- Founders: Carlo Abbà, Andrea Cinelli e.a.
- Founded in: 2020
- Employees: 15
- Money raised: € 2 milllion
- Ultimate goal: To become the most successful 'start-up' factory in Italy
Every year, thousands of new entrepreneurs over the age of sixty register with Chambers of Commerce across Europe. Innovation Origins spoke to a number of these grey innovative starters and asked them about their motives. This week, we portray them in a special senior edition of the Start-up of the Day series. Read all the stories about the “silver start-ups” here.
He has the name of a famous pop group, but that would ostensibly be where the comparison between Carlo Abbà (70) and the Swedish pop group ends. Abbà started a new company in Milan called Foolfarm in 2020 with a number of other ”mad’ veterans. Unlike the name suggests, this is not a farm, but a factory that sets up start-ups in Artificial Intelligence.
What is new about this, at least in Italy, is that the start-ups are formed, developed and (if all goes well) scaled up in this factory. In other words, Foolfarm takes new tech companies under its wing from the outset. Abbà is one of the founders and – to quote the Swedish band – one of the men with ‘Money, money, money‘.
But by no means is it just money that Abbà has to offer. The senior entrepreneur is no techie, more of a typical ‘people manager’ who has worked in numerous telecom companies at a high level and doesn’t know when to quit. “When I retired about ten years ago, I didn’t think about stopping working,” says Abbà, who after his retirement became an alderman for commerce & industry in Monza, a major industrial city near Milan (and internationally known for its Formula 1 race track).
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From idea to company
“The beauty of starting over,” says Abbà, “is that you remain active and keep contacts at a professional level.” Another motivation is also at play, which you tend to hear more often from older entrepreneurs. “I like to share my experience and knowledge. I’m not saying that I have to give something back to society, because I don’t think it owes me anything, yet I do want to help young people get on the right track”. As in, Take a Chance on me, to stick with ABBA terms.
This is why Abbà and others started the initiative to help found deep tech start-ups. To do this, start-ups are being set up in the factory, which by the way is referred to as the ‘garage’ on their website. People who have an idea can apply to Foolfarm, who, if they like the idea, will immediately invest €125,000 in it. This is intended to be the first step towards turning the idea into a business. Abbà and his team then guide the start-up as quickly as possible towards the first round of seed financing.
One start-up, one patent
So far, three start-ups have rolled out of the garage, including last week Iio (a virtual assistant) and Fire ( an online financial platform). Foolfarm selects ideas primarily on the basis of technology. The motto is that behind every start-up, there should be a patent. A patent provides a head start and hence is a promising factor for future success. True to the idea of ‘The winner takes it all‘.
Apart from an ecosystem (knowledge, money, network), Foolfarm also has advice to offer. Abbà prefers not to use that word. It’s not like he just goes around saying things like: “So, guys, pay attention, I’ll tell you how to do it better.” His approach is to have conversations with start-ups during which he tells stories that have a moral. It’s a bit like storytelling as a conduit for experience. “Young entrepreneurs who are on the ball are picking up on the points I make in their business operations. They make that translation themselves”.
As an example, Abbà cites a start-up that was just entering the market with its range of services when the pandemic hit in March 2020. “I told him about my experience years ago with a supplier who had been adversely affected by a Chinese trade blockade. We were then able to make commitments to the supplier, which made it possible to source materials from other countries.” This is to say that in the case of an external factor that you can’t do anything about, such as a pandemic and a trade blockade, you still have to find solutions.”
Abbà believes that, as a senior, he can do his bit to help young start-ups. “A twenty-something has the drive to forge ahead and transform innovative ideas, but he or she often doesn’t have the experience. Start-uppers have an idea, often technical in nature, and are not always able to see beyond it. They sometimes have a limited vision of how to run a business”.
The Monza resident says that the reason why he did not start until at a later age is because “when you have a high-level management position in a company, you are very much engaged in the business and your career. There is no time to look around”. Now Abbà does have an overview and does not have to sit idy by “in the garden with the dog” – a fear that he did have had when he retired.