A wearable, independence-boosting device for the visually impaired; a pizza-ordering fridge magnet; an online auction of unsold luxury travel: just three of the ideas presented at Intesa Sanpaolo’s recent London StartUp Initiative.
Launching its new Innovation Centre in the city, the bank’s London hub brought together a selection of promising, Italian digital and Internet of Things-based startups and potential investors for a day of pitches, networking and one-to-one meetings.
It was, says Marco Longo, head of the London hub, an inspirational introduction to the possibilities of innovation. “I am really excited by the impact these ideas could have and by the response from our audience. We can create an environment where these skills can gain visibility, access capital and commercial markets and grow”.
Creating a specialist base for this work in London – one of Intesa Sanpaolo’s largest international hubs – is, he says, extremely important. “London has become the reference point for innovation, not only in generating ideas and investment within the UK, but as a shop window for the world”.
"An environment where digital skills can gain visibility, access capital and commercial markets and grow.”
Developing the present as a chance of interpreting the future
For Intesa Sanpaolo, says Longo, a commitment to innovation – “developing the present as a chance of interpreting the future”, to quote the bank’s introductory film – is a means not only of seeking new clients among the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and offering interesting investment opportunities for corporate and private banking clients. It is also a way of developing a distinctive identity within London’s competitive finance sector.
“So many elements of finance are commodities so it is difficult for a bank to distinguish itself”, it continues. “There will be significant returns”.
"the innovation centre will help us diversify, stand out and develop our reputation as a progressive, dynamic bank”. there will be significant returns”.
Interest among investors – from around the world – is extremely healthy, says Longo. “London is a competitive market with a well-developed network of opportunities. It weeds out many weaker initiatives. That makes good investment easier”.
For Italian businesses looking to expand into the UK – from emerging startups to well-established companies – London presents a challenge
“There is a special relationship between Italy and the UK”, he explains. “There are capital and market opportunities which the Italian economy needs to access and there are many Italians here in so many fields. But it is not easy to start in London. It is international, competitive and while the doors are open, you have to be very well prepared”.
Intesa Sanpaolo’s established UK relationships and knowledge, as well as distinctive and value-adding developments such as the new Innovation Centre, will strengthen the support it is able to offer clients coming to the UK, Longo believes.
Events such as the StartUp Initiative will be repeated but, most importantly, they will be backed up by further work. “We need to develop our efforts and scale up the results, creating the right commercial and financial conditions, being part of a network and expanding our focus”.
London’s reputation in the fintech sector is undisputed, says Mario Costantini, head of innovation research and acceleration at Intesa Sanpaolo, but he agrees that the potential of the Innovation Centre is much wider. It will help identify global developments (population, multiculturalism and sustainability, for instance) and key skills for the future (among them critical thinking and problem solving). “It is about opening doors”, he says.
This requires an open, international perspective. “We have startups we discovered in Tel Aviv, which have been accelerated here in London because the corporate and banking ecosystem supports them”, he says.
Crucial to developing effective innovation, he explains, is bringing people together. “It comes down to the face-to-face, to sitting around a table together. Today I have shaken many hands, met many individuals, maybe someone who has created something revolutionary. I have also spoken to investors who are keen to find out more. At the heart of innovation – indeed any type of business – is the need for meeting and exchange”.
Among the organisations working with the Innovation Centre are UK Trade and Investment, the Italian Chamber of Commerce, Imperial College and, in a new agreement, the university business incubator SETsquared.
Intesa Sanpaolo’s chief innovation officer, Maurizio Montagnese, is excited about the future of these relationships and those with the startups to which the bank is offering a London platform.
“We are supporting the best innovation worldwide for ourselves, for the Italian economy and for our clients. Helping them to grow is a fundamental part of the strategy for the growth of the group”, he explains. A venture capital fund with an allocation of up to €180m will allow the bank to invest directly in the most promising initiatives.
Mechatronics, nanotechnology and bio-medicines are just some of the UK sectors in which he sees ground-breaking development, he says. “There is a real effervescence around innovation here”.
The London Innovation Centre will work in close collaboration with that in Turin, Montagnese’s usual base. “Innovation is about networks and being in London helps us make that global”, he says.
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