Startup Tales | How ItaliaRimborso assists for free passengers who are victims of airline disruption to obtain compensation

8 March 2024
Innovation Center, Startup Development, Startup Tales, startup

Founded in Trapani in 2019 by CEO Felice D'Angelo, the Sicilian claim company has developed a solution based on an intelligent algorithm that allows to know in advance whether travellers are entitled to financial compensation for problems attributable to airlines

Assist passengers suffering from poor service due to airlines (severe delays, cancellations, overbooking, lost connections, loss and damage to luggage) in obtaining the compensation due in accordance with European Regulation 261/2004 and the Montreal Convention of 1990, with a patented technology based on an "intelligent" algorithm, which analyzes multiple data in minutes allowing to know in advance whether the passenger is entitled to compensation. In a nutshell this is the activity of ItaliaRimborso, former startup and today innovative SME founded by the current CEO Felice D'Angelo in 2019 in Trapani.

A free, smart, intuitive and fast service, with costs for handling complaints uploaded to the counterparty. The Sicilian claim company activates also when a flight is cancelled due to exceptional weather conditions. In fact, in these circumstances the airline must assist the traveller. If this does not happen, the victim can independently bear several costs (for example, relying on another air carrier or taking a taxi to reach the destination), asking for reimbursement of the costs incurred.

From the business idea to the start of innovative entrepreneurial activity: the first steps of ItaliaRimborso

The entrepreneurial idea is the result of an intuition of Felice D'Angelo after a course of academic studies in economics and, above all, an important master in Growth Hacking Marketing at the Turin headquarters of Talent Garden that represented the input to constitute ItaliaRimborso starting from a disservice and current regulations. "On the one hand - explains D'Angelo - there is a fundamental problem linked to the European Regulation that few know; on the other one a complex bureaucratic procedure to enforce their rights".

The response of the market was immediately important "allowing us to assist about 50 passengers per month - continues the founder of Italy Reimbursement -. A possible solution as we have structured a service able to evaluate a priori the outcome of a complaint, initially by hiring an aeronautical technical expert". In this way, when a passenger victim of a disservice submitted an application by filling out the appropriate form on the website of ItaliaRimborso, the latter applied a "manual rating" on the flight in question, useful to know in advance whether there were conditions for obtaining compensation.

How does the patented technology for the prior assessment of complaints of ItaliaRimborso

Given the immediately positive feedback "we started thinking about the technology to be applied to speed up the preliminary assessment and grow in the market. As a first step - continues the CEO of Italia Rimborso - we have equipped ourselves with an internal management system (CMS). Then technology has helped us more and more: on the one hand enabling the control over our processes, on the other hand it has allowed us to solve all our problems allowing us to assist 16,000 passengers per year compared to the initial 1,000".

Another fundamental element was to assign a tracking code associated with each practice, entrusted directly to the passenger who has been damaged, allowing him to view the progress at any time. Moreover, D'Angelo points out, "we have created an automation of our algorithm based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, which crosses different data and allows us to know if the practice is workable instantly. Thanks to this solution, which still provides human control due to the occurrence of exceptional conditions, we have become really competitive in both the B2C and the B2B market". That are the travel agencies, which currently affiliated are about 1,000.

ItaliaRimborso has therefore started to develop internally several statistical indicators to estimate how many disruptions occur, how many flights are delayed or are cancelled, the punctuality or not of individual airlines and which airports are more efficient. "With this data - explains D'Angelo - we have launched functional and aggressive marketing campaigns, targeted on a specific sector. At this stage, the role of Intesa Sanpaolo was crucial - adds the CEO of Italia Rimborso - because it was the only financial institution in the territory to believe in the project granting us in 2022 a funding of almost 500,000 euros, entirely used to start marketing campaigns aimed at tracking the conversion rate".

A fundamental step, which allowed the former innovative Sicilian startup to have an understanding of the market and the acquisition costs of the practices, starting the path of constant growth of ItaliaRimborso that in 2023 received over 60,000 requests for compensation, working 20,000 of them. The result was reflected in almost €2 million in revenues, and in the expansion of the team, which today consists of 13 people - strictly under 40 - after a series of hires on the territory.

