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Peekaboo: reimagining the startup-corporation partnership

Peekaboo: reimagining the startup-corporation partnership

Peekaboo is an Italian company that supports youth entrepreneurship by connecting young people’s original ideas with companies that can support them through open innovation strategies.


The term Open Innovation has been widely used in recent years. The need to push the boundaries of innovation is shared by both startups and large companies alike and for this reason co-creation has changed the way people work today. Open Innovation is a new approach to industrial innovation and it argues that useful knowledge is widespread, and that no organisation should attempt to innovate entirely on its own. More formally, Open Innovation was defined by Professor Henry Chesbrough in 2003 as “a distributed innovation process based on purposively managed knowledge flows across organisational boundaries, using pecuniary and non-pecuniary mechanisms in line with the organisation's business model”. The practice has rapidly become a much sought after approach to innovation.

For startups, key partnerships are fundamental to their success. With a staggering 90% failure rate in startups, it’s important for both organisations and startups to leverage each other’s strengths in order to build value-driven solutions for their customers and to ensure positive results. This mutual connection between startups and companies is exactly what drove Paolo Napolitano and Federico Belli to found Peekaboo, a platform that supports youth entrepreneurship by connecting young people’s original ideas with companies that can support them through open innovation strategies.


“Innovation coincides with the ability to create a positive impact for the development of humanity, through the creation and growth of new business models that can contribute to the improvement of the environment and society”
Paolo Napolitano, CEO and co-founder of Peekaboo

Disneyland for startups

Peekaboo began life in 2015 on a university campus where Paolo Napolitano was running another startup. After being asked by many students for advice on how to conceptualise their ideas, Napolitano decided it was best to repurpose his efforts towards spreading an entrepreneurial culture among students. This is how Peekaboo came about. Napolitano says: “Our mission became to ‘give light to ideas,’ creating a community of talent consisting of founders, developers, designers, marketers and innovation managers who work together to create sustainable startups in the market.” He adds: “At the same time, we were also in contact with companies that asked us to support them in their innovation processes to launch new business models.”

Peekaboo is defined by its creators as a Disneyland for startups: it is a community of innovators made by innovators. The company supports individuals with the digital skills needed to transform their ideas into validated startups through a three-month pre-acceleration initiative. This is the Lean Startup Program, which currently operates in Rome and Milan. In less than five years, this program has aided in the growth of over 50 startups in different areas of activity (mobile payment, fast prototyping, VR, e-health, etc.) by not only helping them discover partnership opportunities, but also supporting them in the development of MVPs.

Over the years, the company has stayed true to its Open Innovation methodology. It has created a community of over 3,000 members including founders, developers, designers, marketers and innovation managers. According to Napolitano, the target market for Peekaboo is defined as “all those who have an idea and want to learn how to turn them into startups using Silicon Valley technologies.”

Aside from being a gateway for young startups to grow, Peekaboo also supports companies in defining and implementing Open Innovation strategies to collaborate with external startups and create value for them in just a few months. “We do this by supporting companies in scouting for startups as well as defining internal programs for the launch and development of innovative projects aimed at generating new revenues and improving processes,” Napolitano says. The team of experts at Peekaboo not only helps companies find the right startups to co-create with, it also fully supports them throughout the process of training people on the innovative methodologies and tools needed for their digital transformation. 


“Innovators are people who always experiment with new ways and new solutions in order to achieve their vision. They learn from their failures, persevering in spite of them and in this way they contribute to the progress of humanity”
Paolo Napolitano, CEO and co-founder of Peekaboo

Sustainable Development Goal 9: Fostering Innovation with Enel

Since 2017, several large companies in the Energy, Pharmaceutical and Retail Distribution sectors have chosen Peekaboo to connect with the startup ecosystem. At Enel, we first began our collaboration with this company through workshops that brought together startups and employees for the development of new sustainable business models. “Enel was fundamental to our growth because it was the first company to believe in us when we didn't have a large structure or a validated model in the market,” Napolitano says.

Throughout the years, Peekaboo has collaborated with us by supporting Enel's various innovation programmes including the crowdsourcing platform openinnovability.com, Enel Innovation Hubs as well as, more recently, a Corporate Intrapreneurship program called Make It Happen!. This enables thousands of Enel employees around the world to propose and implement innovative projects with the support of startups. “Today, hundreds of people have taken part in the program, creating teams with other colleagues and carrying out innovative projects that have generated savings through increased process efficiency as well as new revenue sources”, Napolitano says. Not only does the program serve as a great incentive for employee participation, it also nurtures talent and supports corporate culture by training people in methodologies such as Lean Startup and Design Thinking.

All in all, Peekaboo has established itself as a platform that has a positive impact on society. The company is a perfect fit with Enel’s approach to Open Innovation which encourages any kind of startup with a brilliant idea. Napolitano concludes: “We are young, but we have a clear vision: to help Peekaboo grow and become one of the largest and most influential communities capable of supporting startups and companies in the co-creation and development of new sustainable business models to improve the world.” Through this collaborative vision, we are looking forward to helping Peekaboo grow and spread Open Innovation around the world.