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Transforming Italy Into A Startup Hub

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Any plan to transform an entire country into a thriving startup ecosystem is a lofty goal for a mere mortal. Despite that, Fernando Napolitano has set out to do just that.

Fernando organized a conference in Rome that took place this last Friday. This one-day event was a call to the government, captains of industry, academia and entrepreneurs to come together to transform Italy in three years. While the mission seems daunting, he garnered support from many of Italy’s most prominent leaders. Through the course of a single track of speakers and panels he brought four ministers of the Italian government (Trade, Education, Foreign Affairs, etc.), the CEOs of the eight largest corporations in Italy (AlItalia, Enel, MediaSet and others), Presidents of Universities and the US Ambassador to Italy.

My role in the day’s events was to speak about how community is a key ingredient of a startup ecosystem. Drawing on my experiences with the Columbia Venture Community, the New York Venture Community and what we’re doing at Kohort, I tried to impart two bits of wisdom:

  1. Communities are essential as they provide peer education and they help would-be entrepreneurs overcome their fears of taking risk. 
  2. Communities need to be built by entrepreneurs.

While it seemed everyone in attendance was excited about the mission and the massive support that the event garnered, there were a few folks at the event who expressed their skepticism about the viability of such radical change.

While I suspect that Rome will not transform into Silicon Valley over night, Fernando is already having an impact. Through his Fulbright BEST program, he has already incubated several dozen startups.

The skepticism is not unfounded, however. In order to change an entire country it will take the effort of more than a few. But, if other people stand up and follow the lead of Fernando, change can happen.

If you’re reading this and want to stand up and help carry this mantle, let me know – Fernando and I are working on parallel paths.  It is my hope to spread the model we built for the Columbia Venture Community and the New York Venture Community to every university and region that will take it (including those in Italy).

If we act, we can drive change. Don’t be afraid.

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