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Interview with Andrea Orlando, Managing Partner in Italy at Startup Wise Guys, a leading international b2b accelerator

Andrea Orlando is the newly appointed Managing Partner for Startup Wise Guys in Italy.

He is Italian and has lived in 4 countries (U.K, Italy, Denmark, Norway) and worked across numerous industries, mostly in strategy functions with a specific focus on turn-around and growth projects.

Since 2015, he has invested and developed 3 start-ups (2 as a co-founder) and has worked for Accelerators and Incubators across Europe, mentoring for the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship (DK), B-Heroes (IT), Venture Cup Denmark (DK), Connect Denmark (DK). He is also currently serving as President of the INSEAD Alumni Association in Denmark.

Q: You are an early-stage investor, start-up activist and coach. How did you approach the venture capital field? Can you tell us more about your start-up investment experience?

Andrea:  I was lucky enough to be exposed to senior executives quite soon in my professional life. When I was 30, I was assistant of a CEO of a cement company in Denmark, and I was visible to senior executives and strategic topics. Having seen so much so early, I soon developed an appetite for seeing more, especially where things could move faster and in a more technological driven way.

So, in 2015, I was approached by a friend in Norway who was developing a digital system for customising ad campaigns in small shops, based on face detection technology. Immediately, I fell in love with this new world.

By 2017, I decided to leave my corporate life and now with Startup Wise Guys, where I am also an investor, I made entrepreneurship and investing in entrepreneurs my sole professional mission.

Q: In March 2020 you joined Startup Wise Guys, one of the leading international B2B accelerators, first as Entrepreneur in Residence, and now as Managing Partner for Italy. Can you tell us more about Startup Wise Guys and the decision to expand to Italy?

Andrea: Startup Wise Guys is one of the oldest B2B Accelerator in Europe. It all started in 2012 in Estonia, after some members of tech core team from Skype having exited successfully to Microsoft in 2011 decided to inject resources within the Estonian ecosystem. After Skype successfully exited to Microsoft in 2011, a new generation of tech entrepreneurs with surplus money came to be and looked for ways to give back to society and empower the next generation of tech founders to come to be. Startup Wise Guys accelerator was one of results of this. Since then, it has been gradually expanding through the Baltics, developing a unique access to Central Eastern Europe ecosystems.

In 2019, I met Cristobal (Startup Wise Guys CEO) through INSEAD, where we both graduated and we are both serving as Presidents of National Alumni Associations (Denmark and Spain respectively), and thought of joining forces to see if there is room for an international operator in the early stage scene in Italy. After few months of analysis and investigation, we took the decision earlier this year and have been working both in gradually accessing the Italian start-up community looking for rough diamonds.

Q. What do you mean by “rough diamonds”?

Andrea: It’s a metaphor that Cristobal came up with some time ago. In this job there are two types of investors. Jewellers and Miners. Jewellers have access to strong capital funds; they buy jewels from the market at a high value with the intention to sell them to other buyers at even higher value. And then there are miners who kneel in the darkness chasing for rough diamonds.

At Startup Wise Guys we hunt for talents, and talents sometimes are hidden in a cave. So, what do we do? We kneel in the darkness of the hidden cave and we dig deep: sometimes we find rocks, sometimes we find silver, sometimes we find diamond rocks. When we find them, we put them through extreme heat and pressure (our accelerator program) until we find the gem.

Q: Startup Wise Guys is launching a brand-new acceleration programme in Italy. What is the mission of the programme? How is it organised?

Andrea: What we intend to do is to bring Startup Wise Guys international experience and network in Italy.

The program will be aimed not only at Italian start-ups, but also international start-ups that see Italy as one of their core target markets. It will be held in English, and with international pool of mentors.

The program will last up to 5 months and will have online and on-site modules. A 5 months hybrid program that will help entrepreneurs focusing and developing. The program will be based in Milan and we project to invest in 10-12 companies per batch.

Q: You are running a crowdfunding campaign for the Startup Wise Guys’ Italian investment vehicle. What are the reasons of this decision?

Andrea: Crowdfunding in Italy has quite a unique history in my opinion related to venture-based fundraising. The lack of a larger number of early stage professional investors has created an opportunity for crowdfunding operators to thrive. Talking with various platforms, we have seen a growing appetite of crowdfunding investors to access a diversified type of investment, and that is exactly what Startup Wise Guys crowdfunding campaign will offer.

Startup Wise Guys have already run a successful equity crowdfunding before, out of Estonia. Given that experience and Italian crowdfunding scene advantages, we decided to pursue this unique opportunity to combine private fundraising with a crowdfunding campaign.

When your value proposition is strong, when you can properly and transparently communicate it to the market, when you are showing your long-term vision and innovative perspective, these are the premises for the market to respond favourably.

Q: As investor, what do you think of the Italian start-up ecosystem? What developments do you see for our country?

Andrea: I think for historic reasons that we are in Italy a bit late compared to other western ecosystems (Germany, France, UK), but I think it’s not too late. In fact, it’s now or never.

The strong incentives coming from the government (both in terms of tax break, but also in terms of financial instruments for entrepreneurs), the arrival of many other international operators (fortunately or unfortunately we are not the only ones who had this intuition), the flourishing of many digital communities where entrepreneurship is discussed and nurtured at a very early stage… these are also factors that are leading in the right direction.

And there is more. If you, as an investor, willingly decide not to be part of the wave now for any reason, it may be too late in 2 years time, when the industry will be a bit more consolidated and valuations will create an entry barrier for late comer.


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