Mr.Wcap: Salvo Mizzi, the man of the startups

A Q&A of 26 essential questions to Salvo Mizzi, creator of Working Capital, the project of Telecom Italy that deals with talent scouting and support to startup. We interviewed him on the day of launch of the three accelerators of Rome, Milan and Catania.

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They call him the Working Capital Man. A greying Sicilian who nearly always wears a distinctive white shirt. He began working for Telecom Italia in 2007 as a digital services and digital communication manager. Most importantly, in 2009, he created Working Capital, a project that scouts for talent and assists startups which now ranks among the leading innovation communities in Italy. As of last year, he has handled the Social Network for the Telecom Italia Consumer board and the Telecom Italia Corporate Fellowship programme for the Kauffman Society of Stanford University, the largest international programme of its kind dedicated to the culture and financing of innovation, global networking, and the creation of new technological businesses.

What is your name?
Salvo Mizzi.

Where were you born?
Catania.

What did you study, and where?
I studied Philosophy in Naples.

What was your first job?
An editor of Anglo-American literature.

How did you come to work for Telecom?
I started up the very first Italian web TV, My-Tv. Telecom Italia was my main advertiser; when we sold My-Tv, they asked me to handle the Internet side of the business.

How would you define your work, and what is Working Capital?
Working Capital is the best way to innovate, using and combining new and old tools in an original manner. It was – and continues to be – the best innovation project in Italy. It was the first to be launched in 2009, when the concept of startup was relatively unheard of and not mainstream as it is today. Working Capital is the accelerator of Telecom Italia that scouts for talent, innovative projects and green digital startup businesses. For Telecom Italia, it is an open innovation project on the one hand, and an assistance service for the Italian eco-system of innovation on the other hand. I handle the digital media and innovation.

What changes with these new venues in Rome, Catania and Milan?
Everything. In order to help bring together startuppers, investors and communities nationwide, we have opened the doors of three new accelerators at the nerve points of Italian digital innovation: Milan, Rome and Catania. The purpose of the programme is to help create a strong innovation system that is present nationwide. With three houses for talent and startuppers, we can extend our family even further.

How many startups will you welcome at each venue?
About ten per venue. The premises in Rome are located in Via Santa Maria and entrusted to Iquii, a mobile social startup run by Fabio Lalli and Lorenzo Sfienti. In Milan, we are near the Lambrate station, where the operations are coordinated by Gianluca Dettori and Franco Gonella of the venture capital fund Dpixel. In Catania is StartupCT, a hub that brings together innovation companies and associations in Sicily, run by Antonio Perdichizzi, Peppe Sirchia and Mario Scuderi.

What are the next accelerators in the pipeline?
We haven’t decided yet, but we will soon, because we want to continue to develop and offer the country new opportunities. In all probability, we will look more to suburban areas and not necessarily to large cities.

What does it mean to be one of the few Italians taking part in the Fellowship programme of the Kauffman Foundation of Stanford University?
It is very important to have an international network, and it makes all the difference.

What is it over there that is missing in Italy?
Abroad, there is trust, determination and ambition. It exists here in Italy, too, but we need, say, at least about 70% more of it.

How many startup businesses have you made possible and assisted with WC?
I would say about 80.

How much has been invested?
We have invested about 2 million Euros directly; we have also succeeded in investing the resources of other partners (Venture Capitalists, incubators, institutions) in our startups, to the tune of about 3 million. A good budget, wouldn’t you say?

What is Telecom’s logic, why is it investing in new companies?
It wants to innovate and change, to be in sync with the international market, improve itself and accelerate our time to market.

How would you describe the relationship between Working Capital and Kauffman?
It’s a fellowship! It is a life-long partnership. This year, too, we launched the Repository, a platform developed together with Kauffman that makes projects available for consultation to national and international investors; it is a sort of startup database.

Why is it a good idea to have a startup today?
An idea is a good one if it is original. If you are simply following the current trends, you might as well not bother. The great ideas of today and tomorrow should be unexpected, ambitious and able to bend the rules of the game: for their sake, for the sake of our country, and for encouraging growth. If whoever reads this believes he has the intellectual courage, we would like to welcome him.

What is the startup you wish you had created?
That remains to be seen.

The three key aspects of a successful startup.
Intuition, determination, team-work.

How do you see the eco-system of innovation in Italy, what is changing?
It improves trust and increases the quality of teams, and share-holders take heart. A new policy is needed, however, that has greater scope and embraces the future. We wait and hope.

Which would you say is the most innovative and attentive city in Italy?
There are at least three or four. No one is better than the others.

What would you say to a disheartened young person?
I would quote the wise words of John Cage which we chose for Working Capital 2013: “Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.”

What do you repeat to yourself in moments of difficulty?
“OK”.

What book are you currently reading?
“Tomorrow in the battle think on me” by Javier Marìas.

Who do you follow on Twitter?
Whoever tweets left-handed.

Do you have a passion?
Serving my country, letting it grow, feeling it move.

How do you see WC in five years’ time?
We need to strive for perfection. In five years’ time, Working Capital will be almost perfect. Almost.