In this guide, I try to give some advice on the national calls available (i.e. indirect funds), with a focus on the specific programmes that I follow. The calls explained below are those managed by the Italian national authorities. Obviously, each member state publishes specific indirect fund calls to meet the precise needs of its country.

Although these calls are different from country to country, they are all aligned with European policies and strategies. The first points to understand are in which country you would like to make your investment, in which country your company is located, or where you would like to start a business.

As already seen here, the sites to refer to for national tenders are governmental and ministerial (e.g. the MISE (Ministry of Economic Development) and the Invitalia (National Agency for the attraction of investments and business development) websites).

The NOP Research and Innovation Programme 2014-2020

NOP Research and Innovation 2014-2020 is in line with the national and regional Smart Specialization Strategy, with the National Program for Research Infrastructures, and with the European Horizon 2020 strategy.

There are 12 application areas, which include aerospace; agri-food; blue growth; green chemistry; design, creativity and made in Italy; energy; smart factory; sustainable mobility; health; smart, secure and inclusive communities; technologies for living environments; and technologies for cultural heritage.


 The thematic objectives are research, technological development, and innovation; education and training; and institutional and administrative capacity. The programme is responsible for the transition regions (Abruzzo, Molise, and Sardinia) and for the less developed regions (Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Puglia and Sicily).

The four priority axes are investments in human capital (i.e. innovative research doctorates, mobility, and attraction of researchers), thematic projects (i.e. research infrastructures, technological clusters, and research projects on enabling technologies – KETs), instrumental support for research and development activities (i.e. open data, social PA and governance), and technical assistance. 

The NOP Enterprise and Competitiveness Programme 2014-2020

NOP for Enterprises and Competitiveness 2014-2020 aims at bringing the European GDP manufacturing sector from 15.6% to 20% by 2020. The thematic objectives are strengthening research, technological development and innovation, promoting the competitiveness of SMEs, and transition to a low-carbon economy.

NOP for Enterprises and Competitiveness 2014-2020 has made €440.1 million available to support industrial research and experimental development projects in the application sectors of the National Strategy for Smart Specialization (i.e. Smart Factory, Agri-food and Life Sciences calls).

To support the creation and development of innovative start-ups, the NOP for Enterprises and Competitiveness programme makes €45.5 million available for the Smart & Start Italy funding programme, with subsidized loans and non-repayable grants that vary according to each case (e.g. geographic positioning of the start-up, youth and female composition of the team).

In addition, NOP for Enterprises and Competitiveness has allocated €300 million in resources for development contracts, with the following breakdown:

  • €100 million from Axis I Innovation
  • €100 million under Axis III SME competitiveness
  • €100 million to apply to Axis IV Energy efficiency

Below we will go deeper into the Smart & Start Call for innovative start-ups.

The Smart & Start call for innovative start-ups

Smart & Start Italia finances innovative start-ups which have a maximum of 60 months of activity, and which are registered in the special section of the business register. Those that can apply for this call are:

  • Small innovative start-ups established no more than 60 months before the project presentation.
  • Teams of individuals who want to set up an innovative start-up in Italy, even if they reside abroad, or foreign citizens in possession of a “start-up visa”.
  • Foreign companies that plan to set up at least one office in Italy. 

The requirements that qualify a company as an “innovative start-up” are indicated in art. 25 of the D.L. 179/2012. For further information on the requirements, consult this  website.


Fundable activities


Fundable activities include investment programmes and operating costs that are carried out as part of a business plan, and which have a significant technological and innovative content. These must be aimed at developing products, services or solutions in the field of the digital economy, as well as utilising the results of the public and private research system.


Eligible costs


Projects must include expenses between €100 thousand and €1.5 million for investment into goods and/or management costs. Investment expenses include plant, machinery, and technological equipment; HW and SW components; patents, licenses, know-how; and technological consultancy. Management expenses include costs of employees and collaborators; licenses and rights for industrial property titles; acceleration services; leasing fees; and interest on external financing. The expenses must be incurred after the submission of the application and within the following 24 months.




Smart & Start Italia offers interest-free loans of up to 80% of the total investment. The percentage of funding may increase to 90% if the start-up is composed exclusively of women or young people under the age of 35, or if it includes at least one Italian PhD who is working abroad and intends to return to Italy.

Non-repayable grants are also available, amounting to 30% of the loan, only for start-ups based in Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Puglia, Sardinia, Sicily, and in the “Seismic Crater” area of Aquila.

The loan must be repaid in 10 years starting from the 12th month following the last instalment of the loan received.



Deadlines are open until funds run out.

Do you want to delve deeper into the theme of national calls?


Privacy policy