Startup accelerators are among the most popular approaches to open innovation. For startups, accelerators can be a gateway to future customers and networking opportunities. For companies, they can represent a way of testing collaboration through PoCs and pilots.
Since its launch in 2020, CRIF InnovEcos has been connecting startups, colleagues and clients to foster innovation and growth. We have seen firsthand the critical role of Open Innovation models in a successful strategy.
In the last two years, we have co-managed CRIF's acceleration program, I-Tech Innovation, powered by the Italian incubator G-Factor, in partnership with Fondazione Golinelli. The project is based on 3 Calls for Innovation in the Life Science & Digital Health, FinTech & InsurTech and AgriTech & FoodTech segments. Besides, this year’s edition adds 2 Calls for Plug In in two disruptive areas: Industry 4.0, Big Data processing-HPC & Applied Artificial Intelligence, and Social Impact. This year’s investment consists of 1.500.000 €, that will be divided among the 10 startups’ batch.
In this article, we ask the FinTech & AgriTech founders from our 2022/23 cohort about their experiences and tips on surviving economic uncertainties.
How did your startup come about?
Andrea Danielli / Mopso: I met my co-founder, Enrico Fagnoni, through the Copernican Association, a group of technology enthusiasts and innovation policy experts. Enrico had developed state budget visualization solutions in-house, and I was president of the Association. As we got to know each other better, we realized that Enrico's expertise could solve problems I had encountered in my work.
Simone Kartsiotis / Agrobit: In early 2017, I was looking for an agronomist to start a business project related to using drones as a monitoring tool in agriculture. So, I started sending emails to agronomists in Florence and that is how I met Niccolò Bartoloni, who was eager to create something new and innovative. We began organizing training for Tuscan wineries until we met Andrea Cruciani of Agricolus, and together we launched Agrobit.
Federico Monti / Notarify: Notarify came about because of an absurd situation. When in court over a contract dispute, I discovered that the other party had doctored the contract, removing a significant clause. The judge asked for the original version, but anything digital is usually an easily modified clone with no evidentiary value. That is how I got the idea to create a solution that, using Blockchain, can turn something that is digital into a "digital original". That’s why I founded Notarify.
What advice do you have for other founders thinking about raising finance during an economic crisis and difficult situation for the markets?
Andrea Danielli / Mopso: Everyone suggests putting it off a year, but it depends to a significant extent on the target markets. In our market, losing a year means risking failure. Investors know that this is a time when the best deals can be made, as long as there is a clear and shared vision of the future and the ability to implement it.
Simone Kartsiotis / Agrobit: The best advice is always to pursue your entrepreneurial impulses, not suppress them, and persevere until you reach your goals. There are moments of discouragement and frustration (and plenty of them, too), but you should keep going and react positively to external inputs. Last but not least: get out of your comfort zone because that is where the best things happen.
Federico Monti / Notarify: a) Don't be afraid to ask and don't let the first rejections get you down. Always ask for feedback to understand what didn't work and improve your documentation and presentations. b) Look for important partners who will give solidity to your project at the cost of selling off some shares. Ask them to help you develop proofs of concept and pilots, in addition to the brand value, so that you can validate your solution and start/increase your turnover. In this way, they will help the company's valuation and give more confidence to investors. c) Look abroad, even if only to find a lead investor who will then encourage local angel investors or VCs to follow.
"Should I stay, or should I go?" What would you recommend to other founders thinking of expanding into new markets?
Andrea Danielli / Mopso: We are expanding in Luxembourg and approaching other markets with excellent growth potential in the Persian Gulf area. Going abroad is always good: you become aware of different dynamics, observe more innovative competitors and follow business trends more closely.
Simone Kartsiotis / Agrobit: I recommend first consolidating the domestic market to create a solid support base for overseas expansion. At the same time, try to attend as many international events as possible (pitch competitions, conferences, industry fairs, hackathons, etc.). These opportunities help prepare for the foreign market and allow you to get to know future competitors and partners.
Federico Monti / Notarify: I would stay, but I would aim to open other markets at the same time, such as Asia, where the crisis is not as widely felt, and there is more focus on innovation. I write these lines from Singapore, not surprisingly.
What strategies can founders adopt to overcome the current situation?
Andrea Danielli / Mopso: Quality, solidity and drive. In uncertain times, it is challenging for VCs to invest based on slides and friendly smiles. You need metrics, PoCs, pilots, and even to make mistakes to get onto the right development path: you need to be ready when the situation improves.
Simone Kartsiotis / Agrobit: Certainly, a beneficial strategy is to look for valuable partnerships as much as possible to expand your market and create new opportunities and synergies. Always looking around to anticipate demands and thoroughly understanding target customers' needs can also be very helpful in generating additional opportunities.
Federico Monti / Notarify: Founders should devote at least a few hours each day to raising finance, moving in parallel on several fronts to seize all possible opportunities. For example, keeping an eye on public calls (there are accessible services that flag them) and applications to "calls" from private companies interested in investing in startups.
About the Authors
InnovEcos is CRIF's Global Open Innovation Hub. Our mission is to guide the discovery of future business models and technological trends to innovate services, products and processes through research, experimentation and collaboration with startups. In the last two years, we have scouted +550 startups and run +18 PoCs and +7 pilots through our Venture Client Lab.
Mopso creates anti-money laundering software by researching pioneering algorithmic solutions to make combating financial crime more effective.
"Digital is Fragile." Notarify is the company that, through its platforms, solves this problem, providing help to any organization to certify and secure every piece of data, document, electronic signature and digital identity.
Agrobit's mission is to help farmers and field technicians to optimize agronomic practices. Through a holistic approach to agritech technologies, our solutions help achieve the environmental, social and economic sustainability goals required in agriculture.
This article is part of a series that aims to help startup founders and corporates to navigate and understand the value of open innovation and partnerships.