Editorial Credit: Bakhtiar Zein / Shutterstock.com
Most people know Italy for its pizza, beautiful mountains, and boot-like shape. Many don’t know that the Italian economy is the 3rd-largest in the European Union and the 8th-largest by nominal GDP in the world. Despite these impressive facts, it is, at times, hard to start up a new business in Italy. The fiscal system is not very transparent, companies rarely understand their annual tax liability, and taxes are high, which makes the landscape even less appealing.
Additionally, the boundless bureaucratic procedures required when hiring, buying, renting and investing, slows down or prohibits dynamic domestic and foreign investment within the country. In 2019, Italian Venture Capital has been able to attract a paltry €500 million, just the tenth-most across all of Europe. Plus, in terms of the number of women entrepreneurs who receive funding, Italy ranks last on the European benchmark of venture capital investment funds allocated to female-founded companies.
Despite these obstacles, there are many female founders in Italy striving to build startups and scale them to succeed. We’ve highlighted three female founders to watch in Italy to share how women that belong to different generations, backgrounds, and cultures are creating unique products and services that have positive impacts on the Italian market.
Cristina Pozzi, CEO and founder of Impactscool, is also the Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and was a protagonist of one of the most important exits in Italy in the last 10 years. In 2016 she sold Wish Days, a holding company that she co-founded and led to success alongside extraordinary co-founder Andrea Dusi, to Smartbox.
A few months later,in 2017, she founded Impactscool with Andrea. A play on words (impact is cool), the startup is innovating the way we learn and teach about the future.
What makes Impactscool so disruptive is the awareness that having a positive impact through knowledge, network, discussion and collaboration is mandatory for current and future decision makers and global leaders.
“Our world is getting over complex and over connected day-by-day and the relevant need for having aware and prepared leadership for managing such a future is growing globally,” Pozzi said “From making human life on Earth more sustainable to leveraging technology for improving critical situations: a deep knowledge in robotics, artificial intelligence, technological innovations and how to manage them is becoming more and more fundamental.”
This was, and continues to be, the fundamental conviction from which Cristina and her team were driven to build the business. While she was starting Impactscool, she was inspired by the UNESCO vision on the key skill for the 21st century: Futures Literacy, which means alphabetization on all the ways futures will spread their power. Christina focused on understanding the role that the vision of the future has on individuals and organizations.
But how does Impactscool imprint knowledge on the future concretely?
Cristina started by designing an effective way to promote the study of emerging technologies with activities in schools, universities, companies and institutions both online and offline while targeting young folks and decision makers.
“Young people are our future: nowadays when society is changing as their main actors, schools and companies need technological tools and a new lens through which to interpret and understand them in order to interact with the new reality of these younger generations,” Christina said “On one hand we bring knowledge and reflection regarding new technologies and their critical role in this new reality, while on the other, we deliver the concrete technical tools and methodologies. The result is better informed leadership equipped with concrete knowledge.”
Manager entrepreneurs, and business decision are not excluded from the Impactscool offer:
“We launched the project “future immersion” to provide companies and managers with tools that enable a mindset and therefore a culture to learn how to embrace change while also sharpening the approach to a highly uncertain world,” Christina said.
I first met Giada hosting a #GirlsPower event for the Italian startup ecosystem. I was looking for a smart young woman who could represent diversity, audacity and help desensitize the audience to unconscious bias against women entrepreneurs. That event was remarkable because we could really link diversity and inclusion management with a direct impact on business, especially when Giada brought her personal story to the table.
“When I was a kid, I thought my diversity was a weakness,” she said. “At the age of 10, I spoke 4 languages, but I didn’t feel 100% fluent in any of them. As the first almond-shaped-eye kid in my town in Italy, I had difficulties finding a place in the world to call home. Today, as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that we need to understand the type of leader we are, so that we can adjust our strengths and weaknesses to help the team.”
Before founding Mulan Group, she worked for well-known consulting and financial companies including McKinsey & Co., JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs as summer internships. These experiences accelerated her drive and ambition to feel more included, to be heard and to do something impactful.
So in 2018, with a new-found sense of determination, she thought about developing a traditional Chinese culture into a profitable business:
“It was from a desire to uphold the Chinese food recipes that our business Mulan was born. For us, the innovation is in the handmade production that blends the authenticity of a home-cooked meal with the legacy of tradition. It was the love for oriental cuisine and the dream to transform the consumption of Asian food into something more authentic: a world of stories, traditions, knowledge and flavours. Mulan extended our family traditions of bringing Chinese flavours to the table.”
Since then, Giada has shown a determination in upholding good quality and freshness of the food at high volumes. Starting from traditional recipes, Giada and her family decided to create a powerful widespread distribution strategy that could bring Mulan food to big and medium-sized cities such as Milan, Bologna, and Rome, as well as to some small villages in Italy.
I cannot avoid mentioning that the brand has been inspired by the well-known warrior Mulan: being a female founder also means fighting hard.
Francesca’s mission is to foster youth employment and develop the potential of young people and businesses through digital skills. This was the impetus for her to leave a long-standing career in HR to build DigitAlly. The effort to help young talents get closer to the Italian labor market has sped up the entry of young talent into work-force.
As a matter of fact, she spent more than 15 years working within large and structured organizations that helped her understand and analyze the obstacles and biases that limit how to best match key talent to the right employer. She was impressed in learning that having a fit with the corporate culture of any organization is fundamental for talents in order to lead projects and succeed. She saw that many talented people need to stretch their soft skills while upholding technical capabilities in order to be selected and to learn how to excel in a specific place.
From this self-awareness came one of the pillars of her company:
“These capabilities are not only relegated to digital and technical skills but also those human, soft skills that DigitAlly refers to as: ‘super skills.’ Super skills allow you to be more confident, and to know what you want in order to successfully achieve your goals through collaboration with others. I believe that each of us has a lot of unique talent.”
“In fact, our society tends to focus on areas of weakness and only where we can improve but at DigitAlly, we focus on student strengths and we value every individual quality. Combining the digital skills used by companies, with our innate ability to bring out one’s best, students who attend our programs have more placement opportunities. To date, 94% of those who attend our course have attained high-quality internship opportunities and half of them have been hired full-time by their respective companies.”
Francesca has the attitude to strive to inspire her team and talented candidates that are living the DigitAlly experience: “I am motivated to help young people find a satisfying job or career opportunity while also enabling entrepreneurs to digitalize their business. In Italy there is a significant mismatch between skills and job opportunities: I feel satisfied each and every time I am able to close this gap through an application of the appropriate learning experience combined with the right amount of digital tools necessary.”
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