Press release

Open Innovative PMI Award 2020: the winners

Alessandro Dragonetti
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The awarding ceremony of the 4th edition of the “Open Innovative PMI” Award – conceived by Bernoni Grant Thornton and dedicated to Italian innovative SMEs – was held online on 11 November 2020.

The conference on “The management of the mid-market finance area in the Covid-19 era” took place during the event. Among the speakers, there were Alessandro Dragonetti, Head of Tax of Grant Thornton, as moderator, Sante Maiolica, M&A Partner of GTFAS, who discussed the management opportunities and risks for businesses in this critical phase impacted by the pandemic.

Giulio Greco, professor at the Economics and Management Department at the University of Pisa, presented the 2020 report of the “Open Innovative PMI” Observatory, realized by Grant Thornton in collaboration with the University of Pisa, which is an analysis of the situation and trends of Italian innovative SMEs.

The winners of the award in this 4th edition’s categories are the following:

  • Echolight S.p.A. for the category “Research, innovation and digital”. Echolight, located in Lecce, is a high-tech biomedical company dedicated to the development of innovative medical devices for the diagnosis of osteoporosis and of related bone diseases.
  • Angiodroid Srl for the category “Covid-19 resilience”. Angiodroid is a company located in Bologna, which developed an injector of contrast agents for angiographies as gases instead of fluids, based on the use of carbon dioxide, being the only contrast mean that does not cause any allergic reaction.
  • Nanoprom Chemicals Srl for the category “Environmental sustainability”. Located in Reggio Emilia, it is among the first companies in Italy that believed in the research and commercial application of nanomaterials.

Winners, which stood out for their propensity for innovation, their environmental performances, and the excellent economic results achieved in Italy and abroad, have been awarded a prize consisting in professional tax and advisory services offered by Grant Thornton for a value of 10,000 Euro.

Participating companies were evaluated by a free and independent jury, made up of entrepreneur experts, university professors, and institutional representatives, which mainly took into account two parameters, i.e.: the relevance to the participation category and the innovative and economic performances. The latter were evaluated from the company incorporation date and specifically observing the development dynamics after its registration among innovative SMEs.


Alessandro Dragonetti, Head of Tax of Grant Thornton, stated: “The important percentage increase of innovative SMEs is a very good sign of the dynamism in this segment; however, a higher awareness of the advantages and opportunities that the inclusion in the register of innovative SMEs can bring is needed.

In fact, companies actually registered as innovative SMEs are less than 2 thousand, compared with approximately 20 thousand companies in Italy that could have the requirements to be included in the “innovative SMEs” category. And, pursuant to the current regulation, these entities could benefit from some of the regulatory, tax, social security and bureaucratic incentives provided for innovative start-ups.

Why should companies waive the provided simplifications, abatement of set-up costs, tax allowances for companies and investors, concessional hiring, and privileged access to credit? The registration as an innovative SME certainly represents an important leverage for Italian small companies that look at the future in a modern perspective and that have the potential to play a strategic role within the Italian economic system. For this reason, such registration should be increasingly promoted and supported and consultants play a crucial role in this action, as they should sensitize their clients on the important opportunity offered by the Ministry of Economic Development.


More in detail, the results of Grant Thornton and the University of Pisa Observatory on SMEs show, first of all, that the number of innovative SMEs(1) has increased by 40% in the last year; in fact,  567 registered as innovative SMEs in the dedicated Ministry register (between October 2019 and September 2020), compared with 432 in the previous period.

However, after five years since the creation of such register, the total number of innovative SMEs is still limited compared to the potential catchment: in fact, slightly more than 1,700 (1.732(2)) are “officially” registered as innovative SMEs, but there are likely some tens of thousands SMEs in Italy having the requirements to be included in the innovative SMEs register.

The increase in the number of registered SMEs is important, though still limited, in consideration of the many law interventions on the advantages that this category of enterprises can benefit from. Among the latest of such interventions, there are those under Decree dated 7 May 2019, providing incentives for start-ups and innovative SMEs, and those under “Rilancio” Decree in April 2020, which has allocated a provision to support venture capital of 200 million for the benefit of start-ups and innovative SMEs.

An amount of 200 million Euro has been allocated, which can be sourced from the resources already granted to the Guarantee Fund for SMEs, specifically dedicated to the issue of guarantees in favour of start-ups and innovative SMEs. Lastly, incentives to capitalization were provided, through relevant IRPEF deductions for investors by up to 50% of the investment amount.

It must be pointed out that some of the incentives to innovation, such as the tax credit for R&D activities, the hyper-amortization for “industry 4.0”, Patent Box, or the so-called “innovation manager” vouchers, are not exclusively for innovative SMEs, but are for the benefit of a wider number of categories.

