For Jewish philosopher Moses Hess, Rome and Jerusalem just didn’t mix. But Hess might think again if he were around today, because there are many people on both sides of the Mediterranean who believe in a strong, robust Israel-Italy partnership – especially when it comes to high-tech.
To that end, the Italian Trade Promotion Agency, an Italian government group, along with the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce and a slew of banks, government agencies, and start-ups, converged last month for the first-ever Italian start-up event in Israel, “Italian Innovation In The Start-Up Nation.” Attending were dozens of Israeli investors and entrepreneurs, all looking for business opportunities in what is emerging as the start-up powerhouse of southern Europe, said Ronni Benatoff, chairman of the Israel-Italy Chamber of Commerce.
It turns out that Italy is a hotbed of tech innovation – not quite on the scale of Israel, and without the “hype” of the Start-Up Nation, said Benatoff – but Italy has the most active tech scene in southern Europe, he said. “Until now, traffic in tech was one way, from Israel to Italy,” said Benatoff. “This event marks the beginning of two-way traffic, with Israeli companies coming to Italy for technology as well.”
Partnerships need to be a two-way street, of course. The fact that the Italians schlepped out to Tel Aviv for a major show — the first tech show Italy has ever sponsored here — shows that Rome appreciates the contribution that Israel can make to Italian tech companies. But what’s in it for Israeli companies, especially considering that nearly every country in Europe is touting itself as a destination for Israeli tech companies?
Plenty, said Benatoff. “Italy is a crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and offers access to markets that Israeli companies might not be able to reach,” Benatoff said. Perhaps more importantly, working with Italian companies gives Israeli start-ups an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, instead of becoming an adjunct to an existing sales or marketing effort. “Most Italian tech companies are very young, and concentrate on the local market,” Benatoff said, although they would very much like to sell abroad as well. Companies from Israel and Italy that work together will be able to develop markets together, giving both an equal opportunity to succeed.
But perhaps more than the technology itself, Italy is looking to catch some of Israel’s “start-up spirt,” said Benatoff. “The government recently passed new laws that make it easier for small start-ups to succeed,” with funding efforts, incubators, and a rewrite of some labor laws in order to encourage entrepreneurship. “There are now tax breaks, and new laws that make it easier to hire or fire people outside the framework of the unions,” Benatoff said, changes that create a more hospitable environment for start-ups.
The conference featured presentations by Israeli and Italian tech experts and officials, including Italian Science Minister Francesco Profumo, who discussed the high-tech scene in Italy. Over a dozen Italian start-ups made presentations at the event, with companies involved in everything from education to social media monitoring to an app that compares prices at the supermarket. Unlike Israel, which has a wide range of tech start-ups working in many different areas, Italy’s start-ups are concentrated in the web space — but that’s something Italy hopes to change as cooperation with Israeli companies working in many different fields grows, said Benatoff.
“The conference exposes to the Israeli tech and investment community the activities of new Italian start-ups,” said Benatoff. “We are strong believers in economic cooperation between the countries, especially in technology. We believe that both sides will benefit.”