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Milan – Italy's top startup hub? Written by Emil Abirascid on 30. January 2013


We know Italy more for Berlusconi’s scandals than a flourishing startup scene. But the past 12 months have seen something stir in the loins of the Mediterranean. After Glancee’s high-profile acquisition by Facebook and a TechCrunch Italy in Rome last year, the world’s media is starting to take note.
But what of its famously decentralised political structure, and subsequent territorialism? Every country needs a focal point, a startup hub for young hopefuls to gravitate towards. So which Italian city will take the crown? Here Emil Abirascid, prominent business writer and entrepreneur argues that Milan is primed to strut the startup catwalk…
Fashion, design, style and startups. Milan is rapidly transforming itself into an emerging startup hub for innovative companies in Southern Europe and acting as a vital bridge to the Mediterranean area.
The economical and financial capital of Italy is stepping into the global startup scene and positioning itself as the place where high quality of life and business opportunities meets young and innovative entrepreneurs.
In many ways, Milan is pulsating with innovation. Entrepreneurs and startups gather regularly at business competitions, informal meetups and Startup Weekends. The next Startup Weekend in the city, which is scheduled for 1-3 February, will be one of the biggest ones to take place in Italy.

Milan – “Capital City of Startups”?

Co-working spaces are playing a key role in the scene. Talent Garden, which opened last December, is a lively space that is gradually becoming the headquarter of Milan’s startup community. It occupies an entire building of more than 3,000 square metres has over 250 desks for startups, innovators, designers and creative freelancers. The space is an ecosystem in itself and has become a home to several startups including Cibando, Yoodeal, Tannico, Vivocha, BadSeed, Nuvolab, Joinpad and many others.
Institutions are also playing their part: the EU selected Milan to be the headquarters of the new Euro-Mediterranean Centre for the Development of Micro-Enterprises and SMEs (EMDC). Furthermore, on 21 December 2012, the city government with the Chamber of Commerce presented a document named ‘Milano Capitale delle Startup’ (Milan Capital City for startups) that was produced by a steering committee of ten experts [the author of this article was one of them]. It contains a series of proposals to transform Milan into a financial, industrial and international hub in Italy and aims to support the development of the startup ecosystem (the document is available in Italian here).

Industry, finance and internationalisation

The city is also the home of Smau, a well-known technology trade show. Last October, the event hosted more than 100 startups, gave them free booths and presented them with the opportunity to meet potential financial and industrial partners.
Industry, finance and internationalisation are the keywords behind Milan’s startup scene. The density of industries and companies is high in the city and many Italian multinationals opened branch offices here. In addition, several financial institutions, including major banks, the stock exchange venture capital firms, seed funds, and business angels networks, are headquartered in Milan.
Geographically, the city is easily accessible from Europe, the Mediterranean area and the rest of world. There are three international airports, bullet trains to all major cities in Italy and the city is about an hour’s drive from the Swiss border.

If you’re an Italian startup you need to move to Milan

Milan has all the key ingredients for a thriving startup scene. While there are innovative startups flourishing around the country – it’s important to note that startups that need direct contact to industrial, financial and international markets must move to Milan.
There are several startups founded in Milan that have expanded internationally and have achieved exits in the US or the UK. Many of them continue to keep their research and development departments in the city, such as Neptuny, Fluidmesh and Jobrapido. Meanwhile, startups from abroad – such as Airbnb, 99designs, Twago and Uber to name a few – are also are coming to Milan in hopes of conquering the Italian market.
Personally, I recently welcomed entrepreneurs and investors from the US, UK, Spain, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Lebanon and Jordan. All of them came to Milan to learn more about Milan’s up-and-coming startup scene and to contribute to conferences and events held in the city.

The Italian “startup bill” aimed to help small companies

The question remains: Is all of this enough for a vibrant, unique and international startup hub? Though Milan is not yet like London or Berlin, it will be very soon.
Thousands of smart people are working on building Milan into a hot startup hub on the world stage. The “startup bill”, which was approved by the Italian Government last December, will help. The fact that Milan is in the middle of one of the most productive and entrepreneurial areas in the EU will help. The fact that the city has one of the highest number of foreign consulates in the world (just after New York City) will also help. Seeing software developers coming from different countries of the world choosing to work in Milan due to high levels of competencies and professionalism – is very high.
Milan is in the race to becoming a startup star on the worldwide stage. Some people have noticed the city’s potential and have already started to invest in the city (even Startup Genome put Milan on its map of worldwide startup ecosystems). Maybe it’s time to book a flight to check out Milan for yourself.
Image credit: flickr user bibendum84

For related posts, check out:

The Startup Genome report: London has trendsetters, Paris has talent and Berlin has hype (and the fewest female entrepreneurs)… launches beyond Berlin, aims to map startup scenes worldwide
“Krakow is to Berlin what yin is to yang” – inside Poland’s tech talent stronghold