Back Quelle radici che si diramano ovunque nel mondo. La ricetta vincente della G-local Open Innovation

14 mag 2024


Roots reaching out around the world. The winning formula for G-Local Open Innovation

The story we are about to tell is common to all those parts of the world where places become strategically important once they put ideas, people, and technologies in motion. From America to Italy, this is how districts, once local, become international. That’s what happened with the Sellalab centers, which are turning 10 years old and describing a new way towards Open Innovation.  

We live in a world racing ahead at increasing speed compared to the past, and that often prevents us from understanding and decoding new phenomena. Yet we need to take a snapshot of what is happening, also starting from figures and the way they are represented. Welcome to our new longform, which is a multimedia edition. Indeed, this is the first multimedia data storytelling longform. Its in-depth content is enriched with structured numbers and includes maps, charts, and interactive visuals. A series of special issues will be released throughout the year, alternating with the traditional ones, which will give center stage to the figures by transforming them into engaging stories. After all, numbers have the power to change the destiny of every person and every organization, which of course is made up of people. This is why data storytelling is actually able to make sense of things. We hope you enjoy reading and watching it. 


How can a simple ice cream become a role model in the business world while making an impact on the area in which it is produced? And how does a challenger company manage in just a few years to outperform its competitors, and overtake long-established industry giants? And again, how does it achieve this success starting in an area that is cut off from metropolitan innovation hubs? 
To answer this question, we fly to the United States and 'meet' Ben & Jerry's, a brand of ice cream sold in tubs that is now well known in the US market and that in just a few years has triumphed over its competitors. “Ultimately, the ingredients to do things properly are always the same. You have to start from the people, both inside and outside the company, so employees and customers. And then you have to be obsessive about raw materials, be painstakingly concerned with details, and have a visceral love for your land and the community in which you were born and live.” Easier said than done. 
Yet this is the winning formula shared by two lifelong friends, two hippies who were involved in anti-war campaigns in the 1970s during the invasion of Vietnam and who in 1978 in a garage of a suburban town in the United States decided to start up a business together, but to do so in a new way. From that rented garage where they began making ice cream, in three years they found themselves on the cover of Time magazine and in fifteen years - in the mid-1990s - they managed to generate $150 million in sales, outperforming the market leader of the time, Häagen Dazs. But let's proceed in order. It all began in Vermont, a mountainous state north of Boston. Having taken a $5 course held by Penn State and an initial investment of $12,000 ($4,000 of which they borrowed), Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield open their first ice cream shop. They did so far from the glamorous downtown streets in a small refurbished gas station in Burlington, a town with a population of just over forty thousand in Chittenden County. We find ourselves 72 kilometers south of the Canadian border and 151 kilometers south of Montréal. In short, an all-American ice cream was born in a geographical location which - weather-wise - is not all that inviting, marked by bitterly cold winters and continental summers. Yet, one can make a difference even in harsh conditions. All it takes is to put the values of a community into play. Over the years, the two friends and business partners expanded to become one of America's largest tub ice cream companies. And over time, the relationship with the local area continued to foster that initial spark of enthusiasm. Since its origins, Ben & Jerry's has had a deep - almost visceral - connection to Vermont. The State has always had a thriving dairy industry that has been protected from being dismantled thanks to a series of state laws. And the same goes for the other signature industry: forestry. The state and nonprofit organizations actively encourage regrowth and careful management of forested areas - more than 78% of the State is covered by woodlands compared to 37% in 1880, when sheep farming was at its peak and large expanses of land were cleared for grazing. This land-conscious attitude has been embodied by Ben & Jerry's, which from the very beginning has used only locally sourced products for its ice cream, committing to relationships with regional producers to source raw materials. It also embodied a sense of attention towards the land and a sustainable economic model specific to Vermont.

