National Innovation Fund: a hope for the Italian venture capital industry?

After years of austere budgetary approach for the Italian venture capital industry, in 2018 the Italian Government and public institutions started to pave the way for a new era of growth and development for the Italian start-ups and venture capital world in general.

In fact, the most relevant initiatives to support the Italian venture capital industry were introduced last year, with the release of the 2019 Budget Law (Law n.145/2018), which aims at increasing the importance of private capital in Italy.

The 2019 Budget Law identifies two main instruments for developing the venture capital market in Italy: the “Venture Capital Support Fund” (in Italian: “Fondo di Sostegno al Venture Capital”) and the “National Innovation Fund” (NIF, in Italian: “Fondo Nazionale Innovazione”).

These two funds, financed by public capital, aim to create a virtuous cycle that involves also private capital. The underlying idea is that feeding venture capital funds with public capital would help to attract a greater number of private investors, reassured by the presence of the State.

The final purpose of these measures is to unify and multiply public and private resources dedicated to the strategic topic of innovation, in order to create a constructive impact on the Italian real economy, and to encourage start-ups’ investments, innovation and the creation of new jobs.

Concerning the Venture Capital Support Fund, the provisions laid down in the 2019 Budget Law became real with the Ministerial Decree Law of 27thJune 2019. The main points of the Decree Law are the following:

  • With the resources available to the Venture Capital Support Fund, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) can invest in Italian venture capital funds managed by asset management companies authorised by the Bank of Italy.
  • The selected asset management companies can invest through their funds exclusively in start-ups and SMEs with high potential for development, not listed in regulated market, and that are going through one of the following phases:
    • Seed phase
    • Start-up phase
    • Early-stage phase
    • Expansion/scale up financing phase.
  • The Ministerial Decree Law provides that the Venture Capital Support Fund will receive the following resources:
    • € 30 million for each of the years 2018, 2019, 2020.
    • € 5 million for each of the years 2022, 2023, 2024, 2025.
    • State revenues deriving from the distribution of dividends from companies participated by the Italian Ministry of Economy, up to 10% of the total amount of the distributed dividends.

Regarding the National Innovation Fund, the only reference in the 2019 Budget Law is provided in subparagraph 116 art.1.

The Law states that, in order to simplify and strengthen the Italian venture capital industry, the Italian Ministry of Economic Development (MISE) can authorise Invitalia SpA (the National Agency for Inward Investment and Economic Development owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy) to sell its participation in the asset management company Invitalia Ventures SGR, at market price. This helps to create a public coordinated control room, to adequately support the entire sector of innovative companies.

The sale took place in August 2019, when Invitalia SpA signed an agreement with Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (Deposits and Loans Fund, an investment bank owned by the Italian Ministry of Economy that foster sustainable development in Italy) and sold the 70% stake of Invitalia Ventures SGR.

From now on, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti is in charge of managing Invitalia Ventures SGR (recalled Cdp Venture Capital SGR) and its funds, and has to provide additional resources at least equal to the amount of public resources already managed by Invitalia Ventures SGR.

Currently, there are three funds managed by Invitalia Ventures SGR:

  • Italia Venture I – € 86,65 million
  • Italia Venture II – € 150 million
  • Italia Venture III – € 200 million

On the base of the above, the National Innovation Fund will be created, with an initial allocation of resources of approx. € 1 billion.

With regard to the investment strategy, the National Innovation Fund will invest:

  • in venture capital funds, through indirect investments;
  • in innovative start-ups and SMEs, through direct investments;
  • from Seed to expansion stages;
  • in strategic industries like: deep tech, AI, blockchain, new materials, space, healthcare, ecoindustries, agritech/foodtech, mobility, fintech, design/made in Italy and social impact.

Discussions and debate about the exact amount of the National Innovation Fund’s available resources and operating procedures are still ongoing.

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SOURCES:

You can find the Ministerial Decree Law of 27thJune 2019 (in Italian) at the following link: https://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/gu/2019/07/29/176/sg/pdf

The 2019 Budget Law (in Italian) at the following link: https://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/gu/2018/12/31/302/so/62/sg/pdf

Info on the National Innovation Fund (in Italian) at the following link: https://www.mise.gov.it/index.php/it/incentivi/impresa/fondo-nazionale-innovazione