The Observatory of SMEs shows that most innovative SMEs – approximately two thirds – can be classified as micro-enterprises, in terms of size, with a turnover lower than two million Euro. Less than 10% of innovative SMEs are middle enterprises (turnover between 10 million and 50 million), while the remaining part is included among small enterprises (turnover between 2 and 10 million Euro).

The average “age” of newly registered companies is around 9. Some innovative SMEs could be removed from the innovative SMEs register in the next years, given the stricter recent requirements concerning the permanence of innovative SMEs in the register: in fact, innovative SMEs that have been operating for more than 7 but less than 10 years can remain in the register, if they have not yet sufficiently proven their return-generation potential.

From a geographical perspective, with 148 companies, Lombardy is the region with the highest number of newly registered innovative SMEs in the last year (over 26% of total ones). It is followed by Lazio with 65, Emilia Romagna with 57, Campania with 52, Tuscany with 38 and Veneto with 36, while all other regions register considerably lower values.

From a city perspective, the highest number of SMEs registered in the last year is in Milan, with 122 companies (+54% compared with the last record), followed by Rome with 58 registered companies (+100%) and Naples, with 26 (+86%).

With reference to the demographic characteristics, the database of the Ministry of Economic Development highlights that over 80% of new SMEs is made up of mainly Italian men. Cases in which the ownership structure show a prevailing female, young or foreign presence are limited. For example, a prevailing young presence in the ownership structure is recorded in only 6.53% of SMEs, a prevailing female presence in 8.82% of cases and a prevailing foreign presence in ownership and/or management only in 1.94% of examined cases.

The second part of the report, concerning an analysis of economic and financial data of innovative SMEs, shows generally good results in terms of turnover and economic and financial performances. Innovative SMEs registered an average increase in turnover by 15% between 2018 and 2019. If we only consider those innovative SMEs that have registered an increase in turnover, the average is +30%.

The average shareholders’ equity is equal to nearly 1.9 million Euro. This average is, however, increased due to middle enterprises data. In fact, shareholders’ equity is lower than one million Euro for half of innovative SMEs and lower than 1.3 million for 85% of them.

On the other hand, 76.45% of innovative SMEs register a positive EBITDA, proving that most of the analysed sample is in an economically balanced situation.

As concerns the reference industries, newly registered SMEs are mainly operating in the services sector, followed by the industry/manufacturing sector. A limited number of companies registered as innovative SMEs operate in commerce.

More in detail, the services sector include mainly the most dynamic segments, i.e. IT, electronics, intermediate products, chemical and pharmaceutical, as well as non-financial services. These industries, which represent, in the aggregate, approximately 90% of monitored innovative SMEs, are among those that could suffer the lowest impact of the COVID 19 crisis.

By crossing data of the Observatory research with estimations of the Cerved Industry Forecast (May 2020), relevant to the impact of the COVID crisis on companies’ turnover, in a soft scenario, the abovementioned industries will suffer a decrease in turnover by 10.4% in 2020 (compared with 2019), followed by an average increase by 10.3% in 2021 (compared with 2020).

Therefore, comparing data, the aggregate decrease in turnover would be by approximately 1% between 2019 and 2021. In a hard scenario, the abovementioned industries will suffer an average total decrease in turnover by 14.9% in 2020 (compared with 2019), followed by an average increase by 15.35% in 2021 (compared with 2020).

Therefore, comparing data, the aggregate decrease in turnover would be by less than 2% comparing 2019 with 2021. In conclusion, innovative SMEs could show a high resilience to the crisis and prove to be ready to seize opportunities.


The “Open Innovative PMI” Conference, Award, and Observatory are part of a wider project that aims to support Italian innovation by promoting this specific category of enterprises, which are the backbone of the Italian entrepreneurial system, but still not so much known. In fact, the purpose of the initiative is to help and sustain the development of innovative SMEs, facilitating the comprehension of tax, corporate, and financial benefits provided by the current regulation and specifically dedicated only to those innovative SMEs that are registered in the proper section of the Chamber of Commerce Companies’ Register.



(1) Based on the current regulation, in order to be qualified as innovative SME, a business should meet at least two of the following requirements:

  • At least 3% of the higher value between cost of production and total value of production concerns R&D activities;
  • A team made up of 1/3 people having a master’s degree, or of 1/5 doctorate students, doctors, or graduates with a certified 3-year experience in research activities;
  • Holder or licensee of at least one patent, or owner of registered software.

(2) Official data from the Chamber of Commerce at 9 November 2020.