Experience and determination, the key words of Federica Tortora

Wide knowledge, strong experience and determination, this is what emerged from the meeting with Dr. Federica Tortora, Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Specialist Campania, Calabria and Sicily. His commitment to continuing education is synonymous with his passion for the work he does and teaches us that one should never be satisfied with what one knows, but always strive for improvement.

Prepared, dynamic, open-minded: Dr. Tortora provided her extensive knowledge to enable SEIUNISA’s Innovators to enter the startup world. A strong advocate of the team’s heterogeneity, she did not fail to emphasize the importance of meeting places that, beyond notions and concepts, help in meeting people and exchanging new ideas and points of view.

Face to face with Federica Tortora

What do you mean by cultural innovation?

It means to create moments of sharing with companies to try to talk about the importance of innovation in companies, among other projects I remember the “ESG Lab,” which is a meeting point, physical and virtual, to accompany Italian companies in the sustainable transition; therefore, the lab aims to promote discussion and stimulate awareness on ESG issues among companies and supply chains.

In addition, I invite you to participate in some appointments where we will talk about innovation in the bioplastic world together with the Circular Economy Lab, which is an innovation initiative born from the partnership between Cariplo Factory and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center, to contribute to the evolution of the Italian economic system and spread new models of value creation in the collective interest, accelerating the transition to circular economy models.

Another important event will be held in June, also concerning the innovation trend in the world of sustainable textiles, and among the testimonies will be an innovative startup founded by a woman who has created a new textile material called Ohoskin coated with Sicilian orange and cactus.

Specifically, it is a 70% non-fossil material, so it is made from organic and recycled materials, which do not contribute to the carbon footprint.

What are the parameters for evaluating whether or not to fund a startup?

The parameters used for a company do not apply to a startup. In the latter case, certain intangible assets that venture capitalists examine when conducting a startup valuation apply. We took those parameters, reshuffled them within a proprietary model based on an algorithm that weights the various assessment areas differently. There are six areas of assessment for startups and they are expressed through a technology due diligence assessment to scorecard, a model for assessing technology potential. These are the six areas to consider:

  • team;
  • market analysis;
  • competitive analysis;
  • value proposition analysis;
  • investor relations;
  • financial needs analysis.

Apart from the last one which is more about economic-financial aspects, the first five refer to intangible assets: capacity and complementarity of the team, execution capacity demonstrated in the past by the team, presence of advisors, ability to analyze the target market (TAM, SAM, SOM), analysis of direct and indirect competition…

Many startups fall back on these questions, “Who are you selling to?”, “How much are you selling it for?”, “How are you selling it?”; if I financed startups today that could not answer these questions for me, I would be partly responsible for their failure. On a deontological level I absolutely have to fund a person who KNOWS what they are doing, in fact I fail 8 out of 10 business plans, not out of malice but out of ETHICS. Beyond the fact that I would not return the funding, it is still unethical to fund startups that are not clear on how to enter the market or how to stay there. Of course, the events that can affect a startup (or a company) are among the most varied, and it is not certain that the initiative cannot still fail. If I fail a startup, I give feedback so that those gaps can be filled.

Of course, prospective budgets are also relevant. One must be able to argue the values that are entered (e.g., revenue stream, personnel costs, customer acquisition costs…).

What failure rate does this approach have? Did the discarded startups actually turn out to be successful?

I have a very high rejection rate. Out of 10, I carry on 2. The failure rate of the start-ups I have funded so far is 8 percent, which is very low in my industry. Of course, I could also be wrong about a startup that I discarded, because maybe I didn’t quite understand the potential or they failed to communicate it to me. Evaluations since they are made by a human being, even though they are based on an algorithm, are not infallible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I may have evaluated a start-up well that then actually fails; perhaps the project is also good, but it may fail due to internal dynamics (e.g., lack of cohesion among the partners).

What is the percentage of female startups?

Unfortunately, there are few female start-ups today. I call to your attention an important project of which Intesa San Paolo is a part called “Inspiring Girls” that is bringing to middle school desks professional women, scientists, sportswomen and managers who can spur girls and boys to set no limits for themselves in defining their own path and following their ambitions, whatever they may be.

What are the various steps that need to be followed to go from an idea to a business?

First of all, one must ask whether the idea makes sense, whether it can be monetized, and whether it can create revenues that will obviously keep a company going. I always say that startups are companies, not something unrealistic; you have to pursue the idea that the startup can and should become an economically sustainable company that is profitable.

So, to everyone who decides to go on a start-up path, I say you will go in the direction of having a real business, which means paying employees, paying taxes, paying F24. When deciding to be an entrepreneur or startupper, one must be aware of the risks, that is, take into consideration the legal part as well as the product.

The first suggestion I might make is to go to an incubator, which does not charge incubation fees. Incubation lasts between 2 and 6 months. At this stage you do a real shadowing, from the basic part onward. In other words, the following aspects are explored:

  • What it means to legally establish a startup, whether it is possible to establish it without a notary public.
  • Under what conditions is it possible to form a startup.
  • What are the tax advantages of forming an innovative startup.
  • What it means legally to establish an innovative startup.

One consideration worth highlighting is that the innovative startup cannot fail.

But does the incubator have a cost?

An incubation track is free, but some services are paid for. For example, if I wanted to take advantage of a coworking space, there might be costs. Then, usually, when the startup grows there is support in terms of other services such as accompaniment to the Bank or Venture CAPITAL Fund, etc. etc.

I suggest MISE-certified incubators, that is, the incubator that has gone through a certain certification process validated by the ministry. There are seven MISE-certified incubators in Campania, at least one in each province.

What is the difference between incubator and accelerator?

Generally, incubators aim to support an entrepreneurial project in the very first months of its life. Accelerator on the other hand is intended for the later stages: it takes somewhat more mature ideas, although still in the pre-bill stage, and accelerates them. Traditionally, a project is born in an incubator and later accelerated by an accelerator. Both incubators and accelerators are free as they are funded by public funds or private entities. However, participating in an accelerator requires a time commitment.

Today most accelerators have fairly compact programs, lasting between four and six months. Schedules are flexible and allow for hybrid attendance, i.e., digital or in-person.

Another difference between incubation and acceleration also lies in the fact that in accelerators, funding can be obtained in exchange for equity.

How do you access an accelerator?

To gain access to an accelerator, one must go through a selection process-not all startups that apply for an accelerator can gain access. For example, 126 startups applied for access to the “Terra Next” accelerator in 2022, but only 8 were selected. Since CDP had allocated €750,000 for up to 10 startups, each received €93,000 in funding. Of course, if you do not pass the selection you can reapply in subsequent years.

After the incubation and acceleration period, what is the next step that must be taken to build a company from an idea?

After acceleration there are multiple avenues one can follow the first may be the bank or one can access venture capital or alternatively funding.


Edited by:

Tersa Abbagnale – Maria José Agostini – Francesco Colangelo – Antonio Langella – Francesca Preite – Davide Risi