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The Italian market for high-tech SMEs and the role of Venture Capital: an empirical analysis

Overview of the Italian VC-backing market
The Italian market for high-tech SMEs and the role of Venture Capital: an empirical analysis


High-tech SMEs often suffer from limited resources and legitimacy, while fore-fronting fundamental
uncertainty about the outcome of their innovative activities. Entrepreneurs and their backers therefore
seek ways to either become successfully viable and/or cash-out on their efforts.
Sponsoring organizations, either public or private (e.g., Venture Capital), for-profit or not-for-profit
(e.g., accelerators), can play an essential role in shaping the evolutive patterns of high-tech SMEs.
First, they can improve their bargaining power. Second, they provide new resources or can marshal
additional ones. Finally, sponsoring organizations lend SMEs a certification of quality, which lessens
the effect of information asymmetry for potential acquirers. Therefore, the backing from sponsorship
organization like VCs may play a crucial role in mitigating the hurdles high-tech SMEs face in M&A
markets, for example by improving their valuations or avoiding forced premature sales.
This project aims to empirically investigate the effect of sponsorship from various organizations on
the Italian SMEs’ likelihood of successfully exiting via M&A or IPO. Various forms of sponsorship
are considered, based on the types of organization, the extent and nature of the support provided, and
certification effect.
The student(s) interested in this thesis project will:
• Review the literature on Venture Capital financing and supporting schemes. Explore the
main features of Italian VC organizations, such as their categorization, main trends, and
potential differences relative to the EU markets;
• Contribute to the data collection efforts of an ongoing project, using sources like for
example Lexis Nexis or Crunchbase;
• Use statistical and/or econometric techniques to study the impact of VC
certification/sponsorship role. Prior knowledge is not required.


Type of thesis: Both with and without discussant; joint theses are also available.


Thesis abroad may eventually be organized at the University of Sheffield (this is not a mandatory
activity and it is subject to the availability of the university abroad to host master thesis students.
Eventually refer to the call for the “thesis abroad” in the polimi online service).


Supervisor: Alessandro Lucini Paioni
Co-supervisors: Daniela Silvestri (polimi), Keivan Aghasi (University of Sheffield)

When costs do not matter

When costs do not matter.
Environmental shock, inter-industry technological competition and the emergence of the nascent mRNA vaccine industry.

Recent industry evolution studies provide evidence of a long period of vibrant experimentation and development of an industry’s knowledge base even before the first instance of product commercialisation, i.e., industry inception. This pre-commercialisation period is denoted as incubation stage (Moeen and Agarwal, 2017). Following a trigger event (e.g., scientific discoveries, unmet users’ needs) leading to the initiation of the incubation stage, investing firms incur in actions aimed at resolving technological and demand uncertainty leading the industry to emerge (or not). This recent literature calls for further research to investigate the characteristics of this incubation stage that result from firms’ investment strategies.
Beyond an initial trigger event that spur innovative activities, we argue that the incubation stage of a nascent industry encompasses other “trigger events” (Aversa et al., 2022). Environmental shocks (e.g., the resolution of a mission-oriented grand challenge, like health disease) may for example occur, partially solving the uncertainty about possible technology-demand nexus, that ultimately lead to the emergence of nascent industries. We also argue that environmental jolts may spur inter-industry technological competition between conventional and new technologies that, in turn, may accelerate the emergence of a nascent industry. Starting from these premises, this project aims to provide more nuanced explanations on the competitive dynamics among investing firms in novel technologies that ultimately lead to the emergence of a new industry, against incumbents in conventional industries, following an environmental shock.
We use as empirical context the emergence of the mRNA-based vaccine industry. The mRNA discovery dates back to 1960 and investing firms experimented across several types of vaccines on infections and other diseases, even beyond the recent call for Covid-19 mRNA-based vaccines. However, the industry did not emerge until this technique was used to produce mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 infection. High production costs, demand and technology uncertainty, induced firms not to exploit market opportunities, delaying in this way their market entry. Using the development of vaccines against Covid-19 infection as grand challenge (i.e., environmental jolt), we argue that firms developing mRNA-based vaccines competed against firms using conventional methods. The development and public procurement of mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines ultimately lead to the emergence of the mRNA vaccine industry that, not necessarily has rendered obsolete the vaccine industry based on conventional techniques.
The student(s) interested in this project will:
• Revise and advance the existing literature on nascent industries and firms’ investing and innovation strategies in the aftermath of major environmental shocks
• Draw from multiple secondary sources to develop a tailor-made database. Students will trace the strategic actions taken by investing firms that incurred in clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines, both through mRNA-based and conventional techniques. The sample will include firms at the international level.
• Use statistical and econometric techniques to investigate and quantify the effects of interest

Supervisor: Cristina Rossi Lamastra
Co-supervisors: Daniela Silvestri, Fabio Busicchia

Industrial dynamics in nascent industries: the case of the US commercial drone industry

Nascent industries are eras of ferment, nested in between the inception of new technologies and their commercialisation. Both established companies and ambitious start-ups operate in this context, pursuing the most effective technical solution while trying to secure revenues and growth. While nascent industries offer many opportunities, they are also characterised by fundamental uncertainty. Firms entering these dynamic environments have to swiftly learn what products and business models are viable, adapting to an evolving economic and policy framework. While some firms are able to learn and evolve quickly enough to withstand this uncertainty and actively shape such developing context, others are forced to abandon their initial plans and exit altogether.
The context of this investigation will be the North American commercial drone industry. Its goal is to explore the lively industrial dynamics characterising this nascent industry, investigating the types of firms populating it over the years, which were able to succeed, and what factors proved decisive in achieving this.
The student(s) interested in this project will:
• Revise and advance the existing literature on nascent industries.
• Draw from secondary sources to collect data on the firms entering (and abandoning) this nascent industry.
• Use statistical and econometric techniques to investigate and quantify the effects of interest.
Learning goals:
• Develop analytical and critical thinking.
• Develop data analysis skills.
Potentially, more than a Thesis is available on this project. Students may share the data collection and re-organisation efforts.
Supervisor: Prof.ssa Cristina Rossi-Lamastra
Co-Supervisors: Alessandro Lucini-Paioni (Post-Doc), Fabio Busicchia (PhD)
How incumbent organizations enter in a nascent industry through platform-based servitization and business model innovation

Incumbent organizations operating in the traditional space industry are sensing new market opportunities in the nascent industry of space economy. The space economy is the commercial extension and the evolution of the traditional (government-based) space industry, which leverages on a combination of space and digital technologies to provide several services for public institutions, and private organizations. To enter such nascent industry, incumbent organizations need to embrace a change at strategic level, moving from offering new products to creating and offering new platform-based services. Despite the relevance and urgency of the problem, few studies investigate how incumbent organization should organize and evolve, what are the successful practices, processes, and decision-making activities to make innovation happen.
Full Thesis
Supervisor: Prof. Angelo Cavallo