ItaliaRimborso: environmental sustainability at the heart of the business

Moreover, the Sicilian reality has always given great importance to environmental sustainability, for example by starting the "green practice" project in mid-2022. In this way, after receiving a positive result to make the claim, each passenger had the opportunity to choose whether to start a zero environmental impact practice by sending all the necessary documentation in digital format. A solution that became structural in early 2024.

In this way, clarifies the CEO of ItaliaRimborso, "the user who is the victim of an air service failure no longer receives a list of documents for his practice, but a link to upload them in digital version that speeds up the opening of the complaint and allows us to carry out part of our work".

In addition, the Sicilian SME is planning a change of headquarter soon, necessary given the growth of the business, designing the new one putting environmental sustainability first: “From the installation of photovoltaic panels to be self-sufficient to the simple replacement of fixtures, with an investment that will also reduce future costs" underlines D'Angelo.

ItaliaRimborso’s successes with the support of Intesa Sanpaolo and Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center

In the growth path ItaliaRimborso has received numerous awards, as well as being the only platform for Italian litigation funding cited in the community study on third-party litigation funding within the document "Responsible private funding of litigation" published in March 2021. To which is added the awarding of the Prize of Awards 2023 in the category Tourism (National Award for Innovation established by decree of the President of the Council of Ministers on concession of the President of the Republic in 2008 promoted by Fondazione COTEC) delivered to Felice D'Angelo by the Minister for Public Administration, Paolo Zangrillo, during the ceremony held in Rome on 19 December 2023 at the CNR.

Moreover, in 2021 ItaliaRimborso received the Elite accreditation, accessing the Elite Lounge of Intesa Sanpaolo organized in collaboration with Elite: ecosystem of Euronext that helps startups and SMEs to grow and structure themselves through a set of services to support the business.

In 2022, then, the Sicilian claim company participated to the Italian Life Style Program - Aceleration Program in Florence: acceleration program dedicated to the search for innovative startups and SMEs that offer digital solutions and technologies enabling the tourism industries, fashion and food, conceived and jointly promoted by Nana Bianca with Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center, Fondazione CR Firenze and Fondazione per la Ricerca e l'Innovazione. After the programme, the relationship with the Innovation Center continued and intensified, laying the foundations for more structured future collaborations.

"Both paths have allowed us to accumulate experience and cultivate professional human contacts. Important elements, especially for a business like ours: a company that comes from the South, where it is very difficult not to make innovation but to maintain professional relationships with funds and other stakeholders because of the distance" emphasizes D'Angelo.

The next steps of ItaliaRimborso: from the "conquest" of the Italian market to the internationalization of the business

Moving on to the next steps, "the real challenge will be in 2024 in 2025 because we now have all the automatic systems and budgets to invest in marketing. Considerable figures, which highlight the flaw of our business model - explains the CEO of the Sicilian innovative reality -. For every practice we work there is an immediate outlay of money, which falls within a period of time between four and six months".

Talking about the internationalization of the business, explains D'Angelo, "it has always been our ambition. This is why during the Italian Lifestyle Program we not only thought of a path, but we made it on paper by identifying and registering the brand "Claiman" (a sort of superhero of claims) in Europe, in addition to buying all internet domains already having an idea of how to develop it".

However, continues the CEO of Italia Rimborso, "the statistical elements indicate that in Italy there is a large market that we can still conquer. 600,000 passengers who are entitled to compensation but who are not aware of it or who do not apply to airlines. As a result, we must and can still grow in our territory".

All this resisting to "courtship" by investment funds, Italian and not, to have more operational autonomy and change business model without having to answer to third parties: "We do not see a round as a necessity yet", explains D'Angelo. To then express a kind of dream: "The ideal would be to be able to bring in our territory innovation centers, incubators and acceleration programs. In my opinion, functional innovative projects start here, but they don’t have that bit of luck that we had and they fail".