One of the key signs that a tech ecosystem is maturing is when experienced entrepreneurs exit one company and create another on home turf.
Serial founders are nearly twice as likely to succeed in their second venture as first-timers, and they raise larger funding rounds.
They’re also a boost for the local economy and investors say the value of their “human capital” — giving young talent examples to look up to — is crucial.
The trend has been a catalyst for the growth of the French and German ecosystems in the past few years — and now it’s finally coming to Italy.
During the pandemic, several experienced Italian startup operators and founders who cut their teeth in Silicon Valley and London were lured back by their home country’s siren call.
The trend soon caught the attention of international investors and it’s beginning to show up in Italy’s latest funding rounds.
This week, Milanese payments fintech Qomodo raised one of Italy’s biggest-ever pre-seed funding rounds from top European VCs, including Fasanara and Notion Capital.
Its founders — Gianluca Cocco and Gaetano De Maio — are two serial entrepreneurs with successful exits under their belts.
Meanwhile, Barclays has invested in both the Series A and B rounds of Milan-HQ’d energy storage startup Energy Dome in the past 12 months, which is founder and CEO Claudio Spadacini’s fifth company.
Several others listed below have also raised healthy rounds in the past few months, despite the fundraising slowdown.
Italy’s most active non-government investor — Vento Ventures — tells Sifted that 21% of its portfolio of early-stage companies has a serial founder at the helm.
So who are the serial entrepreneurs in Italy to watch right now?
Sifted spoke to investors and analysts to compile this list while recently on the ground in Milan. Have we missed anyone? Let us know.
We’ve only included founders who are building their companies in Italy, and we’ve chosen to deep-dive into those who’ve raised significant rounds in 2023.
2023 funding rounds
1. Gianluca Cocco and Gaetano De Maio — Qomodo
Startup: Qomodo is pitching itself to physical retailers as an all-in-one payments solution that enables them to offer their end customers a suite of payments options — including buy now, pay later; SmartPOS; pay-by-link; and tap-to-phone — that they’ve grown accustomed to in e-commerce.
Given that small bricks and mortar businesses are the backbone of Italy’s economy, it made sense for Qomodo to pick Milan as its HQ. And it’s an idea that’s gained some serious investor attention: this week it raised €4.5m equity and €30m debt in a pre-seed round led by Fasanara Capital and joined by Notion Capital, Exor Ventures and Proximity Capital. Scalapay founders Raffaele Terrone and Simone Mancini — as well as high-profile fintech angels like Will Neale and Mark Ransford — all feature on its star-studded cap table too.
Founding experience: Cofounder and CEO Gianluca Cocca previously cofounded e-commerce aggregator factory14, which he sold to Razor last year. Cofounder and COO Gaetano De Maio is a serial fintech operator. He exited Italian digital catering startup Tiller to payments unicorn SumUp in 2021 and also launched Revolut in Italy in 2017.
2. Luca Ferrari, Francesco Patarnello and Matteo Danieli — Bending Spoons
Startup: Milan-HQ’d mobile app developer Bending Spoons was bootstrapped for almost a decade before it first tapped investors for cash in 2019. The startup has built a suite of mobile apps for content creators — including photo-editing apps, motion graphics and typography apps — and claims it has around 500m users worldwide.
It was enough to win investment from Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds’ investment vehicle Maximum Effort Holdings, as well as Italy’s largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, in a $340m megaround in September 2022. This August, it raised another extremely un-2023 growth round: €100m in fresh funding, led by growth investor Baillie Gifford.
Founding experience: Three of Bending Spoons’ cofounders — Luca Ferrari, Francesco Patarnello and Matteo Danieli — are serial founders. They previously cofounded Danish app development startup Evertale, which closed down after three years.
3. Simone Mancini — Scalapay
Startup: Buy now, pay later fintech Scalapay became Italy’s first unicorn last year when it raised a mammoth $497m Series B funding round led by Chinese tech giant Tencent. Its Series A, a mere five months prior, was led by none other than Tiger Global. It’s a lot of runway for a startup that’s up against Swedish behemoth Klarna. And it’s done a lot to propel Italy into international VCs’ consciousness.
Founding experience: Scalapay CEO Simone Mancini previously founded a desserts marketplace — Sweetly — in 2015.
4. Marco Ogliengo — Jet HR
Startup: Jet HR is an employee management system that aims to make administrative tasks like creating payslips; paying contractors; recording attendance; and hiring employees easier through its all-in-one platform. Given Italy is famous for its complicated bureaucracy, it’s an idea that attracted the great and the good from the country’s investment scene. It raised a pre-seed round in June this year (€4.7m) led by Exor Ventures and Italian Founders Fund, and was joined by family office-funded 2100 Ventures (the Benettons) and Ithaca Investments (the Berlusconis), as well as several Italian entrepreneur angel investors.
Founding experience: Ogliengo previously cofounded local service marketplace ProntoPro with his wife Silvia Wang (also on this list). They exited the company to Turkish rival Armut in 2021: Ogliengo is still a shareholder and Wang sold her shares.
5. Maddalena Zanoni and Giovanni Menozzi — Dreamfarm
Startup: Dreamfarm is doing something quite controversial in Italy. It’s on a quest to produce the perfect vegan version of its homeland’s most famous cheese.
It had the audacity to base its HQ in Italy’s artisanal food HQ — Parma — but it’s not using local cows’ milk for its mozzarella. It’s using almonds instead. This week, it’s raised a fat €5m pre-seed round from local food royalty-turned-angel investors Francesco Mutti, owner and CEO of tomato sauce behemoth Mutti Group, and Giampaolo Cagnin, a serial founder himself of Italiana Ingredienti, Hi-Food and Campus.
Founding experience: Cofounder Zanoni worked at Alpro for four years, eventually heading up its plant-based products business, before founding plant-based skincare brand ALM Botanicals in 2020. CEO Menozzi joined Dreamfarm after its cofounders (Zanoni and Mattia Sandei), but previously cofounded healthy foods delivery startup Nutribees, which he sold to Eagle Capital Ventures in 2021.
6. Claudio Spadacini — Energy Dome
Startup: Serial entrepreneur (and inventor) Spadacini founded Energy Dome in 2019. It’s a long-duration energy storage company that’s developed a battery using thermodynamic processes based on CO2.
“I recognised that long-duration energy storage is the missing link to allow the decarbonisation of the planet via the widespread utilisation of renewables,” he’s told Sifted in the past. It recently launched a multi-megawatt ’CO2 Battery’ project in Sardinia and is gaining notable corporate customers — including Italian utilities giant A2A.
It’s been enough to win Barclays’ backing, as well as investment from government fund CDP, the European Innovation Council and local VC firm 360 Capital.
Founding experience: Spadacini has been a prolific serial entrepreneur in the energy sector. He founded four companies before Energy Dome: Agripower; Sebigas; Exergy; and Cavaglio Hydropower.
7. Paolo De Nadai
Startup: Travel tech startup WeRoad
8. Silvia Wang
Startup: Mental health startup Serenis
9. Matteo Cera
Startup: AI-powered consumer research startup Glaut
10. Giancarlo Russo
Startup: Machine learning-powered investment platform Aelium
11. Luca Rodella
Startup: Hospitality-focused revenue management platform Smartpricing
12. Andrea Rocchetto
Startup: Quantum infrastructure startup Ephos
13. Nicolo Petrone
Startup: Pharmaceuticals marketplace 1000 farmacie
14. Andrea Cova
Startup: B2B food and hardware provider Soul-K