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Innovative practices to support economic development: the story of eight Italian scale-up companies in Adelaide

scale up ad Adelaide


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They came here in twelve, flying for twenty-five hours from Italy, to present the stories of their eight new business ventures to the community of investors, entrepreneurs and managers in Adelaide.

Eight ‘scale-up’ companies with cutting-edge solutions, bringing innovative ideas from Italy to the world. Biomedical devices, cyber-security, agriculture and food production, even wellness: it is the new ‘Made in Italy’, the evolution of the historic leadership of the Italian industrial system in food, fashion, furniture and industrial automation, towards new horizons.

Before Adelaide, they stopped in Tokyo and Melbourne, thanks to the initiative and organisation of innovation expert Emil Abirascid and to the collaboration between the Italian consulates and the Government of South Australia.

In Adelaide, the program started with a dinner, attended by one hundred thirty guests. Investors (venture capitalists and informal investors, wealthy individuals curious to explore new areas of investment for their family capital), academics and experts in new technologies; the Minister for Innovation also attended, as did senior executives from the South Australian Government.

Following the Minister’s welcome, the welcome of the Italian Consul and Emil Abirascid, each Italian company presented its innovative ideas and development strategies to the group.

With the complicity of the full-bodied bottles of Shiraz from the nearby Barossa Valley, the Italian entrepreneurs quickly fraternised with the local community of investors and innovators. The last of the Italian pitches coincided with the service of wonderful Australian Angus beef filets and an impressive increase in chatter activity throughout the hall. Dozens of conversations on innovation, technology transfer, industrial partnerships, investment and market development could be heard.

The Australian habit of dining early and leaving restaurants when Italians might just start to think about ‘aperitivo’ – seemed to have been turned on its head. Groups of people continued to linger long after the plates were cleared, to talk about the ideas they had heard until very late in the evening. The Italians presented their ideas with passion, the Australians were curious to understand how to apply and develop these ideas into workable business opportunities in their business environment.

The following morning, the South Australian Government organised a series of presentations at the University of Adelaide’s entrepreneurship school, focused on economic development strategies and the testimonials of local entrepreneurs.  These illustrated the opportunities for the visiting Italians to leverage Australia and Adelaide for their future growth in Asian markets.

The rest of the day saw each company undertake their own program of appointments with potential future partners: local companies with complementary technologies, research laboratories, certification experts and potential investors.

Going beyond the facts, it is interesting now to consider this story from the perspective of the added-value for its protagonists: Italian companies, consulates and Italian embassies that supported them, and theSouth Australian Government. The ‘scale-ups’, first of all. Growing a start-up is an exercise of balancing between extremes: the start-uppers are eclectic and multifaceted characters, maniacally dealing with the detail of the here and now, but at the same time building up their ten-year strategy.

I call it the strabismus of the start-up: the product is not there yet, and maybe it will not be for the next two years, but despite this, these entrepreneurs already have to start dealing with future positioning of their product in international markets, even at the antipodes. One eye is micro-managing what is immediately before them, the other is speculating future trends. During the day they discuss deals for their future APAC market penetration here in Adelaide, while at night, they skype with the labs back in Milan to progress with product development.

It is also clear to me why someone like Emil Abirascid and the Italian diplomatic structures in Tokyo, Melbourne and Adelaide decided to assist the companies and organise their meetings in Japan and Australia.

But why did the South Australian Government decide to be involved in a program for eight Italian scale-ups?

Perhaps this is the most innovative aspect of the story, because it addresses the interesting topic of how governments’ economic development policies are evolving.

The reason why the South Australian Government is interested in assisting Italian scale-ups is because of its understanding that economic development today requires open systems and partnerships. A new technology developed outside Australia can create wealth, jobs and economic development within Australia if it involves local partners taking care of local development and expansion. The local partners will work with the overseas inventors to adapt products locally and develop business for the Australian market, and from here in the Asia-Pacific area as well.

The added-value will be shared between overseas and Australian partners, but a big part of it will create jobs, know-how and skills here in Australia.

But for this to happen, it is necessary for the government to play a role, as the proponent and architect of these important partnerships. Partnerships which are necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of economic development.

In the absence of such a catalytic function, the Italian innovative solutions would not have been visible to the Australian developers, it would have been impossible to end up with partnerships and eventually create economic benefits and new jobs.

Therefore, the government initiatives which support economic development today need to be much more sophisticated than in the past.

While in the past the action of the governments was concerned mainly with supporting local companies and trying to defend their local competitiveness in fear of international competition through classic export and outbound initiatives, today it is possible to accelerate economic development through the facilitation of international incoming deals.

And this story of Adelaide is an interesting example of innovation in government practices and novel initiatives that foster local economic development.

Marco Baccanti

Chief Executive

Health Industries, Government of South Australia

Twitter @mbaccanti