It is already apparent to many that the term startup risks creating many misunderstandings. The majority of innovations proposed by startuppers are, in fact, often – and in the best cases – new “features” of already existing products; more rarely are they totally new products; they are almost never companies in the true sense of the word. This distribution of frequency is not a problem in and of itself. To the contrary. It must be know and considered, however, the fact that in the world of innovation many types of ecosystems exist, among which territorial ones, sectorial ones, and business ones.
In short, the majority of innovative actions have value if – and only if – the “plug in” perspective of the startup is adopted (not necessarily an entirely new enterprise) whether they are big, medium, or small.
Furthermore, this perspective is coherent with what has become the dominant logic of experimentation and of strategic ecosystems, which has incumbent companies oriented towards growth according to structured models of collaboration and “collective development” within an ecosystem of various actors, with startuppers at the head.
In these ecosystems, each player has his role with specific tasks, responsibilities, and goals, but it is all oriented towards a fluid passage of knowledge and value between the actors, creating a morphology that increasingly evolves according to the characters of a guiding enterprise.
Such a process within the Italian reality – characterized by the high number of small and medium sized businesses, the existence of industrial areas and big companies that still work with a large network of smaller entities – becomes decisive and can represent a true source of competitive advantages for Italy.
So, it is not just necessary to support startups that are aspiring to become big companies, but, increasingly, those that – once their technology and value proposition is ready – can offer an exit in plug-in format, which supports a territorial or sectorial industrial ecosystem.
There is a dual utility in this process: for the startup, this means acquiring resources in little time, both economically and in competencies, often complementary (typically commercial and managerial, lacking in founder teams) and fundamental for making the jump in quality for the execution; on the other side, for companies that connect with startups it means an increase in their development options portfolio or directly with the offer portfolio, regenerating the business model or increasing the added value.
According to a recent declaration by Franck Cohen (President Sap EMEA), the strength of the Italian industrial system resides in its small enterprises, which, thanks to their dynamism, represent an important source of innovation for big companies. It is desirable, therefore, that the force of startups is united with that of the small businesses, and, successively, with medium and big ones.
In the face of almost two thousand startups and twenty-one certified incubators (effective startups are at least triple this amount) there are still only a few events for interconnection with the world of companies. In the meantime, some big players have already organized their own corporate entrepreneurship programs (Wind Business Factor, Working Capital di Telecom and ENEL Lab).
The entire world of small and medium sized businesses is still far from the acquiring system that nourishes the innovative and plug-in process.
The European Union has set up a program of support to improve relations between startups and industrial systems. This European program was created to favor the development of an ecosystem of actors that operate in the world of startups in highly innovative technology: a bridge between the world of startups and that of big enterprises (both European and international). The model functions only if the confines of a single state are abandoned and a global perspective is taken: a system where one is born locally but grows globally.
The world of Italian startups is still a world being form: there are the actors but they are still disconnected from each other. The majority of startups are still in an early stage of development or in incubation.
So, this, therefore, is the moment to accelerate the creation of events and occasions for connections between incumbent enterprises and startups. The first ones are to dig out; the second ones need to be “instructed” not to only dream of IPO’s but also an honest – and sometimes very profitable – unification with already existing businesses.
A recent study revealed that organizations that develop an internal venture capital program have a higher possibility of improved performance in terms of research and development activities as opposed to their competitors (Benson and Ziedonis, 2008). This is due to the fact that through a corporate venture system specific competencies and know-how are selected and are ready (or almost) to be absorbed by the company.
The successive step regards the strategic decision of acquiring entirely a startup or continuing a relationship between the two subjects as in a partnership, imagining, for example, the creation of a network of enterprises or other forms of structured collaboration.
In conclusion, a quote from a recent declaration by Italian senator and professorElena Cattaneo: “In the years of shared science, the human capital is the true wealth”, to which it must be added a relational capital, but, above all, the capacity to overcome mental boundaries and closures and to opt for collaborative models and networks.
Benson, D., & Ziedonis, R. H. (2009). Corporate venture capital as a window on new technologies: implications for the performance of corporate investors when acquiring startups. Organization Science, 20(2), 329-351.
Englis, P. D., Wakkee, I., & Van Der Sijde, P. (2007). Knowledge and networks in the global startup process. International Journal of Knowledge Management Studies, 1(3), 497-514.