Mentor, Advisor and Angel helps startups to growth


An introduction to the world of startups, from mentorship to advisory up to angling investing

We asked a mentor how to support startups, all the tools available to develop an idea and grow the project.

Let’s meet Selvaggia Fagioli, Mentor, Advisor and Business Angel, a leading player in the Italian startup scene!

Selvaggia is a Startup Mentor, a Funding Advisor, and an Innovation Change Maker. 

From a humanistic training to an economic and entrepreneurial one, with an Executive MBA at MIP-Politecnico di Milano and a certification as Startup Expert at PoliHub Milan.

Founder of ExecStarPro and The Assistant Academy, with a career in marketing and landing in the world of startups, where she is a mentor for Startup Geeks, Polihub and Seed Money, and Business Angel of A4W.

She has assisted startups (B2B, B2C, C2C) in fields like fashion-tech, fintech, e-commerce, art, marketplace, medical, and HR.

Hi Selvaggia, you started with a degree in languages and then moved to the world of startups that you support in different roles, such as mentor, advisor, and angel. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am from Umbria, a small region in the center of Italy, and like many young graduates, I had to move to Milan to look for a job. I started as a marketing assistant in a small telco company and then I was lucky to be hired as an executive assistant to the Honorary President at Sisal. My job was high demanding, but I was able to learn a lot regarding digital products development, innovation, and investments. 

I discovered the world of startups in 2013 and I decided to take an Executive MBA at MIP-Politecnico di Milano to change the direction of my career and acquire new skills and competencies. In 2015, I moved back to Umbria to work at IPI, a company of the Coesia Group, as a CEO Assistant, and in 2019 I created my brand ExecStarPro, where I collaborate with startups and companies of the innovation ecosystem in open innovation, and fundraising projects. 

In 2020, I cofounded with Michela Luoni “The Assistant Academy“, a project created to respond to the need for specialized and innovative training for executive assistants. From our experience working with companies and assistants, we developed a business design tool for a personal career (My Career Canvas) and a method for reorganizing office activities based on the SCRUM methodology (Scrum4Office).

You specialized in Marketing Strategies, and you are a Certified Scrum Master, you guide companies in their Business Agility and Business Process Improvement path, can you explain us in more detail your activity?

My services are aimed at two different customer targets.

ExecStarPro is for Startups and SMEs that need support in their business strategy: ideas assessment and validation, market and trend analysis, competition comparison, audience definition, corporate and ICT strategy, fundraising strategy. I also mentor many professionals and founders acting as a sounding board, sharing my experience and knowledge, and take part in panels and competitions as an expert.

The Assistant Academy is for SMEs, managers, and entrepreneurs, who have problems with their business organization, due to unclear processes and responsibilities and a lack of internal communication, with poor results and KPIs not achieved. Scrum4Office aims to develop a new and more effective and efficient way of working, improving teamwork and collaboration, reducing inefficient behaviours, thanks to a mix of consulting, training, and mentoring. We improve productivity in just 6 weeks. The introduction of Scrum brings numerous benefits to the team: adaptability for quick problem solving; transparency, feedback, and continuous improvement; great levels of trust, collective responsibility, and team motivation; early and continuous delivery of customer value; high-speed and innovative environment. 

In your opinion, has the ecosystem of Italian startups improved in recent years and how is it today compared to the others in Europe? Is there still a gap and why? 

Our startup ecosystem grew extremely fast in the last few years, thanks to new emerging actors and an increased sensibility of the public opinion on innovation topics. 

Our startup market is quite small, compared to the ones of UK, Germany, and the Baltic countries. We are a traditional and old country and changing our political and economic outlook from SMEs to startups is not easy. However, the pressure from the Covid pandemic has accelerated the need for digitalization in business and personal life. Startups represent also a very effective and efficient way to introduce innovation in companies at a smaller cost than with internal R&D.  

How far, on the other hand, is the world of Italian startups from the American world of Silicon Valley, and why?

