Imoannatori and business angels: two models of informal capital provision


This article compares the role and objectives of informal capital provision in a trust‐based context (such as in industrial districts) and in a market‐based context. An example of the former is given by the activities of impannatori in the Prato (Florence, Tuscany) textile district, while the latter is associated with the activities of business angels. Impannatori are ‘pure entrepreneurs’ acting as final firms; they have two main functions: liaising with the final market and coordinating subcontracting activities. Another typical function of impannatori is to provide informal finance to subcontractors. Pure entrepreneurs, like impannatori in Prato, are typical of industrial districts in general. The article compares impannatori with business angels as both act as informal capital providers to small firms and start‐ups, often replacing and offering finance in parallel to the banking system. Despite the large number of studies on Italian industrial districts, informal capital provision within them has often been neglected. The novelty of the article is therefore to explore the role of impannatori as providers of informal credit to subcontractors for the functioning and the success of the textile district in Prato. It will be argued that a trust‐based context enables credit providers to reduce transaction costs and information asymmetry, therefore reducing the risk associated with informal lending. To do this we compare the impannatori model with business angels, highlighting differences and similarities. In order to assess the importance of impannatori within Prato we draw on ecological theories of organizations and investigate the co‐evolution of impannatori and subcontractors’ populations. The empirical evidence we provide is consistent with the hypothesis that the two populations have evolved in symbiosis and that the informal credit provided by impannatori has been crucial for the economic development of Prato.