March 23, 2022

The first steps of IAG and the entry of APG: interview with Luigi Capello and Roberto Magnifico

Italian Angels for Growth is the most important Italian Angel Group, active since 2007 in supporting the development of startups with high growth potential with method and professionalism.

This year the association celebrates 15 years since its birth. Let's find out more with Luigi Capello, one of the founding members of IAG as well as CEO of LVenture Group and Roberto Magnifico, IAG partner and former Chairman of Angel Partner Group, which merged with IAG in 2019.


Successful entrepreneur and business angel, you managed important private equity funds and in 2007 you co-founded IAG together with Luigi Amati, Marco Asquini, Enrico Castellano, Francesco Marini Clarelli, Lorenzo Franchini, Andrea Mandel Mantello, Antonio Sfiligoj, and Marco Villa. Can you tell us something about IAG's early years and your experience as an entrepreneur and investor?

IAG started in 2007, we were a small group of nine friends who were lucky enough to have different experiences together. It was the - then American ambassador to Italy (as well as venture capitalist from Los Angeles) - Ronald P. Spogli, who introduced us to the world of Venture Capital and, in particular, to the fundamental role of business angels: investors who combine their entrepreneurial experience with "smart money" for the development of startups in their early stages. The matching of this skill set, together with the capital, and the technological solutions launched by new entrepreneurs who are taking their first steps, is fundamental for the success of startups. The important thing, which I want to emphasize was part of the birth of IAG, is precisely the aspect of friendship that united us founding members. The many trips together, from China, to India, to the United States. This aspect undoubtedly united us, supporting an important phase of study and approach to the Venture Capital methodology, creating the conditions for the success of IAG. Another important thing that pushed us yesterday and continues to do so today, is the "give back" aspect. Being able to give back to the community not only through capital but also with mentorship and training to people who want to create a new business.

Founder and CEO of LVenture Group, VC holding company listed on the Italian Stock Exchange, and of its digital startup accelerator Luiss EnLabs. IAG together with LVenture identifies numerous digital opportunities in the seed phase. What did the strategic partnership with IAG mean for LVenture Group and how important is the collaboration between the various players in the innovation ecosystem?

For LVenture Group, investing in the initial stages (the same in which business angels invest), the relationship with IAG has always been important and a special one has been created. By giving birth to the Angel Partner Group (APG) we have created an important nucleus of business angels in Rome but the desire has always been to expand the territorial range. Let's start from an assumption. Business angel groups are almost always born territorially because, unlike a Venture Capital Fund, they invest personally and contribute their experience to the growth of the startup. For this reason, their choice often falls on startups “within their reach”, where they can concretely bring added value. Being able to create a single "platform" between Rome and Milan has meant that, in terms of deal-flow, resources and know-how, effective coordination has developed, creating a critical mass.

In addition to offering startups access to funds, IAG also offers founders the opportunity to draw on the enormous wealth of expertise made available by the business angels who are part of the association. What best practices can you mention?

I would mention two different aspects relating to IAG’s best practices that are certainly relevant for the founders. The first relates to the investment process. The creation of a single vehicle and the appointment of a Champion who represents all the business angels and who interacts directly with the startup on their behalf makes management more efficient for the founders and for the business angels themselves, coordinating relations. The second aspect is linked to the availability, from the IAG associate’s side, to make their network available. An enormous value for the founders who can draw on the know-how, relationships and contacts of a network of about 500 professionals of the highest level, operating in all sectors of the Italian economy.

What are still the difficulties of startups in Italy?

Today the possibility of creating startups in our country has significantly simplified, even if an excessive bureaucracy remains. The main difficulty in starting up in Italy was the absence of an ecosystem. Italy is conditioned by parochialism and, even in the field of innovation, it has always struggled to create a national reference center. As a result, there was a lack of critical mass and therefore the possibility of emerging internationally. Today the ecosystem is maturing, not only from the point of view of capital, but also thanks to greater integration between the different players. IAG and LVenture are examples of this.


Many years of experience in corporate finance and international financial markets, mentor in LUISS EnLabs, director and partner of LVenture Group, Partner of InnovAction Lab, and Director of the Italian Tech Alliance. You have been dealing with startups since 2008. How did you approach this world?

My first approach to the world of venture capital dates back to the mid-80s, at the dawn of the industry, when in Lehman Brothers, I was "co-opted" into their Fund, but as a simple analyst. I then returned to venture capital and angel investing at the end of 2008, when I began to directly evaluate various investment opportunities. Since then, I have never stopped and have continued to invest in startups in Italy, then doing it in a more systematic way with the birth of EnLabs, which gave life to what is now LVenture Group.

In April 2019, Angel Partner Group (APG), an association of professionals, managers, entrepreneurs and corporates of which you were President, joined with Italian Angels for Growth, creating the largest Italian network of business angels. How did the decision for this merger come about?

The decision for this merger was born from the desire to create critical mass in the ecosystem of business angels, in a market context that is still quite embryonic. There has always been the desire to look ahead, to break the traditional patterns we have been accustomed to, creating local business angel chapters in Milan and Rome, and it is not true that there are no new opportunities to aggregate others: this project can be realized with the maturation of the ecosystem and for which we are trying out other territories.

In recent years, IAG has created a network of over 500 business angels and recently opened its third office, now in Florence. Why do you think small groups of angels should be integrated as a national player? Some foreign examples?

The opportunity to create a network of "communicating vessels" of business angels with each other is fundamental. An investment opportunity that emerges in a given territory may not necessarily be visible to all business angels. Having a distributed network opens up opportunities that we would not have access to if we remained isolated in our "local bells". Having created a network allows you to have access to the same investment opportunities and, at the same time, each local chapter can closely monitor the evolution of the startup. At the American level, the most striking example is AngelList, a distributed group of business angels, but linked to an online platform. More and more initiatives like this are emerging thanks to technology, some even launched by venture capital funds.

A few months ago, citing a study titled "The Word Bank", you remembered that Italy is the second most expensive country in the world to start a business, the most expensive in Europe. How can one facilitate foreign capital to invest in Italy without emptying our country of so many talents?

Unfortunately, how to overcome the "gaps" of our country is a decades-long issue. First of all, we should simplify the bureaucratic processes and reduce the tax burden for those who invest in startups. If even more favorable measures were adopted for those investing in startups, new investors would be attracted at a domestic level: a process that would create value and wealth, not being a zero-sum "game", but an incremental value. At the macro level, we should absolutely simplify the labor market and implement a reform of the justice system, to speed up the processes and functioning of the judicial system. There are many issues that still require many reforms in this country, some of which have always been on the EU agenda where Italy, alas, is one of the rearmost. Fundamental, I repeat, is to push Italian investors to invest in their talents and in our technologies, so that success stories are created and can then attract foreign investors. If we are not the first to believe in our talents and technologies, it will certainly not be foreigners who do it for us and the talents will continue to go abroad. We need to reverse the course and do more to invest in our country's opportunities.