKA! Venture SGR and 360 Capital Partners. What results have you achieved until now? Also, what are the development plans of Phononic Vibes for the near future?
Luca: Today we are a company that employs around 20 people and has reached the one million mark in turnover. We have raised around € 10 million in four years.
With the capital we just raised, we will move from a proof of concept perspective to an industrialisation and sales perspective in Italy and abroad.
Luca, what are the main challenges you experienced in creating Phononic Vibes and are facing now in the growth phase?
Luca: The most considerable challenge I had in creating Phononic Vibes was finding early adopters willing to delve into the technology and participate financially in the first proof of concepts. Italy has excellent manufacturing capacity and inventiveness, but I think that, compared to other countries in the world, there is still uncertainty towards entrepreneurs presenting new technologies.
The way we overcame this obstacle was to find investment funds to finance our first proof of concept. My partners and I chose to stay in Italy, and we wanted to make a difference by staying here, flying the Made in Italy flag.
Thanks to CDP’s intervention, there is more capital for deep tech in Italy today. I think that Italian researchers and entrepreneurs should not abandon their projects to the first no and that they should turn to Italian funds with more confidence.
Our next challenges are mainly industrial.
Stefano, from your point of view, what challenges do you think Phononic Vibes could have in the future?
Stefano: Phononic Vibes has already identified the most relevant business industries in which valorise technology for acoustic and vibrations, like Automotive, Infrastructure and Appliances. Now the company has to prove the ability to scale production and sales according to the targets identified and increase the intellectual property of its metamaterials technology.
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For more info on Phononic Vibes, visit: https://phononic-vibes.com/
For more info on EUREKA! Venture SGR, visit: https://www.eurekaventure.it/