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Rome might not have the same reputation for fostering innovative entrepreneurs as other European capitals, yet in spite of its high rents and notoriously bad public transport, it is quickly becoming one of the Mediterranean's hottest startup hubs. Its rise reflects national trends. In 2013, Italy's national business registry listed just 307 startups; today there are more than 4,500 — ten per cent of which are located in the Eternal City.
It's not for nothing that Italians are famous for fashion… Italians go out of their way to look smart even when dressed casually
Rome has more than 20 universities hosting some 300,000 students, meaning it is home to a huge pool of talented, international graduates. And with Italy's unemployment rate sitting at 39.3 per cent, many are taking matters into their own hands and founding startups.
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The last few years have seen a proliferation of coworking spaces across the city, which have become fertile breeding grounds for young entrepreneurs eager to share their expertise. This has been accompanied by a rise in venture capital groups keen to invest in ideas with potential, and a number of influential startup incubators and accelerators are now based in Rome.
At a grassroots level, local associations and meetups are helping the community thrive, with hackathons, fairs, workshops and social events. The government is doing its bit, too. In 2013, it passed a 'startup act', which slashed red tape for fledgling enterprises and offered generous incentives, such as tax credits, for investors.
There have already been many success stories — especially in sectors where Italy is already a world leader, such as food, fashion and furniture. Bologna-based Italian fashion startup Yoox recently became Italy's first and only 'unicorn' — a startup valued at more than $1bn — and by the end of the year, the country is expected to have two more: telematics startup Octo, and Translated, a startup offering linguistic services and translation. Both are from Rome.
While comparisons to Silicon Valley might be premature, Rome is offering innovators more than just la dolce vita.
Italian culture is relationship orientated, so attempts will be made to build rapport before settling down to business. This is usually done by making small talk over coffee before a meeting. The importance of relationships also means that being introduced to a new contact by a mutual acquaintance will help you get ahead. And it's not for nothing that Italians are famous for fashion. Even though informal attire in the startup world is common, Italians go out of their way to look smart even when dressed casually.
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