While the report by KPMG Australia, AWI, and Financial Service Council (read our analysis here) lists the best international fintechs, with the United States and Great Britain reaffirming themselves as the most fertile ground, StartupItalia! has concentrated, instead, on the Italian ecosystem.
As StartupItalia! editor Riccardo Luna explains in the presentation of the free e-book on the top 100 best Italian startups (obviously not made up of just fintech startups), “we started with the numbers to create this list: we reviewed all of the investments and the few exits of 2014; we considered all of those that had won in the many startup competitions; we evaluated the potential of the ideas of those that had just started and, finally, we drew a line. We stopped at 100. I want to make it clear that those not on the list should not feel they have failed, on the contrary”.
There are 9 fintechs on the list, two of which (Sardex and S-peek) are within the top ten. Here are who they are and their stories:
In Sardinia in 2014 goods and services worth 32 million euros were exchanged without the use of the current monetary system. Without using a single euro. This small miracle was made by a startup from Serramanna, a community of 9,000 inhabitants in the province of Medio Campidano, founded in 2010 and, which, in 2014, became certain that it was big registering earnings of 1.2 million euros. It is called Sardex.net and is a virtual currency that was created by Carlo Mancosu, 31, and brothers Gabriele and Giuseppe Littera, 28 and 33. They were looking for and found an alternative to bank credit. But, clarifies Mancosu, “we don’t want to, nor can we, substitute banks. We offer a credit system that supports traditional ones to help small and medium sized businesses confront limited crediting”. Thanks to its sales circuit of product and services worth 36 million in goods from 2,500 businesses that were destined to remain unsold they have jump-started the island’s economy and created worth. The startup grew continuously doubling its numbers – earnings, employees, businesses involved. The idea came about to support small local businesses during the credit crunch. Today, Sardex can be used to make payments throughout the entire island of Sardinia. The businesses that want to enter into the circuit must register and pay an annual fee in relation to their earnings. The smaller ones pay about 100 euros. Big ones up to 3,000. And, in substance, earnings are made with these registrations. “Our fortune was that of getting big companies like Tiscali into our circuit”, explains Mancosu, “ because, it’s true that we were created to help small and medium sized businesses, but even big companies know that if the base of small and medium businesses collapses they will also feel the effects. Sardex is a virtuous circuit, that works well at all levels”.
The term Big Data has, at this point, entered everyday terminology, more so than the concrete applications that are linked to the data itself. The Italian startup modeFinance is a perfect example of scientific analysis of financial information can provide an important innovative contribution to the sector. Founded in Trieste in 2009 by Mattia Ciprian and Valentino Pediroda, born respectively in 1976 and 1972, the company analyzes the balance sheets of companies to calculate their health status. This includes something like 100 million balance sheets, and this is why it is in the field of Big Data. Ciprian and Pediroda have developed an algorithm that analyzes this incredible amount of numbers and “returns” them in a single, transparent, and coherent form. This, explains Ciprian, means, “if a professional is interested in the situation of a French client and a German client, he does not need to delve into the rating systems of each country or calculate the eventual differences of these markets that he is venturing into”. The algorithm does everything. The business model of the company, made up of 10 financial analysts and headquartered in Trieste, consists of sales of specific reports “to over 300 multinationals worldwide and about 50 national businesses”. Their gem is the free iPhone and Android App s-peek (already downloaded 20,000 times), which can be used to graphically visualize the health status of the 20 million companies within the 43 European Union states and, eventually, to acquire more complete reports. Ciprian and Pediroda started with BVD support, a foreign provider who they turned to acquire the database to be analyzed. In the embryonic phase, they obtained financing of 60,000 euros from the Innovation Factory at Area Science Park.
