A talk with Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini, European “think and do tank” partner of BLAST 2017

by | Feb 22, 2017

It is a real pleasure for us to publish our interview with Fabio Sgaragli, Open & Social Innovation Manager and coordinator of Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini. An interview useful to learn more about the foundation itself, which is one of the partners of BLAST 2017 conference. The Brodolini Foundation is a private and not-for-profit foundation developing, applying and disseminating evidence based policy design, delivery and evaluation at all governance levels. You’ll learn more about the mission and goals of the FGB during the BLAST conference, but we let the words of Sgaragli to anticipate some information about.

Let’s talk about Brodolini Foundation: could you tell me more about the story and mission of the foundation?

Fondazione Brodolini is a European think tank  we’d like to think about ourselves as “think-and-do-tank” because we not just think but also do thing in the real world. On one side Fondazione Brodolini, which was established in 1971, is an independent and no profit research center on topics related to label market, local economic development and social inclusion. On the other side we also have a number of initiatives and programs especially on innovation which relate more to the implementation of a arm of Fondazione. To name a few, we manage at the moment 5 center for innovation with different function in different parts of Italy. Some of them deal with incubation and acceleration of startups, some others deal with open innovation and therefore this notion working with all the stakeholders to actually pilot, test and scale a solution on a larger scale, usually at the city scale. We work with a number of cities in Italy and Europe of this kind of urban laboratories. This is just a very synthetic description of Fondazione, you can find all the information on our website.

Can you talk about the results you achieved in these years?

Every year we have about 7000 people coming to our center of innovation, they can be also general citizens, coming to attend an event on a new technologies or the frontiers of innovation or networking events, where startuppers meet potential partners, either traditional SMIs or a big corporations or can be investors. We have incubated and accelerated around 65 startups in the last 2 years, and some of them are quite successful in what they do. We are very happy about that. We have actually launching a 3rd edition of our Open Innovation in Agrifood program, which is an international program aiming at collecting innovations  and solutions from all over the world on the agrifood sector, which is a very strategic sector for our country.

In the past two editions we have collected about 200 applications from around 25 countries in the 4 continents. So I think there is also a sign that Italy can still be attractive those who work on innovation, especially in the sector which our country is recognized for. Agrifood is certainly one of them.

The Brodolini Foundation launched the 2017 International Call for Solutions on Open Innovation for Smart and Inclusive Cities: you are interested in working for the next generation of Smart City. What kind of technologies, products or platforms are you looking for?

First of all this program is new for us, we have been working on it for the past six months, especially with a series of missions to North America, in order to create relationships with incubators and accelerators and cities in the US. So the program works speedily much in the same way as the agrifood one works. We have an International Call out right now, with a deadline of 10th of March to receive applications from innovators and startups from all over the world on technologies that can combine this notion of a city being smart, in terms of infrastructures and in terms of technologies that they use in every kind of application, from mobility to public services to citizens, to welfare, to green and parks and so on. You can find all the technologies we are looking for on the website of the call, on our portal for social innovation. The best solutions will demonstrate in the Tech Demonstrator of Open Incet, in Turin. It’s a big open space – it’s kind 400 meters for 9,5 mt height – that will be for a week  the center of this exposition of new technologies and new solutions on this topics that I’ve just mentioned.

Recently the foundation has organized the event “Connect the dots”, focused specifically on urban development  and dedicated to young people, companies and institutions. So the question is: what is the current situation and in your opinion what are the possible developments?

Connect the dots is one of the many events that we organize around the Italy and Europe. In particular this one is really dear to us, because the South of Italy is very ready for the innovation. We had about 400 people attended this event, dealing with innovation, startups, investors, we had all basically the ecosystem from Bari and the Puglia region coming from this one day event.

In Italy, you cannot of course generalize, when you look at innovation and startups you can see that our startups suffer from lack of funds that can invest in them and it’s a consequence of the fact that the exit market for investments it’is quite  weak in Italy compeer to other European countries, but of course compare to other countries around the world, especially North America and Israel just to mention, two of the best places in the world to actually build a startup. I think there’s another critical aspect, when I look at my experience with startups n Italy: you don’t necessarily find young entrepreneurs that are ready to scale internationally, and that’s probably a function of our culture and surly language plays a role in it. Certainly for startups there is something that is an obstacle to receive investments funds from abroad and to find markets abroad. That ‘s something that Fondazione really try to work with: the fact to prepare our aspiring entrepreneurs to face a market that today is global.

The foundation is a member of several European networks and its offices are located in Rome, Milan, Brussels and Ankara: about startups, incubators, accelerators and so on, what is the position of Italy compared to the rest of Europe?

There was recently a report published by the European Commission on the effectiveness of the incubators and accelerators and the mantra is always the same: when you provide a quality services to your aspiring entrepreneurs, when you’re able to connect them to investors but especially (for our experience) when you’re able to connect them with real demand for their services and products, than  the chance of success increase dramatically.

That is something that probably Italy has to work on a bit more than it is do it at the moment. I insist on the point of starting from qualify demand, because that is something that for us – from our prospective  and experience – really makes the difference.  I give an example: if a city asks for specific service that are not at the moment implemented – either by the public or the traditional private sector – and actually asks organizations such as our organization, I think this is the case in which the local ecosystem surely really works together  with the city to understand what the demand is and then call out for the innovators  and aspiring entrepreneurs to address this demands with innovative solutions, service and products. Because that is the best way in which a startup can start with a clear demand in mind, with a clear target of customers and potential clients in mind but most of all it starts with a potential market for its services or products already in front of them

The Brodolini Foundation is one of the partners of Blast. Why did you choose to join this adventures?

We love Blast, we think is an ambitious event, we trust the team, the team made a great impression to us since the beginning. We really believe that, among all the cities in Italy, Rome can be a hub for innovation and startups, but still has a giant leaps  to cover before it becomes a hub for innovation on the European and Mediterranean map. So we think there is great need of Blast, we think that the event is taking shape nicely and even if is a first edition it will be a success, but of course we look forward for many more editions in the coming years.

What kind of professionals or companies would you like to meet?

We in Foundation are especially interested in meeting innovative startups, because as I said in our center we are always looking out for interesting technologies or innovation but with a social impact or that can contribute to  the sustainability of the territory in which we work. But we are also interested in meeting international organizations such as incubators or accelerators, cause we really believe only by connecting internationally you can actually sustain and provide sustainability to the innovation.  We are big believers in international connections and certainly Blast can be an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world.

You are one of the panels moderators of Blast: what are the topics of your panels?

The topic of my panel is cities as engines of innovation. This is something that Fondazione Brodolini is researching and working on, especially publishing a book in the next few days on the topic, which will be distributed worldwide in English. So the notion that actually cities are building their own platform for the entrepreneurship development and this is not just something which that belongs the main cities, but also belong to middle size cities. This idea that cities can be laboratories for innovation, can also be investors in startups because of course it seems the primary interest to breed interesting solutions for their challenge, but also on the other side they have this big responsibility of the one of the actors they need to provide jobs for young people and today there is big needs for younger entrepreneurs in order for them to find a mission in life but also a fulfilling job.  That’s why I will interview tree representative cities  – one from Italy and two from Europe – and this interview is going to be devoted to what cities can do to promote more entrepreneurship.

Image credit: JCT600

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