Italian companies are increasingly looking at startups in order to narrow the gap with the rest of Europe, according to the “Open Innovation Outlook: Italy 2020” realized by Mind the Bridge with the support of SMAU.

“Innovative firms grow twice as fast, both in employment and sales, compared to firms that fail to innovate. However, European and Italian companies invest less on innovation than their international competitors – commented Pierantonio Macola, Chairman of SMAUStartup-corporate collaboration could help corporates to innovate and grow as well as help startups to get customers and turn into larger entities. That’s why it is important to understand how much open innovation and startup-corporate collaboration are concretely widespread in Italy”.

The research, presented by Alberto Onetti, Chairman of Mind the Bridge, aims to understand the attitude of Italian companies to Open Innovation and how they compare with international innovation leaders.

“We implemented, across hundreds of Italian companies of different industries and size, the methodology we as Mind the Bridge have been adopting for a few years at international level to assess the “open innovation readiness” of established corporations – added Alberto Onetti – Such methodology measures both the internal factors enabling innovation (strategy, organization, processes, culture) as well as the concrete actions implemented and results achieved (such as startup acceleration, procurement, co-development, investments, acquisitions). The analysis shows – with a few exceptions – a substantial gap between the Italian companies and international innovation leaders”.

In fact, taking a look at the “Open Innovation Readiness” Matrix, which compares the 36 Top Italian companies by turnover with the 36 European Top based on the two indicators of “internal” innovation (strategy, organization, processes, culture) and “external” (actions and results), 4 “types” of approaches clearly emerge:

  • Open Innovation NEWCOMERS: companies that have just approached Open Innovation and therefore have no dedicated facilities
  • Open Innovation TRAILBLAZERS: companies that have started Open Innovation actions without however having dedicated plans and structure
  • Open Innovation CHALLENGERS: companies that are working internally to be ready to work with startups but still have to produce results.
  • CORPORATE STARTUP STARS: properly structured companies that produce concrete results in terms of collaboration with startups (partnerships, investments, acquisitions).

The analysis shows – with a few exceptions – that Italian companies are distributed in the left part of the matrix: companies that are just entering the world of startups or that have started to organize themselves in order to be able to innovate in a more structured way.

Looking at the “Open Innovation Readiness” Index (the index reporting the average evaluation of the “Internal” and “External” factors) the Top 12 Italian companies report an average score of 2.7 against the 4.3 recorded by the Top 12 Europeans, a gap that slightly increases if we extend the comparison to the Top 36 (2.0 versus 3.8).

“Our analysis reports the current industrial system that has just approached Open Innovation and collaboration with startups. – added Alberto Onetti – We expect that in the coming years a growing number of companies will be able to move up and to the right in the matrix. This requires to put in place dedicated strategies and structures and above all to adopt an international scouting approach. In fact, the Italian startup ecosystem is still too young to be able to support the innovation needs of our companies that have to look to the rest of Europe, to the United States and to Israel”.

As of the end of 2018, Italy counts 208 scaleups and $1.8B invested in those high-tech companies. These data ranks Italian ecosystem in the 10th position, according to the “Scaleup Country Index”, a performance indicator for technology innovation in the ecosystems of the European continent (investments were $11.6B in 2018 in the UK, $4B in Germany, $3.6B on France).

Finally, the Open Innovation Readiness Index shows how responsive to Open Innovation companies are according to their size: on average, as the size of the company grows, the possibility of structuring effective Open Innovation actions increases. The average index for the “large” companies stands on 2.0 against the 1.6 of the “medium” and 1.1 of the “small”.

“The good news is that Open Innovation and startup-corporate collaboration are now on the agenda of many Italian companies. And the trend is expected to grow in the next few years added Pierantonio Macola, President of SMAU – At stake is the sustainability of the entire Italian industrial sector that, without innovation, is concretely at risk to be disrupted. However, collaboration – across differences in size and culture – is difficult to get right”.

However, if you have a deeper look at the data, three interesting data points emerge about the status of open innovation in Italy:

1. Large corporates are currently the most active players in open innovation, while, except for some few cases, the small and mid size companies – that form the backbone of European industry – are still not involved.

2. Many Italian corporates have just started their journey into open innovation. Then, in most cases, we see initial attempts (sometimes marketing and communication driven) rather than comprehensive plans with clear goals, dedicated resources and budgets.

3. Energy and Banking companies are currently among the thriving players with the most comprehensive approaches.

“The Italian ecosystem is evolving and showing a lot of progress. Definitely a true statement – ended Alberto Onetti – Though our opinion is that Italy still moves too slow and needs to accelerate significantly. Because in the current accelerated world of technology, moving slow equals to not moving at all”.