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Dec 02, 2013

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INNOVATION VISTA: LESSONS FROM ITALIAN ACCELERATOR, H-FARM

Maurizio Rossi is an intelligent and warm person that loves to travel to Israel whenever he has the time, preferably when it’s sunny. I met Maurizio, one of the founders of H-Farm Ventures, about 3 years ago, at one of the many tech events we both attend. We become friends immediately.

H-Farm is one of a kind accelerator located in Italy, 15 minutes from beautiful Venice. It aims to change the state of its economy by encouraging young people to grow their ideas and disrupt the Italian market. And by “grow your idea,” I literally mean it. The whole space is immersed in green, and in the center, there is a huge greenhouse where Hackathons and other events take place. Of course, besides ambitious young people, there are also plants and trees inside this greenhouse. I can tell you from experience, your mind is definitely more open when all you see around you are fields of green and you are surrounded by an incredible landscape on all sides.

I had been invited to be mentor at a fashion and lifestyle Hackathon, and since Italy, fashion, and lifestyle seemed like a perfect pairing, I was more than happy to go.

I’ve been to many Hackathons, but this one had a paticularly interesting concept: H-farm collaborates with four major players in the fashion field: Bottega VenetaDieselLotto, and Mastrotto. Teams are asked to come up with real ideas to disrupt the fashion industry. Innovators had the chance to pitch directly to these companies, which is a huge deal. No wonder, over 400 people showed up! It was one of the intensive Hackathons I’ve ever seen. It  was very well organized and the amount of support from the H-Farm team was just mind blowing. The ‘H’ in H-Farm stands for “Human” and this spirit is very much reflected and celebrated here..

The ideas at the end were fairly good, and some were actually amazing. But what struck me the most was the degree of the finished product presented after only 24 hours. Most of the pitches were also very well designed, and some of the ideas have even already been developed! Observing this, I can only ask one question: How come we don’t hear about more applications originating from Italy? I might have the answer to that or at least a partial answer: I think Italians are more comfortable developing in their own market and not on a global scale. Although, I’ve seen some really innovative ideas from the H-Farm Portfolio companies. Coming from a country that is usually doing the opposite, I am really hoping this will change. It might also be an (English) language barrier. I found the country to not be as English-friendly as I am accustomed to in  Europe. While Italy is one of the most desired tourist destinations it seemed strange to me that there were no English signs anywhere but at the airport. Most of the people I met with, of course, know English, but none of them pitched in English, which was rather puzzling.

Italians are way progressive when it comes to 3D printing. I viewed some great solutions made by the local startups. One of them, Desall, created FabMe, a Marketplace for 3D files where people can buy and use along with their own 3D printing machine. Clearly this idea is ahead of its time because most people don’t have a 3D printer at home (or even their office) yet, but the store has great potential to gain momentum, and get a great deal of content while awaiting the mainstream adoption of the devices.

H-Farm, led by Riccardo Donadon, and Maurizio Rossi, has invested in over 53 startups since 2005, had 7 successful exits, creating 350 new jobs. The aggregate turnover of H-Farm companies exceeds 30 million euro. An additional investment of €10 million has been planned for the period between 2013 and 2018.

But H-Farm is not just an accelerator. It is also a digital academy and a place for Italians to learn, and meet new people. If they see potential in you, you’ll get a desk, food, direction, and plenty of time to grow your ideas. It reminded me of the TLV Campus, where everyone who needs a place to build a startup is welcome. In doing this, H-Farm has become a hub for all startups in the area, and probably the entire nation. And, they are not stopping there. I heard plans for expanding the area, adding workshops and open spaces to enable more people to join the swell. I salute them for that.

  • Orli Yakuel

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