Social Innovation in Italy: An Interview with Impact Hub Florence
11 August 2014 - techteam

Tuscany is world renowned for many things, including breathtaking landscapes, cultural traditions, rich history, artistic legacy and its influence on high culture. Boasting seven World Heritage Sites and regarded as the original birthplace of the Renaissance, the Italian region has a great deal to be proud of.

Now there is one more.

Impact Hub Florence opened their doors in the winter of 2014. They are contributing to the social innovation space in the Tuscany region of Italy and continuing to expand their reach both locally and internationally. We sat down with Riccardo Luciani, a Florence native, and co-founder of Impact Hub Florence to gain some insight into the challenges, rewards, collaborations and advice on opening an Impact Hub.


Q: How did you first come across the Impact Hub?

R: About four years ago, my company, LAMA, was working in Milan, and came into contact with Impact Hub Milan, who was then just opening their doors. We realized after visiting the Impact Hub Milan, that this concept was something we wanted to bring to Florence. Two years later we began the onboarding process. So really, our first encounter with Impact Hub was through the space in Milan.

Q: What was so appealing about the Impact Hub network?

R: The value of the Impact Hub network is the ability to connect with the global community. Everyone has a story.  Our story began by establishing international relationships. LAMA has offices in Florence, Milan, Beijing and Shanghai.  We have worked across the world including South America, India, and Africa, so the international network of the Impact Hub was something we were really attracted to. The opportunity to join one large network that works on social innovation was really meaningful for us.

Q: What did you wish you would have known when you started?

R: During the two years it took us to open, we heard just about everything about opening an Impact Hub so we were prepared.  But even though we felt confident we could avoid the major mistakes, you really don’t know until you open officially.  We had a lot of support from the people in the network, especially Impact Hub Amsterdam, our sister Hub.  The network played an important role in helping us feel prepared. We also had previous experience opening a start-up, which I think was helpful.

Q: How did you engage and activate the community around you?

R: We started by hosting events in the city to create awareness around Impact Hub Florence. In order to do this, we had one event per month in different spaces in the community, all different spaces, with different topics that we discussed each time for a full year before opening. We tried to explain the value that an Impact Hub would bring to Florence. There are essentially two different phases to engage the community –  before you open and after when people really understand what the space is and how they could be involved.

Q: How were you able to do so much with so little (can you share a story about how you pulled together resources to make something happen?

R: To a certain extent is the Italian-way-in the sense that we have to do the best with what we have. But I think that by engaging lot of people who want to help us grow we began building a strong community around the Impact Hub. It isn’t about how much we can accomplish on our own but rather how much we can build with the community.

Actually, just a few days ago, I was in Rome explaining how to open a co-working space. I believe if you want to do a lot, you have to have the support of the community in order to make it successful. Essentially you have to be resourceful and everything we did was this way.  Our tables for example, are from a project that came out from Impact Hub Westminster- called OpenDesk.  When we were building the FabLab, we had a lot of people that were able to cut the tables for free. The design and intelligence came from our local network, so the know-how and how we transformed the idea into action, resulted in only paying for the raw materials.

Q: Do you collaborate with other Impact Hubs in the network? If so, how?

R: Yes, We have collaborated with Impact Hub Amsterdam on different things in the past, and we are currently establishing a relationship with Impact Hub Munich. We also recently have been involved in a project called Tuscany on the Move. We won a grant from the Tuscany region to increase mobility. This allows 35 enterprises to go all over the world and exchange ideas in different environments. We are currently working with Impact Hub Sao Paulo, Impact Hub Amsterdam, and Impact Hub Boston.

Recently we shared an event that was being held at Impact Hub Kings Cross. We found out that they were hosting an event on food waste, which is a topic that we are also passionate about. One of our projects was on food waste reduction, and we were planning an event around this so we got in touch with the team to learn more how we could support each other. There is a lot of potential to work together because we want to share ideas around food waste reduction.

We are working on becoming more engaged with other Impact Hubs. I feel that working collaboratively on a project is the best way to get better and achieve more impact.

Q: You mentioned that you met with other Italian Impact Hubs recently, can you explain a little more about that meeting?

R: Yes, we meet every six months usually with other Italian Impact Hubs, including Rome, Milan, Rovereto, Trieste, Bari and Siracusa. Many things in Italy are changing and in this changing environment we have to understand how we can really make Impact Hub create positive change. This can only happen if we work together.  We were exchanging best practices, common projects and ways to get our voices heard in the community locally but also to the policy makers, and to companies who are interested in sustainability and social innovation. Social innovation is ‘su la bocca di tutti’ (which translates to, the word on everyone’s mouth).

Q: What is the absolute most important thing that you feel other Makers should know?

R: The most important thing in my opinion is to take the onboarding process seriously! There are several steps throughout the process of opening an Impact Hub and you need to really trust the process and the individuals that are guiding and supporting you through it. It is really about listening and trust. Another important thing to remember is that opening an Impact Hub is an entrepreneurial activity, don’t treat it like a small project- this is a company. If you don’t have any previous experience it could be overwhelming. Another thing to remember is that everyone needs to be apart of the onboarding process. Your team should attend the induction gathering and the visit to your sister Impact Hub.

To stay in touch with
Impact Hub Florence:

You can catch up with Riccardo on Impact HubNet as well as follow the Impact Hub Florence community online:

Impact Hub Florence Website

Impact Hub Florence on Facebook

Impact Hub Florence on Twitter