Social innovation, where is Italy?

The first Social Innovation Monitor report has been released, offering an overview of the social impact of Italian incubators and accelerators. Mapping revealed that about half of these companies support social impact startups, with the highest concentration in Lombardia

Published on 15 Feb 2018

A company with substantial social impact is an organisation implementing social innovation, namely ″a more efficient, sustainable, effective or fairer solution to a social problem than existing ones, where the value created is primarily attributed to the community as a whole rather than to individuals″.

Often the social enterprise is mistakenly confused with the non-profit enterprise, although actually is not so: even if the non-profit is usually a social enterprise, the opposite is not automatically true. On the contrary, it is increasingly widespread the company with social and for-profit impact, a company that makes business, that generates value and wealth, but whose mission is to create products or services or innovative models capable of meeting social needs and generate economic development.

In Italy, too, the sector is growing, especially thanks to the innovative role of startups, and therefore it’s very important to verify how the mid-point players in the ecosystem supporting startups, such as incubators and accelerators, are also working alongside this kind of enterprises in our country.
The newborn Social Innovation Monitor, a group of Politecnico di Torino (Department of Management and Production Engineering) dedicated to the analysis of innovation and social entrepreneurship led by Prof. Alessandra Colombelli and Prof. Paolo Landoni, has taken on this monitoring task. The group has been assisted by Italia Startup and Cariplo Factory, Compagnia di San Paolo, Impact Hub Milano, Make a Cube3, SocialFare and Social Innovation Teams.

What are the most significant research data?
First of all, about 50% of Italian incubators have said to support startups with a strong social impact. Among the industries these young companies belong to, the most represented is culture, arts and crafts (20%), while the second place is given to the sector that includes organizations operating in areas related to health and welfare (18%), slightly further behind sectors such as community development (23%) and environmental protection (21%).

Paolo Landoni from Politecnico di Torino, research coordinator, pointed out that “Italian incubators are growing and diversifying both in terms of sectors and business models. Particularly interesting is the choice of a growing number of these entities to focus on companies with significant social impact and this specialization could be an effective distinguishing element for our country”.
A more specific comparison between social-impact and non-social-impact incubated startups makes it clear that in terms of turnover and number of employees, the two categories are almost equivalent.
“This takes apart a bit the kind of stereotypes and distinctions between social and non-social startups, according to which the former do not make investments, do not make revenues. Social startups are just as profitable as any other. – says Federico Barilli from Italia Startup – The research offers several interesting ideas, it is the first work ever of this type being done, we hope to replicate it, even as it has been very well accepted and there is a great desire to collaborate both on the topic of incubators and on that of social innovation which is now one of the vertical issues worldwide.”

Another finding is the marginal role of the public in relation to social innovation: more than 60% of 162 incubators mapped in Italy are public; however, in detail, 90% of social incubators are private and more than 60% are so-called ‘mixed incubators’ (half of which are social).
Among the services offered by the incubators, those considered crucial by social incubators are those of social impact assessment and training and advice on CSR and business ethics. Entrepreneurial and managerial training is also considered a very important service for those incubating social startups.
About 60% of Italian incubators are located in the northern part, the first place is in Lombardia, which hosts the largest number of incubators (25.3% of the overall). Tuscany (9.9%) and Emilia-Romagna (9.3%) follow. A large part of the southern and insular area is rather poor in structures with only 17.9% of total incubators. In the south, the area with the lowest concentration of incubators, the record is for Sicily.

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Donatella Cambosu

Scrive di tecnologie, startup e innovazione da oltre 15 anni. Dal 2015 collabora con il Gruppo Digital360, in particolare con le testate Startupbusiness, University2Business, EconomyUp. Collabora con InsuranceUp sin dal lancio del portale avvenuto nel 2015 e ha maturato un'ampia esperienza in ambito insurtech.

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