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Italy: Business angels fund startups, bring hope to jobless youth

(Vatican Radio) What do throngs of unemployed young people, angels and an adventure have in common? Well, if you are in Italy, they may have more in common than you think.

Find out more in this program by Tracey McClure: RealAudioMP3

It’s one of the recurrent themes in the pontificate of Pope Francis: how the current economic crisis has left millions of young people jobless and set many into a downward spiral of desperation and hopelessness that can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, and worse.

In Italy, one of the most dramatic cases in Europe, more than 42 young people out of 100 can’t find work. Pope Francis has urged jobless youth around the globe not to give up hope, and is calling on politicians and business leaders to create jobs and a future for these new generations.

This is where the angels come in.

“In our language, Business Angels are people who put money and help (into building) a startup.”

Back in 2007, Luigi Capello and a group of friends founded Italian Angels for Growth to help new businesses get off the ground.

They are also putting their faith in the startups. After taking a 2010 Stanford University executive course where he was introduced to the idea of business “accelerators,” Capello launched the venture capital firm LVenture Group to foster an accelerator in Italy and invest in young people and fresh ideas.

The “L” in LVenture he says, stands for Luigi’s adVenture. Just four years on, his adventure has become one of just a handful of venture capital funds now traded publicly on the Italian stock exchange.

It also led him to found, in cooperation with Rome’s prestigious Luiss University, Luiss EnLabs (Luiss Entrepreneurship Laboratories), a startup accelerator for the incubation of new apps and high tech software.

LVenture Group currently invests in 21 startups and hosts a total of 30 new companies in their 1,000 square meter open office space in downtown Rome. They are looking to double that space soon.

Capello sees Italy’s economic downturn as an opportunity not just to create new companies but to offer jobs to highly qualified professionals who have lost theirs due to the crisis.

“As we know, Italy in this moment (is in) a very difficult situation but this is a great opportunity because it means we have great people - perhaps they don’t have in this moment some particular job (or) they don’t have any job… so, I think one of my abilities is to put these kinds of people together. But if you don’t have a job, it doesn’t mean you are not good. It means the company where you were(working) had some difficulties.”

How does the startup program work?

In competitions twice a year, LVenture selects a total of twelve groups of young people who present what they deem to be a winning startup project. They offer financial help and put a team of fifty business, marketing, IT and other professional advisors at their disposal to coach them over a period of five months – their incubation period.

To hatch their new startups, LVenture organizes investor days which infuse them with another round of investment to get them out on the market.

Over the last two years, and together with major partners such as Microsoft, Google, and others, LVenture has raised 7 million euros to launch the new startups which have created hundreds of new jobs. A place where the unemployed get a little help from a guardian angel, setting them off on the adventure of a lifetime.


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