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RoboIt: the first national technology transfer hub dedicated to robotics

An opportunity to bridge the gap between research and the market, with the aim of accelerating innovation in strategic sectors for our country. We discussed it with Claudia Pingue, Head of the Technology Transfer Fund.
07/14/2021

There is an abundance of excellences in the research field in Italy. But often they are unable to find their place in the market. Why is that? 

"Today there is still a wide gap between research and the market, in terms of both capital and skills,"  says Claudia Pingue, Head of the Technology Transfer Fund of CDP Venture Capital. "The ability to create a system between different players, aligning strategic objectives, working methods and cultures is also key to the success of the transaction"

The project to set up National Technology Transfer Hubs was born out of the need to bridge this gap, since they represent multidisciplinary and multi-player platforms capable of guaranteeing research to be verified, tested, incorporated, experimented on real business processes and scaled on an international level. 

"Technology transfer is one of the keys to bringing sustainable innovation to the entrepreneurial fabric and to solving the most pressing problems of the coming years, from energy transition to social inclusion", continues Pingue. 

The first Hub activated by the Technology Transfer Fund, RoboIT, is dedicated to Robotics. Italy is at the forefront of this field, just think of the famous IIT iCub or the more recent bio-bots, which behave like plants. How will the Hub operate? And how can it generate a concrete impact?

"Italy is among the top countries in the world in terms of research in robotics", says Pingue, "and has a quality industrial fabric. Hence the objective of the RoboIT Hub, which aims to boost the competitiveness of a sector in which Italy can consolidate a strategic role in global supply chains, precisely through the set-up of new innovative companies that are capable of supporting innovation even in the pre-existing entrepreneurial fabric".

The areas in which the Hub will operate range from:

  • industrial robotics, linked to the automation of industrial processes,
  • going through service robotics, linked to cognitive learning ability and to sensory capacity that make it capable of dialoguing with the outside world and that allow its use in high added value professional fields, such as surgery and agriculture.
  • Finally, we must not forget domestic and personal robotics, which touches our most private sphere and which, as Pingue points out, "will impact each and every one of us, one need only think that it is estimated that 1 in 10 Americans will have a humanoid robot at home in 5 years' time". 

Like all CDP Venture Capital initiatives, the National Robotics Hub also goes beyond the local specificity and aims to create a system between the Universities, enhancing the skills of the individual research centres. 

“The RoboIT Hub is the first national technology transfer project distributed across the territories”, says Pingue. "Our aim is to create a financial infrastructure supporting the entire funding cycle of a technology, starting from research laboratories all the way to the market, and bringing together the skills of researchers with entrepreneurial and business skills".

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Four  Research Centres are involved in the project:
the University of Verona, specialising in the study of human-machine interaction;
niversità Federico II of Naples, specialising in production and aerial drones;
Scuola Superiore di Sant'Anna di Pisa, specialising in surgical and precision robotics,
and the Italian Institute of Technology of Genoa, which holds the international leadership on these disciplines and which will act as the Hub for the entire project.

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One investment holding:
Pariter Partners which co-invests in the Hub and has the role of supporting researchers with specialised services in the process of approaching the market.

“We operate with a dual investment logic: we intervene directly to support researchers in the initial feasibility studies and we support them right from the start in understanding the potential market impact of their inventions”, says Pingue. "In the subsequent investment phases, we use an indirect intervention logic (Fund of Funds) to encourage the emergence of highly specialised venture capital operators who guarantee greater capital distribution capacity and help strengthen the innovation ecosystem'' . 

In the case of RoboIT, reference is made to investment in major players such as Eureka! Fund I – Technology Transfer, EUREKA vc fund! Venture Sgr, specialising in science and engineering of innovative materials also applied to robotics, Cysero, a vc fund of AVM Gestioni Sgr EUVECA manager, specialising in robotics investments in addition to the participation of Leonardo as an industrial partner.

Capital, skills, industrial structures, to accelerate innovation in Genoa's Robot Valley. But we mustn't forget all the research carried out outside the circuit of the 4 main channels, since "RoboIt is open to the entire research system. Any spin-off produced by any university can apply for funding: the time has come for science, industry and capital to form a system”

But it isn't just about robotics. What are the other Deep Tech fronts destined to produce products and services for the market, despite the longer lead times compared to already mature sectors, such as digital or e-commerce?

"Environmental sustainability, life sciences, agritech, artificial intelligence and aerospace: these are the sectors that we have identified as having the highest market potential and playing a strategic role for the Italian industry", says Pingue. 

And the ingredients for scaling the RoboIT Hub approach to other sectors are clear: the ability to cooperate between the public and private sectors and "competent and courageous capitals, which come in and give an entrepreneurial boost to the project"

On the other hand, it is now clear that the most important global challenges cannot be solved without science: "universities and research centres play a key role", Pingue reiterates, "and industries increasingly need innovation to win the challenge of sustainable competitiveness: participating in the Hubs provides them with this very same opportunity"

An opportunity to be replicated on a large scale, because only with shared, multidisciplinary and multi-player projects we can support the development of innovation in strategic fields for our country. 

The ecosystem supporting innovation in Italy