Intesa Sanpaolo supports the growth of innovative start-ups with Up2Stars

The image that accompanies the news on the second edition of Up2Stars, an accelerator program for innovative startups, portrays a group of smiling young men and women, dressed informally and gathered together around a work table on which a laptop, a pen holder, documents, a lamp and a glass of water

Intesa Sanpaolo is launching the second edition of Up2Stars, a development and acceleration programme for innovative start-ups in Italy that supports the competitiveness of the Italian entrepreneurial system by leveraging innovation and research applied to business, generating new jobs and creating new business opportunities.

The themes of the four calls to which start-ups can apply relate to four strategic, high-impact sectors for the country's economy, in which a growing innovative component is required in terms of ideas, projects and technological skills:

  • WaterTech
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • Artificial intelligence for business transformation
  • IoT - infrastructure and mobility

A maximum of ten start-ups – 40 in total – will be selected for each call and will have access to the acceleration programme provided by partner Gellify, with the opportunity to meet and network with coaches, mentors, investors and mature companies.

Conceived with Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center, this year the Up2Stars programme extends its collaboration to National Research Centres and Extended Partnerships, and dedicates space to internationalisation thanks to collaboration with the Italian Innovation Centre in San Francisco, established at INNOVIT.

Interested start-up companies can apply from 8 May to 11 June 2023.

The first edition of Up2Stars saw over 600 start-ups apply.

The innovation ecosystem in Italy: where are we?

(by Intesa Sanpaolo Research Department and Trends and Technologies of Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center)

Although Italy is not high in international rankings on innovation and digitalisation, falling below the European average, nevertheless the Italian innovation ecosystem is showing increasing dynamism. According to the European Innovation Scoreboard 20221 Italy ranks among the countries that are considered only "moderately innovative", right after Estonia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. At the top of the leading countries in innovation processes are the Northern European nations, followed by the "intense innovator" countries of Ireland, Austria, Germany, France, Cyprus and Luxembourg. When analysing the European Commission's DESI (Digital Economy and Society Index), which focuses on the digitalisation process of an economy, Italy also ranks 18th, below the European average.

In particular, Italy lags behind in terms of skills: the share of people with tertiary education of the total labour force is 12.4% (2017-2021 average), about 6 percentage points lower than in the European Union. The figure for people employed in science and technology also confirms Italy's disadvantage, with a share of 18.4% of the total workforce, compared to a European figure of around 23%. Italy also shows a gap in terms of R&D investment compared to its main European competitors. Over the period 2017-2021, the ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP in Italy stood at 1.4%, against a European average of 2.2% and Germany's 3.1%. The Italian gap is mainly related to a lower investment intensity of the private sector at 0.9% compared to 1.5% in the European Union.

In recent years, however, Italy has seen an acceleration of investments in digital and new technologies (ICT hardware, software, R&D) to support process of renewal of the production system, promote the digitalisation of the entire economic and social system and, finally, introduce new business models. The evolution of digital investments was more intense than that observed for total investments: in 2022, digital assets were 35% higher than in 2012 – better than observed at the overall level. While the share of digital investments accounted for 15% of total investments in the period 2002-2012, it reached 21% in the following decade, confirming the growing relevance of these assets as a strategic development lever.

The vitality that emerged when analysing the data on digital investments can also be found in the world of innovative start-ups, new companies with high technological content and strong growth potential. According to data from the Chamber of Commerce Registry, which collects information on innovative start-ups from 2012 onwards, at the end of 2022 there were over 17,000 innovative start-ups and SMEs registered in this registry, showing an acceleration of new entrants, above all in recent years. These companies specialise mainly in IT and software services and are active in a wide variety of fields, ranging from health to Industry and Agriculture 4.0, culture and tourism, education, gaming, fintech and professional services in the legal, accounting and/or insurance fields. These are small to very small enterprises, which need to be supported to grow and enter the scale-up phase. Such growth support is now extremely intense in Italy, in terms of both venture capital and of local accelerators and incubators. Venture capital investments in innovative start-ups and SMEs grew from €1.1B in 2021 to €1.94B in 2022 – a record year for the sector. Specifically, corporate venture capital investments, which have been growing in recent years, are proving to offer significant added value. About one-third of innovative start-ups and SMEs are invested in by corporate venture capital: 5,300 companies (31.2% of the 17,000 innovative companies), generating €4.3 billion in revenues. Innovative start-ups and SMEs invested in by CVC are growing more than total innovative enterprises, in both number (+12.4% vs. +6.4%) and turnover (+23% vs. +4.8%). Support from accelerators and incubators is also growing: at the end of 2022 there were 237 incubators and accelerators in Italy, compared to 212 in 2020. Initiatives such as Up2Stars, which Intesa Sanpaolo organised in 2022, foster this growth process, by supporting the most innovative players in sectors with strong development potential, thus helping promote a vibrant innovation ecosystem in Italy.

1. An index measuring the degree of innovation in a country by analysing more than 30 indicators

The partners

In addition to the partners who already contributed to the first edition, such as Microsoft, Elite and Cisco, the new edition of Up2Stars sees the expansion of partnerships and the network of collaborations with the involvement, in addition to organisations from academic and business, of National Research Centres – in which Intesa Sanpaolo participates as a founding partner – Extended Partnerships and the nine European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs), in view of applying the aims set out in the NRPP. Within the Up2Stars programme, in particular, the Research Centre dedicated to sustainable mobility, led by Politecnico di Milano, the Research Centre dedicated to quantum computing, led by Università di Bologna, the Research Centre dedicated to Agritech, led by Università Federico II of Naples, and the Nest partnership led by Politecnico di Bari and dedicated to new energy technologies, will be active partners in the selection of start-ups, in relation to specific topics of interest.

Another new development concerns the collaboration with the Italian Innovation Centre in San Francisco, set up at the INNOVIT Italian Innovation and Culture Hub, a project promoted by the General Directorate for the Country System of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in collaboration with the Italian Embassy in Washington and the Consulate General in San Francisco and managed with the support of ICE and the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco. The activity will be managed through the Brodolini Foundation and Entopan Innovation, together partner and manager of the Innovation Centre. Finally, new partners for the 2023 edition also include Digit'Ed, a company specialising in higher education and digital learning.