Introducing Italy’s first and leading centre for Social Innovation – EU|BIC Candidate SocialFare
“Research, community engagement, capacity building and co-design are at the basis of our work to develop innovative solutions to contemporary societal challenges while generating new economies via social ventures.”Martina Muggiri, Startup Acceleration Program Coordinator at SocialFare
Planet Fundamentals is SocialFare’s acceleration programme addressed to social impact startups, namely enterprises able to offer innovative responses to contemporary societal challenges. The programme supports the best teams in developing products, services and innovative models by offering a unique consultancy expert programme and equity investment for the impact
The accelerated companies can receive an equity investment ticket during the program via SocialFare’s own vehicle of investment, SocialFare Seed, up to €500K per year in the selected impact startups.
The first Foundamenta call was launched in 2016, and during these 7 years SocialFare has offered 13 acceleration programs, it has received more than 600 applications and accelerated more than 80 startups, which have then reached a total of approximately €20M of equity investment by other VCs and business angels.
One of the main challenges in Italy in this sector is to find good quality social impact startups to accelerate and invest in, as the ecosystem is still quite young and still in development – although at a growing stage. Throughout these years, SocialFare has experimented, tested and developed different strategies to scout the best entrepreneurs: a key asset both for the overall performance of the acceleration programme and for the return on social impact investments.
The first, basic action SocialFare has done was the creation of a national and close-knit network of all the stakeholders involved in the different stages of startups development, such as universities’ incubators, other accelerators, co-working spaces, startup contests & events, dedicated media, business angels’ clubs, bank foundations and other “startup boosters”, donors, sponsors and investors. As there is no main reference point for social entrepreneurs in Italy, but different initiatives in a heterogeneous context, SocialFare has followed an inclusive approach.
Another main channel for SocialFare’s startup deal flow is the official Italian Enterprise Registry (Registro delle Imprese della Camera di Commercio). In fact, in Italy there’s still a great number of social impact enterprises which do not know the possibility of being supported by an incubator or an accelerator, causing an actual slowdown to their development. Finding these high potential (although unaware of their possibilities) enterprises, and supporting them with a proper consultancy, training & capacitybuilding programme, is key to boosting the ecosystem in its complexity.
Lastly, another interesting possibility to implement the startups’ deal flow was to create SocialFare’s incubation or pre-acceleration programs. SocialFare tested this model via one of the Design Your Impact capacity-building programmes, sponsored by the bank foundation CRC of the city of Cuneo in the north of Italy. The program was marked by a strong territorial approach, which made possible access to business ideas, teams and social impact enterprises born in marginal and mountain areas, but with high potential. The program was aimed to accelerate basic knowledge and skills in the fields of social innovation, design, business and strategy: early-stage startups, or business ideas may have a great potential to develop effective startups, but quite often they do not have the main instruments in order to do so.
It is the case of the startup Humus Job Sharing who has participated in 2018 in the Design Your Impact pre-acceleration program and then it has been selected for the Foundamenta#6 acceleration program. Humus is a network of agricultural enterprises which practice ethical job sharing. The main service the startup offers is a matching platform for companies and fragile workers, primarily migrants and asylum seekers, giving them the possibility to collaborate thanks to the innovative legal framework of the network agreement (contratto di rete). Humus’ founders had a strong experience in the nonprofit sector, but they needed solid support to design their first prototype, to test it and to validate their assumptions. After this first validation during the Design Your Impact program, the startup was ready to access the Foundamenta program, which supported the transition from a promising and high potential prototype to a viable social enterprise, preparing the startup for its first equity fundraising successfully done in the Lita.co platform.
Drawing a conclusion from SocialFare’s experience in those years of startup acceleration and investment, the successful approach for a social impact startup deal flow in Italy could be the synergy of all the three strategies presented above, as they reinforce themselves. Creating, nurturing the network is the base, picking one by one the startups for the official Italian Enterprise Register make possible to scout the high potential companies still not aware of their startup potential, and finally having a possibility to manage the whole process from the incubation to the pre-acceleration is time and resources expensive, but can generate interesting opportunities in disruptive bottom-up social innovation.