Everyone in the tech world has heard of Web Summit – the industry’s Glastonbury, if you will. Its success has since sparked a myriad of similar conferences but none, however, had reached Italy – until now. Enter Blast, the new European tech conference designed to connect investors and entrepreneurs, highlighting the virtues of Rome as a startup hub along the way.
The event will debut in May, bringing together 150 of the best global startups in the pre-seed or early stages of funding. Thirty of those will also have the opportunity to enter the Blast Startup Competition, a three-day battle to win a £30,000 cash prize. Blast is in partnership with Fiera Roma, one of the largest exhibition centres in Europe, where the event will take place.
Blast: Italy’s first European tech conference
The event was co-founded by Alessia Gianaroli, Pierluca Cecchini and Rosbeh Zakikhani, who began organising the conference 18 months ago after it became clear there was a gap in the market for a tech event in Italy. Gianaroli has spent the majority of her career in Rome, beginning by working for the local government before moving to communications for startups. Since its conception she has taken Blast on a global roadshow, speaking to investors and startups from the Silicon Valley to Barcelona to find out exactly what is needed from Rome’s conference.
Of course, some may raise an eyebrow at the idea of Rome, a traditionally chaotic city often hindered by Italy’s infamous bureaucracy, being the next startup capital. However, according to Gianaroli, the start up community here in Rome is strong – and growing all the time. Rome’s potential is boosted by its low cost of living, as well as its location; conveniently situated in an accessible position for both the whole of Italy and the surrounding countries.
“Rome is a hub for the MENA countries – those to the South and East of Italy, as well as for the south of Italy too. It’s right in the middle of everything. We’ve had lots of applications from start ups coming from Mediterranean countries,” Gianaroli said.
And for startups, its position in the the market – as a relatively new tech hub – is likely to prove beneficial.
“On the roadshow talked to a lot of investors in the Silicon Valley, and they all said the same thing; that Italy is very interesting at the moment from a business point of view”, Gianaroli said.
“In the Silicon Valley there is a lot of competition; once upon a time an Angel could make an investment of £30,000 and it was ok. Now all the businesses are looking for something around £200,000 – and this is why Italy is an opportunity. We are still growing, so investments of £30,000 and £40,000 still make a difference, which represents an opportunity for many investors.”
Whilst Web Summit is arguably the best known tech conference, it has become a huge event – perhaps too big, some have suggested. What is unique about Blast is their decision to limit the event to covering just five industries, which will vary every year.
“We chose our topics by talking to people and companies, and studying the market,” Gianaroli said.
Blast: “Doing the little things well”
Food tech was an obvious choice for the founders; Rome recently played host to the first startup bootcamp focusing solely on the foodtech industry, with a Demo Day in the city just last week. The other categories are Fintech, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality/Artificial Reality and IOT & Industries 4.0:
“Fintech is the future,” said Gianaroli, “and Artificial Intelligence is a great asset for the tech industry”.
“We have focused the conference in order to maximise the opportunity for investors and startups to meet each other in the industry that they are interested in. You’ll already know which industries and start ups that are there.
“Sometimes these things can be too big and it can be overwhelming. We want to stay focused on high quality – doing the little things well.”
So can Italy be a startup hub?
Whilst Italy hasn’t yet adapted to the growth of the startup industry as fast as other European countries, the government’s Start Up Act represents a renewed effort to encourage Italy’s tech industry. The Act includes exemption from fees normally due to the Chamber of Commerce, free-of-charge access to public guarantees by 80% on bank loans amounting up to 2.5 million Euros and the introduction of a special visa for entrepreneurs based outside the EU.
“Rome is changing, and Italy is changing,” Gianaroli concluded. “And I can see Blast as the perfect expression of this.”
For more information on Blast, which takes place in between 10th – 12th May 2017, visit the website here.