Innovation Bootcamp in Silicon Valley. Turning the dream into a real business project

Joule, the Eni school of Entrepreneurship, organised a full week of training for Italian startups in contact with American investors.

08 June 2023
9 min read
08 June 2023
9 min read

A direct flight to the United States to conquer the great market of ideas, where the American dream embraces startups from all over the world, including Italy. A country to which projects are exported and from which the funding and know-how to implement them is imported.

Joule, the Eni school of Entrepreneurship, organised the Innovation Bootcamp in Silicon Valley with the collaboration of the San Francisco-based Open Innovation Outpost - Eni's observatory for collaborating with the most promising international startups and scaleups - and Mind the Bridge - the international organisation which provides innovation consultancy to startups and companies.

A week in San Francisco to put Joule's selected startups in touch with the most important investors in Silicon Valley. Intense working days, a tight roadmap of presentations, pitches, in-depth discussions with mentors to pitch ideas and seek funding to support the growth of startups. In the US, the amounts available to finance the most interesting projects are incomparably higher than in European markets. In just eight years, Unicorns have grown from 80 to 900, with a valuation of $1 billion. In 2021, $330 billion was invested in technology startups in the US, compared to $167 billion in 2020.
Huge spaces and extraordinary business opportunities.

What it takes to win trust in Silicon Valley

"We selected 10 startups in Joule's acceleration programmes with the support of Eni Next, Eni's Corporate Venture Capital, to enter the Silicon Valley context and broaden perspectives beyond the European context.”, says Domenica Surace, Head of Impact Assessment, Monitoring & Reporting of Eni Joule. She adds, 'The selected startups are involved in the sustainable energy and cleantech sectors, almost all at pre-seed level. We used selection parameters that we know are valued in the US, such as economics, business plan, financial sustainability of projects. Good ideas must be well structured to attract the attention of investors in the overseas market'.

Growth, perspective, matching ideas and someone willing to invest resources in the most promising business projects. The Innovation Bootcamp in Silicon Valley is a bridge that does not disappear at the end of the trip, but will continue to unite those who travel it, even in the coming weeks.

"Joule follows an equity free approach, the main objective being the growth of our startups by putting them in a position to build lasting business relationships with prominent international investors. We have returned to Italy and contacts with the US are still going on. The teams organise calls and exchange information to strengthen the relationship with investors,' Domenica Surace continues. "Among the many positive aspects, the change of mindset of the participating startups should be emphasised. The approach with American investors,' she points out, 'must not be too submissive, you have to learn how to handle a real negotiation. The key words the startups use to describe their experience in the US are contamination, opportunity and dream'.

It was an intense few days, the teams presented their projects and interacted with representatives of leading American venture capitalists with the aim of activating synergies and understanding how to relate to such demanding investors.
“The week – comments Valentina Raule, Impact Assessment PM in Joule - was itinerant, together with Mind The Bridge mentors we adopted a full training approach on the first two days, introducing the teams to the Silicon Valley context to transfer some fundamental knowledge. It is important, for example, to know how to manage the relationship with investors, to make an effective pitch, to understand how to enhance the most interesting aspects of projects. In Italy, startups focus heavily on technological skills, whereas in the US, investors pay attention to financial aspects and the soundness of the business model. Once the introduction was over, the startups were hosted by partners and mentors gave individual feedback to the founders. The week,' says Raule, 'ended with a matching day, the Investor day, to activate a relationship that could last for the coming few weeks by sharing the projects with business angels, venture capitalists, professional investors and potential customers.

Funding, networking, but not only. The projects that the startups brought to the US returned to Italy changed and improved. A selective filter capable of transforming a good quality raw material into a mature project. "During the working week," concludes Raule, "the teams made significant changes to their ideas. A change of mindset, asking themselves new questions and rethinking business models. Thanks to the stimuli and demands of the mentors, they took their projects apart and put them back together again.

A successful journey for which the support of Eni's San Francisco Outpost, the antenna of Open Innovation in the world's most innovative ecosystem, ready to take identify interesting opportunities for Eni, was fundamental”

Open Innovation Outpost in the world's most important ecosystem

Salvatore Bonaccorso is responsible for the Innovation Outpost in San Francisco and deals with the dynamism and extraordinary creative and innovative impact of the American startup ecosystem on a daily basis.

'My experience in Silicon Valley,' he observes, 'was incredibly dynamic and inspiring right from the very beginning: this little piece of land is an amazing combination of capital, entrepreneurial spirit, excellent university institutions and Big Tech, and this unique ecosystem fosters an environment in which innovation can flourish. Italy, on the other hand, boasts an incredible wealth of talent, creativity and technical skills, and Joule's startups are a shining example of this. However, despite its rapid growth, the Italian ecosystem is still far behind that of Silicon Valley in terms of access to venture capital, collaboration with industry and universities, and scaling opportunities. Therefore, initiatives, such as the joint programme between Joule and Eni's Innovation Outpost in San Francisco, which link these two worlds, are key to helping Italian startups, giving them access to precious visibility, top-level mentors and potential investors who can provide the capital needed to take these ideas to the next stage. I am convinced,' Bonaccorso concludes, 'that through this path, of which the Bootcamp in Silicon Valley was the culmination, Joule's startups have been able to accelerate their development and acquire valuable skills and connections that not only contribute to their growth, but to the growth of the entire Italian system.

Eni Sustainable Mobility delegation: importing Silicon Valley best practices to Italy

The Innovation Bootcamp in Silicon Valley was also attended by a delegation from Eni Sustainable Mobility, the new company dedicated to sustainable mobility with the aim of providing progressively decarbonised services and products for the energy transition, accelerating the path to zero emissions throughout their entire life cycle. A team of people who participated in Eni's first co-innovation programme with ITA Airways supported the teams in San Francisco.

"It was an extremely useful experience to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of our startups and to compare two markets as different as the US and Italy,” explains Ester Minuto, who is in charge of partnership development at Eni Sustainable Mobility. "We participated by putting ourselves in the shoes of the startups, adopting their point of view. We know the dynamics and difficulties that teams encounter in convincing investors to believe in their projects because they are the same as those we experience within a large multinational company like Eni. The questions underlying each project are the same: is it economically feasible? Is it sustainable? We too resort to pitches to gather the commitment of our managers. The Innovation Bootcamp,' Minuto concludes, 'helps us understand how to import and adapt the Silicon Valley model to the particular features of our country. In the US, if investors believe in a project, they establish a very close relationship with startups themselves. In this respect, there is still a lot of work to be done in Italy'.

Davide Di Paolo, Head of Digital Marketing & UX Design Eni, emphasises the importance of the international vocation methodology. "Silicon Valley is often imagined as a closed, inaccessible bubble, but this is not the case. In San Francisco we found openness and interest in Italian startups. Investors confirmed the technical qualities and high level of skills of the teams, encouraging them to improve on the most deficient aspects such as marketing and sales processes. If startups follow a structured path guided by an advisor, possibly mixing different backgrounds, if they follow a rigorous methodology leading to a series of successive steps, they can succeed. But they have to equip themselves,' Di Paolo emphasises, 'with an international vocation and not just target the Italian market. Innovation is the same all over the world: finding simple solutions to complex problems, with concreteness. That is the destination point'.