Renato della Valle, CEO of Innovet Italia Srl tells us how they transfer innovation coming from the research to the veterinary market.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Renato della Valle: Thank God all my family and the Innovet team are fine and safe, despite the COVID pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Innovet Italia Srl.
Renato della Valle: Our family has been present in the pharmaceutical field since the 60s. In particular, my father led Fidia for more than 20 years, one of the largest Italian pharma companies, strongly committed to the nervous system therapeutic area. In the 90s, he left Fidia to found his own enterprise on a specific idea: to develop health approaches following where Nature leads. The idea was to shift from a classic pharmaceutical view where you have to block in any way the pathological mechanisms to a biomodulation strategy to help the body to restore the biological balance. At that time, I had just graduated as an agronomist, and I was in love with everything about animals and Nature. On the contrary, my sister was working in the research group of the Nobel prize for medicine, Rita Levi Montalcini, having a high interest in the neuro-immuno-endocrinology field. That’s why my father gave us the opportunity to found and manage a veterinary company. The mission was to transfer innovation coming from the research to the veterinary market, and for this reason, we decided to call the new company Innovet (Veterinary Innovation). We can say that our company was born from the combination of my big love for animals and nature and the passion of my sister for research.
How does Innovet Italia Srl innovate?
Renato della Valle: Our innovation is either of process or product. First of all, a “process innovation”, because in the veterinary field, the market is usually fed by traditional products or at most by know-hows that come from the human sector. For many years “big pharma “was mainly focused on shifting the know-how generated for humans being into the animal health field. With this model, the veterinary product becomes just a copy of the veterinary ones, without any specificity. In our model, on the contrary, we try to develop products specifically thought for our animal target (dogs and cats) before any other target. This is the reason why in our group, we have two different and separate companies, one for animal health (Innovet) and the other for human health (Epitech). But perhaps our main originality is represented by our products. 99% of them are totally original and focused on our Aliamides project. Aliamide is a new class of molecules not only present in Nature (either in the vegetable or in the animal world) but, more importantly, they have a physiological mode of action. Their parent molecule is called PEA (palmitoylethanolamide) and is normally present in the body of every animal. The Nobel prize Rita Levi Montalcini discovered that this substance is able to control some kinds of cells involved in inflammation and pain. A natural anti-inflammatory and painkiller agent is normally present also in the canine and feline body. When the negative stimuli (i.e. traumas, parasites) rise above a certain threshold, the natural level of PEA can’t counteract the problem, and the symptoms develop. That’s the moment to use our products that re-integrate the natural levels of PEA. Recently we also discovered that Aliamides belongs to the endocannabinoids system as they are able to bind the cannabis receptors (i.e. CB1, CB2 PPAR-alpha) in order to control the cells involved in the generation of pain and inflammation. But at the contrary to the active principles of marijuana, PEA is a physiological substance without any of the well-known side effects of the phytocannabinoids.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Renato della Valle: Fortunately, the Pets market wasn’t affected by COVID, at least in Europe. On the contrary, especially in Italy, the hard lockdown we had in 2020, springtime pushed people to stay nearer their Pets and to take care better of their health. Furthermore, many people that hadn’t had a Pet at home went to rescue kennels to find a new friend and fight loneliness. I think this is the only positive effect of COVID… Obviously, our work team had and are having some problems at for the travel limitations and many other organizing troubles, but any of us is doing his/her best to do his job in a different manner. It’s a mental matter, as someone said, “If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse”. This has become our motto for the COVID period. And the result was not long in coming: we had a growing turnover rate of more than 20% in 2020, and we opened in 2021 also better!
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Renato della Valle: Not at all! In 2020 springtime, I was personally worried by the prospects, but I understood that with the hard work, we would have been able to resist the storm. It’s similar to when you are in a boat sailing in rough water, and you see the lightning on the horizon. Every component of the ship must wear the lifejacket and go to its position; you have to close every hatch and fight all together against the waves and the wind. The sun will shine again soon; you have to believe it! And so it was…
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Renato della Valle: Our customers are veterinarians for dogs & cats. Our marketing team visits them to explain their technical characteristics and to let them use our products in order to have the best effect. It’s a field job where you had to travel in the territory a visit many people. Before the COVID, we were also used to organizing and participating in many scientific congresses to meet the vets. All of this became very difficult and sometimes impossible. So we converted many of the in presence jobs to digital jobs. Webinars, web calls, telephone calls, emails, WhatsApp, … No matter which, but every new method to continue to do our best job! Fortunately, we all live in the digital era; otherwise, it would have been much harder!
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Renato della Valle: No, thank God we haven’t had the need.
Your final thoughts
Renato della Valle: We need Pets, and Pets need our care. They became members of our families; more and more, we need their health to increase our wellness. This is the reason why we work to bring innovation to the vet so he can give them the best quality of life. And to do this, we study Nature because she is so instructive, and she leads through the best way.