This is a beautiful story, but also a complicated one. Founded by 27-year-old Lombardy natives Jacopo Vanetti and Giuseppe Saponaro, the startup began at the end of 2011 with an ambitious goal: do the same thing in Europe that Jack Dorsey was, and is, doing in the United States with Square, the card reader that can be attached to smartphones to allow merchants and professionals to accept payments other than cash without using the POS system (and its connected costs). It was an interesting and potentially winning idea, so much so that, in the spring of 2013, it received financing of 6 million dollars and was welcomed into the incubator of the Politecnico di Milano Polihub. To truly begin the commercialization of the devices, however, they had to wait until September 2014. Saponaro explains that, “the wait was due to the decision to keep the engineering of the product internal”. It was a move that allowed them to cut costs: Jusp applies a commission of 2.5% for each transaction and this makes it competitive compared to similar services that have popped up in the meantime. Things have now begun and thousands of devices have been sold. There is the expert guidance of Stefano Calderano, ex Banca Intesa and Poste Italiane, who has the role of CEO. They are no longer just following the path laid out by Dorsey, they have become a well-positioned reality along with the likes of Payleven, iZettle, and SumUp.
The initial idea is simple: transform every single employee of a company or restaurant into a mobile cash register. And the young student, about to graduate in engineering, Francesco Medda, explains where he got the idea. Just think of an Apple Store, where the salespeople tend to move the customers around the products and then complete the transaction without having to move them to a checkout counter. In that spot, instead, Scloby sets up a printer where receipts that have been elaborated with smartphones and tablets that are connected to the App can be printed. Medda has, therefore, created a cloud environment that allows a business to manage all of its money transactions in mobility and to activate a series of added functions like loyalty cards, the activation of the promotions, or online acquisitions. And the income revenue authorities have given it their ok. Not only, the Sardinian engineer has made his API available to developers and other startups interested in providing additional services. The Scloby App is available for iOs and Android. For all other operating systems there is a Web App. The devices communicate with the printer (created by Italian Rch or at Italian Epson plants) via internet and are also capable, when there’s no connection, of communicating via Bluetooth. Banca Sella is among the company’s partners.
It is the first portal for credit searches via Internet for businesses.
This is how Antonio Lafiosca, marketing and operations director, defines Borsadelcredito, the startup founded by Alessandro Andreozzi and Ivan Pellegrini to help small and medium sized enterprises find financing. “The entrepreneur goes to the portal and inserts what he needs very simply – explains Lafiosca -. For example: 50,000 euros for 5 years, together with company information. At this point, we enter into action with an automatic procedure that evaluates the company and its request. Once the most appropriate offers are identified we put the two parts into direct contact”. The evaluations made by Borsadelcredito are based on commercial requisites provided by bank partners. “We, in short, intercept the request and make a primary credit investigation”. The startup took off in October 2013 with a partnership with the Banca Popolare di Milano and Banca Sistema groups and, this year, also with Cariparma Credit Agricole and Credem group. Its strength is in the possibility of a quick response. “Within max 24 hours we provide a response on the possibility of receiving financing”. There are about 500 enterprises that contact the startup every month free of any charges, whatever the result of the request may be. “The entrepreneurs can have financing within a maximum of 4 weeks”. There are still, however, many requests that are lost along the way, and not always because of the credit crunch, but because the terms that the search comes up with are often very approximate. For this reason, one of the goals of the startup that was founded less than a year ago is the financial education of small and medium sized businesses.
Lorenzo Gavazzeni and Matteo Assinnata are two students at the Politecnico di Milano with very clear ideas and goals: take what’s good from Bitcoin and offer this to the payments sector. The heart of the young enterprise Cryptodeer is the software that was developed in February: “We started with exactly what was wrong with Bitcoin”, explains Gavazzeni. According to the engineer, the Achilles heel of the most famous cryptocurrency is the earnings linked to mining, that is, the activity of creating the currency itself. “We have taken out this aspect in order to eliminate speculation and volatility of the currency”. The Tetra, or, the money that is at the base of the Cryptodeer system, is available in a set amount and has already been generated. A Microtrera corresponds to 1 cent, a Tetra one euro, and so on. “In this way investors are less scared”, explains the young engineer. Even the question of traceability has been confronted in a different way: “Each transaction is registered and through serial codes it is possible to block the single Tetra in the, very difficult, case it is duplicated or falsified. The whole history is accessible”. The rest corresponds with what has made Bitcoin so successful: transferring money in a safe, fast, secure, and cheaper way. Gavazzeni provides the example of money transfers from one part of the globe to the other, seeing itself as an eventual partner for banks interested in offering this service without problems. In terms of transaction commissions, Cryptodeer puts a competitive 0.5% on the table.