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The concept since its inception has been simple and ambitious - to produce the best ice cream using only high-quality ingredients at a price everyone can afford. The 'Vermont's Finest All Natural Ice Cream' sign has been a resounding success. The two buy milk from farms that do not use hormones on cattle, support initiatives not only in Vermont and the United States but also abroad, such as those for the protection of the Amazon rainforest. They buy ice cream cones produced by a Homeless Shelter organization, their nuts from a Brazilian organization associated with the Rainforest Alliance, the berries from a Native American community. When the US government decided to reduce subsidies to farmers and the price of milk dropped, Ben & Jerry's continued to pay the same amount for it, guaranteeing the producers the same conditions as before. In addition, the two built production plants in economically disadvantaged areas. Employees working in facilities closed for maintenance are kept on staff anyway. But there is more. They allocate 1% of pre-tax profits to initiatives supporting peace and the reduction of military spending. 5% of profits are allocated for the purchase of own shares to be distributed free of charge to employees. Today, more than forty years later, Ben & Jerry's is still one of the most virtuous examples of how to do business while maintaining high ethical values, giving back to the land and local producers, and building a value chain that not only restores dignity but also enriches the role of each individual player in the supply chain. 
From America to Italy, from Burlington to Piedmont. Let's now take a leap back across the Atlantic Ocean to reach a place that is very much like Vermont, where the Alps provide a backdrop to green forests covered with snow in winter and where there is a town that has become a community, a true expression of the productive fabric of the area - the town of Biella. 

The innovation districts 
Nowadays, the role of companies is predominant in local economies. Companies, whatever their nature, play a crucial role in recovering, revitalizing and transforming local territories for the better. The goal is to create a dynamic synergy in which businesses actively collaborate with local communities to promote sustainable development, social inclusion and economic growth. This is why innovation districts are being created, at the center of which is the company and its attractiveness - the new alliances that are being established are not simply partnerships with a common purpose, but rather true networks with a much broader systemic vision. 
According to the definition formulated by Katz & Wagner, Innovation Districts are geographical areas where cutting-edge institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, corporate incubators and accelerators. The prime example is Silicon Valley, but there are others around the world. In Italy, MIND in Milan, in the area where the World Expo was held, is becoming a virtuous model. One can identify three types of Innovation District: Urbanized Science Park, a model located in suburban and extra-urban areas; Anchor Plus Model, which is developed in the more central areas of the cities; and finally the Re-Imagined Urban Area model, which is found in older industrial areas of the cities. 


Sellalab – Biella headquarters

Stefano Azzalin and Simone Marino founded Sellalab in 2013. The defining moment was the opening of its physical space in the Lanificio complex, which would be a catalyst fostering the link between past and present, prompting a cohesive evolution. 

Sellalab – Lecce offices

A meeting and working place with a community consisting of professionals, digital specialists, startups and innovators. A place of business but, above all, an ideal networking hub to expand business opportunities, connect and intermingle with other professions. 

Sellalab – Salerno offices

The Salerno office is housed in the historic Palazzo delle Poste in Salerno, a building in the heart of the city and overlooking the sea. Here tradition and innovation come together to support the work of corporate teams, digital professionals and startups who use this space on a daily basis. 

Sellalab – Padova offices

The premises at Prato della Valle 72 in Padova feature co-working spaces stretching over 650 square meters dedicated to professionals and startups who can make use of meeting rooms, wi-fi, lounges for meetings with customers, banking consultancy services and teleworking. 

Sellalab – Turin offices

Sellalab has joined forces with Officine Grandi Riparazioni - OGR Torino to bring the OpenPMI project to Turin, the first innovation roadmap built around the needs of Italian small and medium-sized enterprises. Starting from the principles of open innovation, OpenPMI combines the talents of young graduates and businesses. 

Open Innovation for an emerging market 
Open innovation, meaning the ability of companies to open up to innovation coming from the outside, has undergone a steady transformation over time, moving away from the traditional company-centric approach to embrace a broader and more inclusive vision. In this new framework, innovation is no longer limited to the boundaries within the organization, but rather extends beyond them, involving a multitude of players and creating those networks around innovation districts that we have been talking about. 

