Interview with Lisa Di Sevo, Partner and Investor Manager at PranaVentures, the first Italian operational venture capital fund

Lisa Di Sevo is Partner and Investor Manager at PranaVentures, the first Italian operational venture capital fund specialised in seed and early stage investments.

Lisa has been working in the innovation sector and venture capital industry for more than 15 years. She began her career in H3G [now Wind Tre], and then gained experience as professional investor in dPixel and Primomiglio SGR. She founded PranaVentures in 2017.

Lisa graduated at Università degli Studi di Milano.

Q: You are one of the few female professionals in the venture capital field. How did you approach the venture capital industry? Can you tell us more about your start-up investment experience?

Lisa: I have always been passionate about innovation and technology. In 2006, I joined the innovation department of H3G, where I was in charge of scouting for new applications for mobile phones.

After a few years, I heard that an angel investor – Gianluca Dettori – was launching the first seed capital investment holding in Italy. And that intrigued me a lot.  So, I joined Gianluca’s team in 2007, and I started learning from him about professional investments. He is one of my mentors, I owe him a lot.

In 2007, there were very few players in the Italian landscape, the second Italian business angel association (IAG) was founded that year [the first is IBAN].

Thanks to dPixel, I had the opportunity to assess several ventures over time, in some of those we didn’t invested, others found success abroad. For example, we met Augusto Marietti, founder of Mashape, in one of the first Barcampers, when Augusto was only 20 years old. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to invest, and Augusto raised money in San Francisco.

Moreover, starting from 2009, I worked with dPixel on the TIM open innovation program, the first open innovation program ever launched in Italy for disseminating innovation. Thanks to this program, TIM launched its corporate venture capital in 2013, again the first CVC in Italy.

In 2016, dPixel decided to create Primomiglio SGR, evolving from an investment company to a venture capital fund. The project was then developed with the Barcamper Venture fund.

I don’t deny that I have made mistakes with some investments I have sponsored, but I have to say that I have always found people who let me make mistakes, and I feel lucky for that. For example, we have invested in teams that didn’t really know how to manage revenues, then I realised that teams cannot find a way to do so if they don’t have at least a first general idea. We have also invested in premature markets.

My luck, and this is why I do this job, is that I am always in contact with entrepreneurs from whom I always learn brand new things.

Q: And what about PranaVentures? What is the investment strategy and what sectors are you targeting?

Lisa: In 2017, Alessio Semoli and I had the idea of ​​innovating the venture capital asset class in Italy, and trying to create a proper VC market. The Italian market is small, there are few operators, but if the market has more capital to manage, it requires more operators.

In Italy, we often tell ourselves that the venture capital market is not mature because there are not great start-uppers, or rather we need to educate them. This is true, but I think that the market is not mature also because there are not many operators with a great track record, or with vintage age of funds comparable to large international firms. For example, I am part of a first-time team, first-time fund, what I offer to my investors and start-ups is the track record of the investments I have made and I have managed in my professional career.

So, with Alessio we noticed that outside of Italy there were operating venture capital funds that put great focus on managing the portfolio of early-stage companies.

In Italy, most of the early stage funds focus their investment strategy on the selection phase, using a more quantitative investment approach. But, with a focus on the managing phase, and therefore with adequate support, portfolio companies can reach the KPIs that lead to the A series faster, and this reduces the failure rate. This model allows us to differentiate ourselves from other market players, and should attract the best entrepreneurs.

We decided to create a fund in Italy because we believe in our entrepreneurial spirit and in Italian research.

We have reviewed our investment policy following the outbreak of Covid-19, because it is undeniable that it has impacted a number of industries, some of which have benefited from it. We invest in companies at their seed and early-stage phases, as lead or co-lead investor, and particularly in 5 fields: AI, blockchain, saas/paas, e-commerces, and marketplaces. Companies must have an in-house developed technology asset. Regarding sectors, we are generalists, even if we would like to make the first deals in these 3 sectors: legaltech, proptech and logistics.

Q: You are Founder and now Chairman of SheTech, a no-profit association that supports women in tech. Can you tell us more about SheTech and its activities?

Lisa: SheTech is an association that supports women in the areas of digital and entrepreneurship. We do not want to answer the question “why are there few women in the tech sector?”, but we try to enable women to enter in this sector.

We do 3 types of activities: education, networking and empowerment.

Education. We offer coding courses to learn Javascript level 0 and 1, machine learning and Django (in partnership with Django Girls). Currently, we are training 3 women selected throughout Italy to become full-stack developers, who then will be hired by the companies that supported us in this project.

Networking. We tell our community inspirational stories, and give access to the tech companies we work with.

Empowerment. We give the opportunity to women to enhance their digital skills and learn about new tech tools. We also support women entrepreneurship with various programs. In fact, in Italy there are many companies led by women, but these are companies mainly in the care field, therefore low-margin companies.

On 23rd November, we will organise a bootcamp together with the American Embassy for 16 teams. On November 26th, we are partners of a TEDXWoman entitled “Senza Paura” which means fearless. Every year we also organise a Bootcamp on Facebook marketing for female entrepreneurs together with Women@Facebook and WeInspire @WPP.

Moreover, every year we organise a dinner for female founders where we proclame the “women to watch”. All the women proclaimed since 2015 have raised overall € 45 million. Therefore, also women are very good entrepreneurs.

Our association is also open to men, as we try to involve men to feel part of the gender gap issue. Today, 7% of the associates are men, and we are very proud of that.

The association is managed by a dedicated team: Chiara Brughera (Managing Director), Silvia Fanzecco (Communication & Community Manager) and Laura Nacci (Master School Director).

Lisa Di Sevo (on the left) and Chiara Brughera (on the right)

Q: One last question. What do you think of the Italian venture capital industry?

Lisa: I think that venture capital is certainly one of the rising asset classes in Italy, and it has enormous potential. There is still a lot to do not only in terms of education not only towards entrepreneurs, but also towards investors: to get them to know better illiquid asset classes, such as venture capital.

Venture capital is an asset class that cannot exist by itself, it is a piece of an ecosystem that grounds innovation in the real economy. I think that new operators are needed to be able to do in Italy what France and Spain have done in the last 15 years.

There has never been a better time than today, thanks to the capital provided by CDP, to launch the asset class and start a company. This is the right time. We have a strong history in entrepreneurship that allows us to do well.


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For more info on PranaVentures, visit: https://www.pranaventures.it/en/

For more info on SheTech (in Italian), visit: https://shetechitaly.org/