Interview with Nico Valenti Gatto, Operating Director at Bocconi for Innovation (B4i), the Bocconi University’s division that supports entrepreneurship

Nico Valenti Gatto is the Operating Director at Bocconi for Innovation (B4i), the Bocconi University’s division that supports entrepreneurship for students, alumni and beyond.

Previously, Nico worked at Partech, a global venture capital fund, carrying out investment, fundraising, and corporate and start-up business development activities.

Nico graduated in Business and Management at Bocconi University in Milan, and received and MBA from Cass Business School.

Q: You have been working in international VC and business development, and now you run the operations of Bocconi for Innovation (B4i), the Bocconi University’s division that supports entrepreneurship. In your opinion, how is the Italian venture capital industry compared to the rest of Europe?

Nico: I believe that there is a lot of potential for development in Italy. The country has just started the process for creating a proper venture capital ecosystem, and this is something that I saw happen in France 7 years ago and even more recently while working for Partech in Paris.

As a matter of fact, with the launch of the new National Innovation Fund managed by CDP, the Italian Government is going to inject public capital directly into start-ups, and into investment funds. Thanks to this tool, the Italian venture capital industry can have the role it deserves in developing innovation, entrepreneurial skills and creating job opportunities, retaining and attracting local and international talent.

For more info read: National Innovation Fund: a hope for the Italian venture capital industry?

Local and international corporates have also begun to play a more active role in the venture capital industry. Corporates are getting involved in the fundraising process of VC funds, and are also starting to support and participate in the development of start-ups as in other countries. An example is the VC fund just launched by Politecnico di Milano, together with 360 Capital Partners with the support of Brembo and Maire Technimont, aimed at facilitating technology transfer activities.

Therefore, I see that various entities and institutions, including the government, corporates and universities, are now working together in order to create an Italian venture capital ecosystem, able to retain and attract talents and investors.

Q: Bocconi for Innovation (B4i) is the Bocconi University’s division that provides access to valuable resources and helps innovative ventures to develop and scale. What is the mission of the programme? How is it organised?

Nico: B4i aims to support, nurture, develop and inspire the entrepreneurial spirit of Bocconi students and alumni, and students of our partner Universities which are Politecnico di Milano and Università degli Studi di Milano, and also researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Genoa.

We work together with other universities in order to facilitate the cross fertilisation of talents and skills, which helps to create entrepreneurial teams with complementary business and technical competences.

B4i is based on 3 main pillars:

PRE-ACCELERATION: it is a 12-session (each of 4 hours) programme, for eligible candidates with an entrepreneurial idea. The sessions have the ultimate goal of understanding how to develop the team’s idea, to assess the market potential and to create a minimum viable product. The programme covers various topics, including market analysis, product analysis, product-market fit, preparation of pitches, etc.

ACCELERATION: we just launched a call, on November 11th, which is open until January 6th. The acceleration is a 4-month full-time programme for 10-15 start-ups per batch. In this first batch, we expect to select approx. 5 start-ups.

B4i will contribute with:

  1. Provision of services, for an estimated value of € 30,000, including: mentorship; networking with large companies, investors and alumni; access to databases; physical co-working workspace with 24/7 access; practice for pitch sessions; etc.
  2. Financial support: B4i offers € 30,000 in exchange of an option for up to 5% of the start-up’s equity. The option will be exercised on occasion of the first fundraising round, or if the startup achieves certain turnover thresholds.

The acceleration programme is built around three verticals:

  1. Digital tech: for example B2B + B2C software, SaaS solutions, marketplace, AR + VR, IoT, AI, blockchain;
  2. Made in Italy: for example fashion, design, food and furniture;
  3. Sustainability: for example climate change, social entrepreneurship, circular economy, energy optimisation and smart city.

Three Heads of Vertical have been appointed: people with great expertise in their individual fields, with extensive networks of contacts that they are going to activate at the right time.

We have also appointed an Acceleration Specialist, a professional who will be the acceleration programme manager, coordinating content and setting the timing of the programme.

Therefore, with the participation in the B4i acceleration programme, entrepreneurs receive the first money to start their businesses (with an option to purchase 5% of equity, not an immediate investment), but they also have the opportunity to benefit from the Bocconi network, a strong system of relationships with leading Italian and international companies.

It is part of a university’s DNA to transfer skills and knowledge.  In the programme, some knowledge will be transferred by the Bocconi Faculty; other topics will be addressed by entrepreneurs and investment professionals, who have already experienced a development path, similar to the one that the accelerated entrepreneurs are going to face.

SCALE-UP: support in the scale-up phase, for companies that have successfully passed the acceleration phase. The success of the B4i acceleration programme will be evaluated on the basis of 4 KPIs: a) number of accelerated start-ups that have raised funds; b) amount of money raised by the accelerated start-ups; c) number of key people hired by the accelerated start-ups; d) number of contracts signed with corporates thanks to the acceleration programme.

Q: What do you suggest to a non-Italian investor who is interested in our country?

Nico: I recommend having more confidence in Italy, also given the fact that there are positive signals at the macroeconomic level, such as the creation of the new National Innovation Fund.

In Italy, there are excellent schools that educate brilliant talents, so my suggestion is to have greater confidence in the skills and competences of Italian entrepreneurs.

I have the feeling that, sometimes, Italian opportunities are not energetically pursued because the country’s VC system is still catching up with other European countries. Therefore, VCs perceive that the effort in following the investment and developing the business is likely to be higher.

Moreover, having worked for an international VC firm without an office in Italy, I am aware of the fact that investors usually favour opportunities close to their offices, for greater ease of access and support.

However, in Italy, there are excellent investment opportunities (and more to come, also thanks to accelerators like B4i!) that are not promoted internationally as in other countries, for example through dedicated events.

So, my advice is to scout locally, to find the best investment opportunities, especially in series A rounds, where international funds and support are more needed.


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For more info on Bocconi 4 Innovation visit: https://b4i.unibocconi.it/