Spogli, a Californian, was U.S. Ambassador to Italy when, in 2007, he conceived Partnership for Growth, a program whose goal was to spark virtuous collaboration between Italy and the United States on innovation. Visiting the main hubs of American hi-tech was one of the indispensable elements to make that goal a reality. A mission that would lead, some time later, to the birth of IAG, thanks to the audacity of nine angel investing pioneers who decided to invest their capital and, above all, their time, to create a reality that could support innovative entrepreneurs in our country. Fifteen years later, IAG, with its Managing Director, Leonardo Giagnoni, met with Ambassador Spogli. To remember the past and look to the future, once again, with the watchful eye of a great leader.
Ambassador, 15 years ago, you were credited with bringing together visionary and passionate men, stimulating the birth of the Italian venture capital ecosystem. Can you tell us what that journey meant to you?
"Let me first of all say one thing: bravo! Fifteen years seems like a long time, but it is a short time. And in that short time, you have come a long way. So, congratulations. I, as you know, am a businessman lent to diplomacy. When I arrived, I quickly realized how urgent it was to activate a program that was geared toward Italy's technological growth. So, Partnership for Growth was born, with which I had three objectives: to stimulate young people so that they would feel entitled to make an important contribution to the business world, to strengthen relations between Italy and the United States, and to boost the growth of the Italian economy. Venture capital could be the engine of all this. Thus began my, indeed our, journey. It was a very stimulating and purposeful exchange experience, during which the nine participants had the opportunity to meet their American colleagues and understand how to bring VC to Italy as well."
In these 15 years, IAG has gone through various evolutions of our country's VC, achieving remarkable milestones: over 550 angels involved, over 110 investments made, over €50 €M invested and an additional €500 €M raised by our startups, 4 operating offices in Italy to be closer to our members and entrepreneurs, and a key role in major international business angel networks such as Business Angels Europe and Mediterranean Angels. Now, the Italian venture ecosystem is growing at a rate of more than 50 percent every year: do you think we should still learn from more evolved ecosystems, or will Italian venture have to focus on our country's strengths?
"Venture capital has many facets, and we should exploit them all: what exists in Italy should be enhanced, as well as what happens abroad. Working in VC, means being immersed in a context of constant learning, understanding new trends and using new tools, to create value and opportunities in the country."
You who saw the birth of IAG, something we will always thank you for, what do you wish for IAG and the Italian venture ecosystem for the next 15 years?
"It has always been my wish for Italy to have an evolved VC, capable of acting as a growth factor for the country. These last 30 years have been difficult for Italy, which has grown less than the European average, but I am convinced that technology and innovation can be the best tools to turn the outlook around. And beware this is not an optional choice, it is not an option that we can shy away from; it is essential that the country move in this direction. I hope, therefore, that you at IAG will continue in this way, understanding the tools and trends to enhance VC and generate value from it. IAG has already started on a very good path, now it is time to consolidate and strengthen it, day by day."