If a startup wants to grow quickly needs to look outside of Italy. The USA is the dream destination market: they have a very developed system of capital investment and a different approach to risk and failure. We also miss a corporate investment ecosystem due to the small size of our companies (98% are SMEs). 

However, in 2020 equity crowdfunding investments reached € 122 M, while business angels and Venture capitals contributed € 646 M. New public fiscal incentives, such as the raise up to 50% of IRPEF deduction on equity investments and the exemption on IRPEF on capital gain from the sale of shares in startups, aim to attract more funds from physical investors.

Are Italian startups capable of attracting capital from abroad and why?

Many of our startups are in the pre-seed, seed, or early stage, and are therefore considered too small in terms of scalability opportunities by big funds. Nonetheless, we have many successful stories about startups founded in Italy or by Italians. 

The Italian government encourages foreign investments with a special VISA for founders and investors willing to open and finance an innovative startup in Italy. 

Furthermore, Startup Wise Guys, Europe’s top B2B startups accelerator, has opened a SaaS branch in Milan, so I am confident that something is changing. 

Which sectors do you like more, and on which ones should Italian startup founders focus on and why?

I do not have a favoured sector. I mentor startups in several industries: fintech, tourism, fashion, e-commerce and marketplace, digital and physical products.

A sector to be supervised is that of B2B services, especially in support of the digitization of SMEs: Artificial Intelligence, data management, robotics, in factories, warehouses, and offices. As for the mass market, services for children and the elderly and towards social and environmental sustainability.

ExecStarPro is a strategic consulting company, how does it support startup founders in defining their business model to achieve their goals?

The first step is to evaluate the level of development of the idea and the skills of the founders. Then, we define one or more objectives to be achieved in a defined period, usually from 3 to 6 months. Finally, an action plan is agreed with milestones to achieve the objectives.

My involvement changes according to the needs and requests of the founders: it can be mentorship, advising, or consulting. 

Selvaggia, you are a mentor of Startup Geeks and other incubators/accelerators, how does your contribution differ in the programs? Why did you decide to undertake this activity and what is the thing you like the most in mentorship?

The Startup Builder is an online incubator for pre-MVP startups. The program is extremely broad and includes a part of training because the participants have different levels of business experience, and everyone must reach the same level to be able to follow it in the best possible way. Our role as mentors is to support the founders by reviewing their deliverables and sharing our experience. 

In other accelerators, like Polihub, Startup Wise Guys, Seed Money, the startups are usually already on the market, and they need a strategy to quickly grow their customer base and attract money from investors. 

Doing business is difficult in Italy both for a cultural issue as the ideal of a permanent job pushes families to discourage young people, especially girls, from entrepreneurship, and because subjects such as financial education and innovation are rarely taught at school. I have a “pay forward” approach (i.e., doing a good deed without expecting anything in return other than think that the beneficiary will sooner or later do something good for someone else) and with my contribution, I want to help people to achieve success. 

As an angel and a member of A4W, how do you participate in the growth of startups? in which startups do you prefer to invest and why?

For me, it is essential to have an active part in the startups in which I have invested, get to know the founders, and create a mood of trust. The sectors in which I prefer to invest concern the green economy, female entrepreneurship, AI, and deep tech. 

Green economy because environmental sustainability is an individual and collective responsibility. Female entrepreneurship accelerates the social and economic growth of our country. AI and deep tech because they are needed in our companies, but they are also growing sectors in the rest of the world.

As a mentor, what advice would you like to give to all our readers who have an idea but don’t know if it can become a startup and be successful?

Don’t give up without trying. If you believe in your idea, start by understanding if there is a potential market for the product or service and look for one or more mentors to deal with. Do not keep the idea secret for fear of it being stolen, because at this stage there is nothing defined, and it is better to immediately understand the potential.

Here are my contacts:

Calendly, if you want to arrange a mentorship call with me

If you are interested in Business Angel Networks, please read more on: Business Angel Networks: the main ones in Italy