MILAN — The Italian government is helping to uncover “Italian Hidden Gems.”

In a first such partnership, ICE, the country’s trade agency, has inked a yearlong agreement with Yoox to help develop the online business of 100 small- and medium-sized Italian brands in the U.S. and China, with a focus on fashion, accessories, art and design. A dedicated platform, called “Italian Hidden Gems,” will be launched in mid-2018 on the e-tailer, under the Yoox Net-a-porter Group.

“The idea stemmed from two considerations: ICE’s goal is to help small- and medium-sized companies in their internationalization and to attract foreign investors,” said Michele Scannavini, president of the agency. Small- and medium-sized companies need support in the distribution of their brands, to have access to different important retailers, and to have more resources and visibility, he explained. “It’s never a problem of product offer or brand reputation, but it’s often a problem of distribution.”

State investments will total three million euros a year, starting from the launch date, for four seasons and split evenly between the U.S. and China, channeled into communication, banners, online and off-line activities that will create visibility and generate traffic. ICE has seen a 45 percent increase in funds for the fashion sector from the Minister of Economic Development in 2017. “This is the first such project in Italy — and in the world, to my knowledge,” Scannavini said. “And it’s the first chapter of more to come, it could become a model.” He said ICE is negotiating with Alibaba to also promote 140 brands in other categories, such as food and wine.

ICE has been emphasizing the concept of unified commerce for that past year, and Scannavini underscored the complexity of the online world. In Italy, the companies that accept online orders are only 10 percent of total, compared with France and Germany, where they are 21 and 27 percent of total, respectively, according to the agency.

“It’s not only a problem of access, but also of generating visibility and traffic and all this requires investments. It’s not as much an issue of being available in China, rather it’s about visibility in order to marry business with offer.” Accordingly, Scannavini thought it would be useful to find an experienced partner that could be an aggregator. “We never thought of venturing into creating our own platform, it was key to bridge the brands with the right partner,” Scannavini said.

Enter Yoox, which beat five other European competitors, leveraging a presence in more than 100 countries and, in particular, solid expertise in the U.S. and China, with branches that opened in 2003 and in 2010, respectively; business done in 11 languages, 10 currencies and a 24-hour active customer care.

Scannavini said that since mid-2015, 90 percent of ICE’s promotion of brands in brick-and-mortar stores was done in the U.S. for more than 3,000 companies and 800 new partners. These activities generated additional revenues of 250 million euros. “This is very encouraging and we want to do the same in digital,” he declared. “That’s why we were looking for a credible partner with global coverage, strong and structured in the U.S. and China.”

Alessandra Rossi, president Off-Season Yoox and The Outnet, underscored the complexities of transforming a brand’s online presence into concrete business and actual sales. “It’s not enough to be available online if people don’t know your store and your products are there , it’s like your store is in a cul-de-sac, you need to understand the need of your consumers, do marketing campaigns, merchandising, social media and on- and off-line promotional activities,” Rossi said. This project, she added, is in line with Yoox’s longstanding brand scouting. To present the new brands, a dedicated Yoox team will devise “a stage, or container that will help in the storytelling” and be in charge of editing the collections. This shop-in-shop, as Rossi called it, would be visible only in the U.S. and China, with in-season products, although the selected brands could also appear on Yoox as part of the off-season offer. She declined to name some of the brands selected as the process is ongoing, but they will be in the affordable luxury segment, she noted. “There may also be dedicated capsules or collections.”

Scannavini observed that this will be an educational, training experience for the brands, which could benefit from data analysis they would not normally have access to.

On “Italian Hidden Gems,” the 100 brands will be divided in six areas — Craftsmanship, Style, Creativity, Innovation, Heritage and Design — reserving a 40 percent quota for apparel, 25 percent to shoes, 23 percent to bags and accessories that don’t use fur and exotic hides, 6 percent for metal-free bijoux without precious stones, and 6 percent for small objects and home accessories.