Creating a 47M€ Fintech from scratch, starting with a coffee
Thanks, Mr. Sforza, for being here with us. Would you like to tell us something about you and your career?
After graduating in Economics, I started working in consulting at McKinsey. Two years later, I undertook a Master in the United States, where I tried launching a startup financed by the university. That was my first entrepreneurial experience. Later, I went back to McKinsey, where I stayed for 2 more years, before entering the world of banking and gaining managerial experience at UniCredit. Years later, ING was launching a startup that provided direct banking services for SMEs and, as the project sparked my interest, I decided to join them. Then, thanks to my former boss, I had the chance to have a coffee chat with Roberto Nicastro, who shared my desire to do something for small enterprises. That was when we first talked about AideXa. Since then, while working at Nexi, we spent nights and weekends molding our idea. As it turned out, AideXa received a €47mln seed funding round, Europe’s biggest in 2020 and the largest ever in Italy.
Digital banks are growing in terms of volumes, turnover and adoption rates. How can we speed up and facilitate the transition towards a more Fintech-oriented banking system? What kind of advantages would this bring about?
Fintech players who focus on SMEs can be divided into two types: the first adopts a “vertical” approach, such as Fintech companies that offer credit services, while the second includes international players that deal with the transactional part, such as Revolut. We want to bring the two worlds together, since our customers have both credit and transactional needs, and the two aspects are intertwined. To do that, it is important to be an Italian Fintech firm, since local transactional needs require local payment services. Despite the existence of a European market and European norms, entrepreneurs still have local needs, and the availability of data differs across European countries.
We believe that Fintech companies can give great support to entrepreneurs, playing an important social role. Moreover, they contribute to the evolution of the banking system by allowing a more flexible time to market than traditional banks. This also constitutes a competitive advantage for open banks. By using the clients’ data, we can read their business situation and cash flows and respond to their needs in real time. So, technology provides an advantage that can create value for the final client. This was impossible a few years ago. The new regulatory framework in Europe will probably change the rules of the game, as well as open the way to new collaborations with traditional banks.
Which factors allowed AideXa to realize the biggest seed round for an Italian FinTech startup? How important is it to start with such a high investment and to have the right investors by your side?
I would say 3 things essentially. Firstly, the team. AideXa started from a coffee with Roberto Nicastro, but just the two of us were not enough, the determinant factor for its success was choosing high-level promoters for each key area. This way, we have built a strong and valuable team that investors could trust.
The second reason is the project, which is credible and solid.
For last, it is the quality of the investors themselves. We have been able to put together a variety of top-level investors to create different synergies with all of them to enhance the project. For example, Generali’s aid in logistics, Sella group which is highly active in the Fintech sector, and other institutional investors like Confartigianato that helped us with product testing. It takes more time to find the right investors, but it pays off in terms of strength of the project.
Considering that the Fintech landscape in Italy has grown significantly and positively over the past few years, whilst also bearing in mind the UK’s departure from the EU, we believe that Milan can play a pivotal role in Europe’s financial outlook. Therefore, we would like to know what prospects do you see for Fintech, especially in Milan, throughout the next couple of years?
This pandemic has challenged many industrial sectors, but different macroeconomic indicators also outline the positive effects it had on digital services (such as e-commerce), and Fintech. Historically, Italy has always lagged other European countries when it came to digitalization, but it is now catching up thanks to an exponential growth in technological services like digital payments. This has led to growing attention from investors from abroad, who have made important deals with Italian companies. Nexi and Satispay have been examples of that, becoming two of the most prominent Fintechs in Europe thanks to foreign investments. If we consider these cases, we can infer that this investors’ behavior will continue going forward as there will be an increasing number of opportunities for growth in Italy. Moving on to Fintech, an ecosystem has already been established through successful startups, and in the context of prospects in Europe, Italy can play a fundamental role in the future. Additionally, from a technological point of view, Italian engineers, data scientists, and physicists are extremely talented and have nothing to envy to those in other countries. Especially after Brexit, many promising Fintech opportunities will arise in Italy, and it is not by chance that the Bank of Italy opened a subsidiary dedicated to Fintech in Milan. Consequently, great attention has been brought to the regulator, which can play a key role in the evolution of the banking system.
Since we are speaking with someone that has work experience in companies like McKinsey, UniCredit, and ING, and is now an entrepreneur, we would like to ask you what advice you would give to young, bright students who are about to start their professional careers.
The first piece of advice I would give is to gather as many extra-curricular experiences as possible while still in university. I am telling you this based on my own experience because doing internships and part-time jobs of any sort will allow you to gain knowledge that you might need in the future and will make you stand out in job applications. In common situations where university degrees and grades are similar amongst candidates, it is these work experiences that really improve a person’s value. I would also strongly advise you to go and study abroad as it allows you to gain a deeper understanding of how things work in other countries, as well as increasing the scope of your networking.
Bocconi Students Fintech Society