by Zornitza Kratchmarova
There’s no excuse. Today, those with talent who want to work have the tools they need to get ahead. Fernando Napolitano, 47, founder of Why Italy Matters Corp., a company under US law formed to bring the best in Italian high-tech industry across the Atlantic, is categorical: “It’s useless feeling sorry for yourself. Steve Jobs wouldn’t have become Steve Jobs if he had been born in Italy? It’s very possible, of course. But times were different. Today Italian-born talent has a range of opportunities available.”
To name just one, the Fulbright-Best program. Launched in 2006 on the initiative of former US ambassador to Italy, Ronald P. Spogli (himself an investor with his company Freeman Spogli & Co. and 10% share in the major Italian startup fund, Innogest Sgr), the program has made it possible for 45 Italian young people to fly to the United States, put themselves to the test by attending top-level courses and being involved in trainee programs in major companies, and then return to Italy to embark on their own adventures.
“Twenty-six start-ups have been launched by Fulbright-Best winners over the years,” says Napolitano, president of this initiative which relies on the support of various backers, including some members of the Monti government (Piero Gnudi, Francesco Profumo and Corrado Passera, to be precise). “It’s no accident that the Education Minister exhorted the governors in Central-Southern Italy to follow the example of Tuscany,” Napolitano adds, on whose board sits Profumo himself. He continues, “This region, guided by Enrico Rossi, sponsors 5 of the 12 scholarships available for 2012 and it does so by making use of EU funding.” In cash, without shelling out a single euro.
And the scholarship? It totals about $35,000 (plus travel and health insurance), is available to those under 35 and is “extremely useful”. So say the three former winners interviewed here. But hurry, application for 2012 scholarships closes on February 29th.
How to be part of Fulbright-Best
Full details on how to apply for the 2012 Fulbright-Best program are available on www.bestprogram.it. The application deadline is February 29. Below are some of the websites for US business courses recommended for scholarship winners.
To become entrepreneurs
From Sant’Anna di Pisa University to the Silicon Valley and back. With a 600 million dollar idea in her pocket.
School. Work. Networking. Silvia Bossi (photo above), 33, with a degree in mechanical engineering from La Sapienza University in Rome and a doctorate in bio-robotics from Sant’Anna di Pisa University, took off for the Silicon Valley in January 2011 as a Fulbright-Best winner. “In 6 months I did it all.” Specifically: three months of a crash course in hi-tech entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University (A-to-Z of everything you need to know to launch a start-up); three months of a trainee program at the Vibrynt company in Redwood City, California, specialists in medical equipment; and meeting after meeting with investors, commercial lawyers and US entrepreneurs to create a network and contacts that could prove valuable. “Including in the short-to-medium term,” Bossi says hopefully. By the end of February, along with partners Silvestro Micera and Annarita Cutrone, she will be launching Smania, a spin-off of Sant’Anna which develops neural interfaces that can improve the lives of amputees. “The idea is to develop a technology that will establish direct communication between the peripheral nervous systems of individuals and their artificial limbs to improve control,” explains Bossi who, for this, has developed electrodes about the size of a hair (200 microns wide and 20 microns thick), with the idea of implanting them in the nerves of the affected arm. “We work primarily with the arms because it is where science has made less progress,” says this researcher/entrepreneur. Adding bluntly: “We’re talking about a potential market of 600 million dollars.”
He kills insects by taking advantage of their natural enemies. And trounces the competition.
He had just completed his post-graduate degree in biotechnologies at Cambridge University when he was awarded the Fulbright-Best scholarship. That was back in 2008. And Luca Ruiu, then 34 years old, flew off to the US with a single goal: “Learn, Learn, Learn,” says this neo-entrepreneur, owner of Bioecopest, a spin-off of the University of Sassari, founded in 2010 to produce biopesticides for agriculture (but not only). “I had been thinking about going into business for myself for some time,” says Ruiu, with a degree in agricultural sciences from the University of Sassari and a doctorate in entomology (the study of insects) from the University of Perugia. “But I needed to get a better idea of what I was up against.” No sooner said than done. In addition to courses in entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University, Ruiu attended seminars at Berkeley and Stanford. But it was his trainee program at Marrone Bio Innovations in Davis, California that made the difference. “They also make biopesticides using a technology complementary to mine,” says Ruiu who counts on initiating cross-border collaboration as soon as possible.
In the meantime, he’s getting ready. Investing tens of thousands of euros in patents on a European and American scale. “Bioecopest makes use of bacteria, viruses, molds and protozoans to fight harmful insects,” says this scientist who won the national prize for innovation and a check for 60,000 euros presented him by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. More specifically, “The idea is to kill harmful insects by taking advantage of their natural enemies in order to eradicate at the base the use of chemical substances.” It’s an ambitious project that will require money. It’s no accident that Bioecopest is looking for third party investors or even targeted joint-ventures with companies in this sector in order to develop specific products.
Andrea La Mesa
In six months he founded and sold a company under US law to a giant of the land of the stars and stripes
Unemployed and happy. Andrea La Mesa (photo above), 30 years old, loves the fast lane. He was only 11 when he began toying with PCs at home. “A real passion,” says this former whiz-kid, the only person who in 6 months of the Fulbright-Best program has succeeded in founding a company under US law and then selling it, for a not-insignificant profit. “The start-up was called Coderloop and it specialized in software for recruiting programmer engineers,” says La Mesa who, with partners Federico Feroldi and Luca Donmasser, put together a modular testing platform capable of putting to the test the actual capabilities of developer candidates in real time. Last June it was bought up 100% by the Gild company of San Francisco, also involved in that area, although with a bigger critical mass (500,000 users in 174 countries). “With this deal, I also said good-bye to my partners who were hired by Gild,” comments La Mesa who says the Fulbright-Best program was “an awesome experience.” Although he warns, “It us up to the individual to get the best out of it. Especially in terms of networking.” And in his specific case: “I am looking at a number of different options, including the idea of launching some US situations in Italy.” Or? “A new start-up, of course,” he says, smiling.