By Edwin Winter, &samhoud consultancy
Recently I heard about H-Farm and Fabrica in Treviso, Italy; two leading, promising and innovative companies and excellent storytelling examples. This was exactly what I was looking for in the management development project for Generali. So a few weeks later I went with the management team of Generali on an interesting and inspirational storytelling trip.
The first destination was a beautiful manor just outside Venice. Here is H-farm located. H-farm – the H stands for Human- is a Venture Incubator founded by Riccardo Donadon and Maurizio Rossi, who were both born, educated and ran businesses in the province of Treviso. With H-farm they have the mission to accelerate the development of Internet startups via a combination of seed investment and incubation services. So, the company has a dual soul. H-farm is not only a Venture Capitalist that invests in seed capital and granting the finances necessary for the early stage activities, but it is also an incubator that provides a series of services to speed up the business development: H-farm offers an inspiring workplace, centralised general administration, press office, human resources and legal and financial consultancy. The partners of H-farm are helping the startups with defining commercial strategies, business plans, partnerships and exit strategies. Donadon and Rossi are looking for simple, easy-to-use technology brought to the market, built for the users. With over 1,000 entries a year it is not hard to find promising business ideas. These ideas are from smart young people that think outside the box, interpret the Internet in an innovative way, apply new business models and forms of communication. Only ten teams with the greatest ideas will get the opportunity to join one of the two annually ‘Seed Programs’ and are going to transform their idea into a successful business. The young inspired talents are going to work in huge transparent cubes at a modern campus with massive co working spaces and a fresh-foods cafeteria. What really appeals to me is the tight timing and structure of H-Farm. When your startup gets the chance to participate in the ‘Seed Program’ you will follow a route marked by go and no go moments. After three months, the teams are being reviewed. Only the best receive an investment from the venture capital fund. Then, after a year H-farm hopes to sell the companies in an initial public offering or to a larger company. They try to turn the investment into a successful exit. And the concept has already proven itself. One example is H-art. H-art is a web agency with a seed investment of €100,000 and was sold for five million Euros to a world leading company in advertising and marketing services. Also H-farm has grown. It is not only located in Italy anymore, but expanded to Seattle, London and Mumbai. The miles we had to travel to visit the H-farm in Italy were more than worth it. All over the 1300 hectares of the estate where H-farm is established I could feel the energy. Completely inspired we went to the next company: Fabrica.
Fabrica is Benetton’s communication research centre. Like H-farm it is all about talented young people. This company is also located on an estate near Venice. The founder of Benetton has started Fabrica to give young people the chance to develop themselves, in the broad field of communication. But Fabrica is not a school nor advertising agency. The center wants to combine culture with industry and offers young people an opportunity for creative growth and multicultural exchange. Fabrica is defined as: “an applied creativity laboratory, a talent incubator, a studio of sorts in which young, modern artists come from all over the world to develop innovative projects and explore new directions in myriad avenues of communication, from design, music and film to photography, publishing and the Internet.” A young, creative generation is challenged to work for one year together on socially conscious communication assignments. What I noticed while I was at Fabrica is that I could not see that Fabrica is part of Benetton. You can see that the social contribution Fabrica provides is rooted in the DNA of the brand Benetton but it did not give me the feeling it is for branding purposes. The tasks to which the young talent works are mostly socially conscious communication assignments. Examples are campaigns in cooperation with the UN, Reporters Without Borders have been developed, Unicef, the Centre Pompidou and also Credo, a musical study in the field of religious tolerance. The results are great. The most impressive I have seen is an interactive shop window. The talented participants of Fabrica have turned a shop window into an interface which people outside the store can touch and interact with. When you touch the window, a camera inside takes a picture of your face and each new picture is saved and added to an growing sequence of pictures. The project has proved highly effective. The results are really innovative and in addition research shows that the shop windows generate more store traffic which lead to more sales. Both campuses are an example and inspiration for many other companies. Personally, I was inspired by the powerful combination of young creative talents and entrepreneurship.