WOLF OF TRADING
A sense of suffocation, a knot in the stomach, and palpitations were symptoms of a panic attack that sent Davide La Spina – founder of the Wolf of Trading startup – to the emergency room. The same symptoms had made him a serial entrepreneur. “I was 17 when my father told me that the following summer I would be working as a warehouseman. I would be passing the best time of year in a dusty warehouse. I hated the work so much that it caused me a panic attack”. Davide, who is now 37, found himself dripping with sweat and short of breath in an emergency waiting room. At that moment he knew that he would rather work 12 hours a day doing what he liked rather than spend 8 in a place he hated. Born and raised in a town near Varese, Davide founded his first company immediately after that episode and left university prematurely. “I had to choose between school and my company”. Today, he is the founder of Wolf of Trading: “It is a portal for traders and institutions operating on markets as investment funds and banks. For the first, the service is free, and the second will sustain the business”. “In respect to very trendy social trading platforms, it allows you, thanks to the data bank, to have information on thousands of traders. It is proactive – he adds – , it alerts you even in mobility on your investment trends”. Wolf of Trading has 2,000 users enrolled thanks to the film The Wolf of Wall Street. “I proposed a competition to the 01 Distribution company – the film with Leonardo Di Caprio was about to come out – making my platform available. They accepted and it was a success. Two thousand registrations in two weeks, the best traders would win tickets for the premiere of the film. Immediately after that I had to close access to other users otherwise the server would have exploded”.
“How much can one save?” This is the first and inevitable question that the co-founder of MoneyFarm, the Italian startup that provides the planning and management of investments on the homonymous portal, is asked. “50% in respect to a traditional intermediary”, responds Giovanni Daprà, who in 2011 conceived the startup with Paolo Galvani and Andrea Scarso. It is a money organizer with an economic effort that does not surpass 1.1% of capital. “This permits even those who have small patrimonies, around 20,000 euros, to follow this path without having to pay consultants that can cost up to 400 euros for half a day”, explains Daprà. The slashing of costs is due to the use of technology to revolutionize a ring of the traditional financial chain. There are only four people who occupy themselves with user money. “There are six developers: we are a technological company before all else”, emphasizes the founder of MoneyFarm. The two numbers effectively render the idea very clear the idea of a reality that is particularly slim precisely in the area that is most delicate and close to the canonical channel, that of financial consulting. The recipe seems to work. MoneyFarm has already raked up over 4 million euros from venture capital funds and counts 15,000 active users on its portal. Daprà will not reveal the total number of savers, but he does tell us that the average amount of money invested is 45,000 euros per client.
Why is Italy afraid of e-commerce? Because large-scale distribution fears the progressive elimination of physical sales points. Barbara Labate, co-founder and CEO of the price comparing startup Risparmio Super, is certain of what to do: in regards to both getting Italian merchants more familiar with digital as well as how to intervene to push the sector. “The solution is click and collect, which in England already represents 20% of acquisitions made online”. It is the possibility to order products online that can be collected a short time later, no more than an hour, in shops. Risparmio Super has already signed an agreement with Carrefour for this service. With Kimberly-Clark, instead, the agreement is direct sales through Risparmio Super. “Precisely because producers are moving fairly rapidly, large-scale distribution is doing the same”. The interesting aspect, in this second case, is the integration with the original service of the startup with headquarters in Milan and offices in Rome and Catania: as well as propose digital acquisitions of products, the platform presents users with the best offers in physical sales points. The founder of the company created in 2011 explains how the original price comparison, that could even be made by scanning the bar code of a product that one had in their home, and the earnings from advertising was enough to keep the company going. The e-commerce piece arrived to enlarge the array of actions and overcome the boom expected “over the next three years”. For both sales that are entirely digital and those that are finalized in shops Risparmio Super takes a percentage of “less than 5%”. The strengths with which this service presents itself to large brands are its 400,000 registered users, “that spend more than ten minutes on the platform”, the 100,000 photos, and the 250,000 barcodes that are in the database.