Tech Entrepreneur Wants to Make Italy the Next Silicon Valley
By Alexis Christoforous
As a serial entrepreneur, Fabrizio Capobianco has successfully founded and sold at least half a dozen tech companies in his decades long career. Now, at 51-years old, he is ready to prime the next generation of entrepreneurs in his home country of Italy.
“I want to do something for the country,” Capobianco told The Voice of Business. “What is missing in Italy, in particular, is that we're not investing in kids that are 23 years old, because they're viewed as too young, which is the opposite in Silicon Valley where if you’re 35 you're too old.”
Born in the Italian Alps, Capobianco earned his doctorate degree in computer science from the University of Pavia. In 1999, he moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in technology software and settled in California’s Silicon Valley, where he flourished as a young tech entrepreneur.
“Since I was a kid, I knew that if I wanted to create something big, I needed to go to Silicon Valley,” Capobianco said. “And the reasons are, there's everything there for someone like me, there are the people that would give you money to start, there are the partners to grow, Facebook, Google are 20 minutes from where I lived, and then there are the companies that buy you, which is a very important element for venture based businesses.”
In 2012, Capobianco founded TOK.tv, which became the largest social network in sports with over 40 million users worldwide. As the social network of the official apps of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Juventus and other sports teams and leagues, TOK.tv allowed fans to experience games even when they were apart. They could create virtual living rooms, send voice and text messages, take social selfies and share stadium cheers and fun sounds.
In 2019, Capobianco sold TOK.tv to San Jose, California-based Minerva Networks and currently serves as the company’s Chief Innovation Officer.
“We're now bringing that technology of “watching together” into the metaverse,” he said, “because the most important room in the metaverse is going to be your living room, where you invite people over to watch TV together, and that's where we're focusing the company.”
TOK.tv is what Capobianco calls a “liquid enterprise,” one with no offices, where every employee works remotely.
“It is an evolution of the dual model, with headquarters in Silicon Valley and R&D in Italy. In this case, though, the R&D is not in a single town, but dispersed across the country,” Capobianco explained. “The goal was to harness the best talent in Italy, instead of being limited to a single pool of talent in one town.”
Capobianco is also Chairman of Funambol, a white-label “personal cloud” provider he founded. The Frost City, California-based company’s flagship solution, OneMediaHub, stores pictures, videos, music, files, contacts and calendars on smartphones, tablets and computers in the cloud, syncs them across devices, and allows sharing with other people and systems.
After 23 years in the U.S., Capobianco recently moved back to Italy and is passionate about nurturing Italy-based entrepreneurs.
“I want to teach them how startups work,” said Capobianco. “I want to get faculty from Silicon Valley and create a tech MBA here to show the Italians how to do it.”
He hopes to name his new venture Liquid University because he said, “It will create people that can work from anywhere they are, because the future is liquid, you don't have to stay in one place, you don't have to be in Silicon Valley anymore.”
Capobianco said the Covid-19 pandemic showed the world that many people can do their jobs well from remote locations, and he believes Italy will benefit from the trend.
“The market is developing where there is more money here from venture capitalists, at least for the tech industry. And again, the quality of life is so high and I'm doing exactly the same work I was doing in San Francisco. I'm paid by the same company, same dollars, with the same amount of money, but I live here,” he said.
Still, on the world stage, Capobianco admits Italy is known for its food and fast cars and not necessarily technology.
“Technology wise, even just the motor industry, and Formula One is the top of the top in technology, we're the best there is,” he said. “There is a lot of misconception around Italy, but I started a company in 2002 with the entire team in Italy, because I realized the engineers I had in Italy were better than the ones I had in Silicon Valley, and the next one I did it even better because I let them live where they wanted,” he added.
He also believes foreign investors underestimate Italy.
“This is the least invested market in Europe, for reasons that are hard to understand because it's not like the people here are not entrepreneurial or they're not as smart, but the amount of money that comes from the outside into Italy, it's really small compared to the other countries,” he said, calling Italy a “gem” for investors and entrepreneurs.
“I was born in a valley in the Alps, in order to fulfill my dreams I needed to move to Silicon Valley,” he said. “I don't think it's necessary anymore, it's actually the opposite, from Silicon Valley they're coming to Italy.”