July 15, 2022

Women and Entrepreneurship: interview with Lucia Romagnoli

Entrepreneur and Commercial/Marketing Manager with international experience in the engineering industry, gained in the field of automatic packaging machines.

Lucia Romagnoli has been working as a business consultant for several years and is also interested in innovative startups, in the capacity of Business Angel and Angel Investor. Let's get to know her better.

What is your professional experience?

To tell my story a little bit, I must start by saying that my professional path is (unfortunately, from the anagraphical point of view...) very long: the beginning dates to 1980, when I joined IMA Industria Macchine Automatiche spa, of which my father had been the founder in the 1960s. I, who had just graduated with a degree in foreign languages, did not have very clear ideas, I thought I would become an international interpreter, but then I said to myself, why not try to see what it is like to work in IMA? After all, I wanted to continue practicing languages, and IMA was already an international company. So, my father placed me to gain experience in a small IMA company detached from the headquarters, in the province on the other side of Bologna: I knew NOTHING about the corporate world...so the first few days were a bit of a shock. Then slowly, because I am somewhat determined and a bit stubborn, and I wanted to learn so many things, I settled in and the mechanism of the high-tech industrial goods enterprise that IMA was at that time (and still is) began to appeal to me a lot. So much so that after the first 9 years of work, I decided to stop working for 1 year to do a master’s degree in Business Administration, to fill the big gaps I realized I had in business subjects.

Later, I moved to Marketing in the Ozzano office and then to the Castenaso office, where I was in charge of Market Research and Group Strategic Planning for years. Then in 93 my father (perhaps also pushed by me) decided to leave IMA and acquire a small company, TECNOMECCANICA, which made other types of machines, much less technological: together with my brother Alberto, who joined in 97, we totally transformed it, and we started to design/build/sell tea bag machines, for which my father was the nr 1 designer in the world, and I knew the market well, having worked many years in marketing/sales at IMA.

Our years in TECNOMECCANICA, from 93 to 2011, were a challenge: we were an SME, but we wanted to design, build and sell high-tech automatic machines, which were very demanding from the R&D and testing/experimentation point of view. What's more, we wanted to sell them in various countries around the world, the biggest consumers of bagged tea, so we had to create a sales network from scratch and launch a brand that was completely unknown in the market, which I did myself, over several years of work. The first sales results came in the late 1990s, and from 98 to 2011 we sold more than 150 machines, but the financial commitment proved too heavy for our family alone. So, we started to look for an industrial partner, and when in 2007 the COESIA group (one of the most important industrial groups in Bologna) contacted us because they were looking for a diversification sector, we made a pact with them to gradually sell our shares, until the total sale in 2011.

It was an exhausting decision, certainly, but we were convinced that if we wanted to grow our company in an international and competitive market, a major industrial shareholder like COESIA would be ideal for the future of our machines and our employees. Many SMEs are condemned not to grow because the entrepreneur does not want to give up the majority; instead, we did not want to be an obstacle to the development of our company, instead we wanted our company to grow with an international player, and the choice was right. Today, our machines constitute the tea line of business of ACMA spa, inside the COESIA group.

How did you approach the world of business angels by joining Italian Angels for Growth (IAG) in 2018?

When I "came out" of the packaging machinery industry, I wanted to look for different activities from those I had practiced for 30 years, and slowly I approached the world of Business Angels, a very different world from that of the industry. For a few years I "studied" and informed myself, I began to know BAs and various startups, because I was attracted by the idea of being in contact with young realities and people, with new and innovative ideas in step with new digital technologies.

That of the BA is a very different profession from that of the entrepreneur: the entrepreneur (at least as I experienced it in my family) establishes his company and often stays there for a long time, especially if he is successful, while the BA enters a startup and if he is successful, he leaves after about 3-5 years, sometimes even longer. There are BAs who have 20-30 startups in their portfolio. I approached this business very cautiously several years ago and I must say that I have not yet fully entered this mindset: I realized that doing BA alone is very risky, as the mortality rate of these startups is very high, and so a few years ago I decided to join the most established Italian network, Italian Angels for Growth (IAG). Working together with other IAG members who are competent in different subjects, I don't say that the risk is cancelled, but let's say it is "shared" with other BAs who have the most diverse skills, and this reassures me.

This year IAG celebrates 15 years since its inception. What do you remember most about these years of network growth?

There are now more than 270 members in IAG, about 15 percent of whom are women. I remember that at the first IAG meetings I attended, there were very few women. There are still not many, for well-known reasons: low inclination to finance, little knowledge of business, accumulation of family commitments that are poorly reconciled with demanding professions with high risk of loss. After all, the percentage of women in IAG is not very different from the percentage of women managers in industrial companies, so let's say I'm used to operating in environments where men are in the majority. But over the past few years I have been pleased to see that in IAG, as in other professional environments, there are so many positive signs that these percentages are slowly increasing, and I hope they will increase more and more.

IAG's mission is to facilitate the investment of private capital in the Italian and international startup ecosystem, becoming the meeting point between entrepreneurs, investors and companies, putting expertise and capital at the service of innovative ideas. From your perspective, how to strengthen even more the drive for growth and prosperity in our country?

It may sound trivial, but I believe that until Italy brings out more and more women in leadership positions in businesses, in PA, in Services, in every sector, it will waste valuable capital that it can no longer do without. There are too few women in management positions: they are only 27 percent compared to the OECD average of 34 percent, and even if we are not quite last in this ranking, there are really many countries that surpass us. For their part, women who want to reach top positions will, in my opinion, have to apply themselves more and more in STEM degrees, because those are the degrees that businesses in the future will demand more and more.

From a policy perspective, it is time for our governments to pass more and more laws that open up more opportunities for women who are willing to get involved in fields that have so far been predominantly male dominated (that of finance, for example). And the last few governments have done some good things, but we need to persist and vigorously pursue women's demands in all public institutions.

In December 2021, the Women's Enterprise Fund, established by the Budget Law 2021 to support investments and services in women's entrepreneurship, was made operational. We can say that "there is no male or female way of doing business: a business must be in the market, and market laws do not make gender distinctions." However, to compete, conditions must be the same for everyone who operates in it. What is your opinion on this?

The Women's Enterprise Fund is just a good example of those laws I was saying earlier, laws that support women's entrepreneurship, and I have always been convinced that to stay in the market, it does not matter whether the enterprise is "male" or "female": what matters are the skills and competencies of those who lead it and who know how to intercept the needs of its target market.

It is necessary for the Italian system to realize that women can bring pluses in all organizations, private and public; therefore, it is important that institutions help women with laws that allow them to compete like men (starting precisely with basic family services, such as daycare centers, full-time schools, summer camps, etc.).

However, it is equally important that first it is the younger generation of women who are committed to reaching top positions: one has to study the right subjects, prepare oneself to compete, work even harder than men to prove oneself.

It is not easy, but I am convinced that even in Italy there will be more and more women ready and prepared to get involved.