According to the latest Social Impact Outlook report released by Tiresia – the research centre of Politecnico di Milano – impact investing in Italy is currently characterized by a strong and curious asymmetry: more capital than demand. Against an impact capital of 210.5 million euros – which could rise to 400 in three years – there should be only 627 social businesses ready to receive investments. These include social cooperatives, statutory social enterprises, social startups and benefit companies.
In such a context, as far as the category of companies and startups with a social vocation is concerned, a fundamental role to support the demand in emerging and being connected to capital could be played by business incubators dealing with social innovation (or social impact, social vocation, whatever you wish to call it).
What exactly are social impact and social enterprises?
Social impact referred to is, of course, positive, measurable, providing innovative responses to widespread problems and improving the life quality of wide population groups.
A company with a social impact is an organisation that introduces social innovation, i.e. “a new solution to a social problem more effective, efficient, sustainable or fair than existing ones, where the value created is primarily attributed to the community as a whole rather than to private individuals”.
As already mentioned in this article, often social impact enterprises are mistakenly confused with non-profit enterprises, although this is not the case: while non-profit enterprises always have a social impact, the opposite is not always true. On the contrary, there is a growing number of social and for-profit companies, therefore doing business, creating value and wealth, whose mission is to create innovative products, services or models to meet social needs and create economic development, to solve the greatest human, environmental and health issues.
This is a growing industry worldwide, also thanks to institutional initiatives (WEF, GSG, OECD) which raise the awareness of private companies and investment funds in support of emerging social enterprises.
Italy and its incubators
Even in Italy, the trend is positive, especially thanks to the innovative role of startups, as certified by the Social Innovation Monitor, a research group of the Politecnico di Torino (Department of Management Engineering and Production) that carried out an analysis of innovation and social entrepreneurship in partnership with Italia Startup and supported by Cariplo Factory, Compagnia di San Paolo, Impact Hub Milano, Make a Cube3, SocialFare and Social Innovation Teams..
The research partly focused on mapping the incubators/accelerators of innovative enterprises in Italy, identifying those supporting socially relevant start-ups. The outcome shows that the list of ‘pure’ social impact incubators in Italy is rather short; most are a hybrid, so even their specific mapping is daring.
On the other hand, “social innovation” is a cross-cutting topic, even the mixed incubator model offers its benefits, being able to create positive interactions between very different entrepreneurs and to foster cultural innovation among those who still confuse social impact with no-profit.
Incubators have a key role to play in supporting these enterprises, not only in providing support for the development of the business model, management coaching and social impact assessment, but also and above all in terms of relations and capital research efforts.
The report counted 162 incubators in Italy, with 88 being the sample analysed. Here are some profile elements.
The incubators identified were:
– Business incubators – 0% of companies with a significant social impact as part of the total have been incubated
– Mixed incubators – one to 50% of companies with a significant social impact as part of the total have been incubated
– Social incubators – more than 50% of companies with a significant social impact as part of the total have been incubated
In terms of legal form there are:
– Public incubators: managed exclusively by public administrations or entities, often through regional in-house companies.
– Public-private incubators: whose corporate structure includes both public and private entities
– Private incubators: managed exclusively by private entities.
Figures reveal that more than 60% of Italian incubators are private.
Only a small percentage (less than one fifth of the total) is public.
In Italy there are 15 university incubators and 9 incubators with the EC-BIC quality certification mark.
About half of the incubators in the sample, incubates companies with a strong social impact (mixed and social incubators).
90% of social incubators are private, one in ten is public.
Mixed incubators also have predominantly private features 63.6%, while business incubators are almost equally divided between public 30%, public-private 35% and private 35%.
Services offered by incubators
– Social incubators consider the offer of social impact assessment services, training and consulting on CSR and business ethics to be more important than business and mixed incubators.
– Business and mixed incubators consider the offer of physical spaces and shared services to be more relevant.
– Entrepreneurial and managerial training: a service considered most relevant for those who incubate organisations with a significant social impact, mixed and social incubators.
Social incubators in Italy
– SocialFare – Turin
SocialFare Centro per l’Innovazione Sociale is the first Italian centre devoted entirely to Social Innovation: through research, capacity building and co-design, it develops innovative solutions to meet the urgent contemporary social challenges, generating a new economy. Through two annual calls, it selects and speeds up the best startups with a national and international social impact, investing in companies able to develop innovative solutions to meet the most pressing contemporary social challenges.
– Get it! – based in Milan
Get it! is an initiative promoted by Fondazione Social Venture Giordano Dell’Amore (“FSVGDA”) and Cariplo Factory S.r.l. promoting and supporting economically sustainable projects and start-ups capable of generating social, cultural and environmental impact on the Italian territory.
– Impact Hub, Milan and Bari
Impact Hub Milano, ex The HUB, is the first Italian node in the namesake international network dedicated to innovation and social entrepreneurship and to the people behind it. In addition to events, coworking, workshops, it offers tailor-made incubation pathways to get off the ground startups with social impact on a local and global scale.
– Avanzi – Make a Cube3 – Milan
This is the first certified incubator and accelerator for companies with high social, environmental and cultural value. It provides for customised incubation/support pathways according to the stage (from idea to company). Priority is given to sectors such as personal services, circular economy, crafts 2.0, eco-sustainable agriculture, education, art & culture and finance.
– FabriQ – Milan
FabriQ is the social innovation incubator of the Municipality of Milan. Managed operationally by Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini and Impact Hub Milano, since 2014 FabriQ has been supporting new and future entrepreneurs to realize projects with social, environmental and cultural value. Its mission is twofold: to contribute to the development of innovative and sustainable business models and to operate also on the territory in a perspective of local development and urban renewal.
– Social Innovation Teams – Milan, Turin
Social Innovation Teams (SIT) is an international community of innovators and social entrepreneurs promoted by the Maieutics Foundation since 2010. This community implements and supports social innovation projects and provides support to social entrepreneurs who have created social enterprises or no-profit organizations in Italy or abroad. SIT provides for new ways to actively participate by creating interdisciplinary project teams capable of enhancing the specific skills of its members.
– Netural – Matera
A young and very peculiar incubator, born and held at Casa Netural, a house, in Matera, bringing together people around the world, to inspire, regenerate and push ahead ideas on social, cultural and creative innovation. The incubation path is super fast, only 3 days long and is open only to Casa Netural members: joining the community and going to Matera in order to take part in the incubation path and develop a prototype.
– Rinascimenti Italiani – Turin
Acceleration program for enterprises with social impact organized by SocialFare in partnership with TOP-IX Consortium. The acceleration program, tailored to each situation, is implemented in three phases, involving new entrepreneurs in a program to launch and test their business in order to identify gaps, strengths and value, improving the offer and collecting investments and participations in different ways.