The Open Innovation market in 2024

The widespread adoption of Open Innovation has given rise to an emerging market, with an estimated value of €700 million in Italy alone, characterized by complexity and diversity.

Companies find themselves faced with a wide range of services offered by professionals and service providers, each with a unique approach. Competing in this market requires not only a clear understanding of one's needs, but also the ability to evaluate properly the skills and offerings of potential Open Innovation partners.

The significance of locations 
Biella is a successful example of industrial cycles that have seen a number of revivals and led to the town's unique and ever-evolving expertise. Since ancient times, Biella's privileged geographical location has fueled the emergence of an unparalleled textile industry. Through the 18th century, Biella was one of the most important hubs for wool production, boosted in part by the introduction of the power loom imported by Pietro Sella. With the advent of industrial processes in the 19th century, wool mills expanded, and new entrepreneurial figures - such as Sella, Piacenza, and Ambrosetti - led Biella to its present day success. 
In 2017, the district exported textile products worth nearly €1.5 billion. This is not a coincidence but rather the strengthening of a mechanism that has been continuing over a long period and that allows the area around Biella to respond to the setbacks of globalization: as Giulio Buciuni, an associate professor at Trinity College in Dublin, explains, "the value of places is bound to grow to such an extent that each one will be a key player in the creation of distinctive knowledge, which can only be shared and valued if it is in a network with other territories." In his latest book "Periferie competitive" (Competitive Suburbs) Buciuni gives an example very closely resembling the city of Biella - "Galway, a city situated along Ireland's west coast, more than 200 kilometers from Dublin, where it has been possible to root a significant flow of multinational investment into the territory thanks to a bold human capital strategy, creating a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem specializing in biomedical technologies”. 


Innovative startups out of total new companies

Innovative startups are a key part of the economy - not only do they bring innovation and progress, they are also the driving force behind a number of key sectors 


Place in the ranking of the most innovative provinces

Ranking tenth means we are among the provinces that stand out for innovation, but that at the same time still have significant potential for growth 


Innovative startups

Despite the challenges and risks associated with creating a startup, the appeal of embarking on this journey is growing steadily 

Localism that looks out to the world 
Biella's social fabric is characterized by a network of companies, social enterprises, associations and foundations that help create a "welfare district." CR Biella Foundation, the Tessile Salute Association and Uncem provide support to the area while new pivots such as Città Studi, Its Tam, Sellalab and the Pistoletto-Cittadellarte Foundation promote new opportunities in the local ecosystem. 
Despite numbers in the textile sector dropping by about 50% between 2000 and 2021, historic companies such as Ecofuture, Reda, and Vitale Barberis Canonico have reinvented themselves at both product and process levels, proving that innovation and focused strategy can drive survival and prosperity. One case of rebirth, for example, is that of the former wool mill of the Sella Group, which since its acquisition in 1998 has become a point of reference for technology in the city, with the establishment of Sellalab. The Biella economy, in spite of everything, is still rooted in the textile industry and has been recording the best performance at Piedmont region level. 
In the first quarter of 2022, the numbers had improved with production up 8% and turnover +9.9%. The textile-clothing sector is also not far behind and showed encouraging indications with growth in the fourth quarter of 2021 (+15.3% production, +22.3% turnover) as exports drove growth. All exports in the manufacturing sector showed improvement (+4.3%) and the target markets are Germany and France in the EU and China and Turkey outside the EU. 


Eastern Piedmont's overall exports

This is a significant figure, which confirms the solidity and diversification of the economy of this region 


Increase in exports in the Biella textile sector

These positive results signal a significant recovery of the industry after a challenging period, which shows its ability to adapt to new global dynamics 


Extra-EU exports of the Biella textile sector

Non-EU countries are a key export driver as they provide an opportunity to take advantage of the growth potential in both emerging and established markets 


Increase in exports in 2022

Worth noting is the performance of the Biella province, which recorded a sharp increase confirming its prominent role in the regional context 


Growth in production in 2022 compared to 2021

During 2022, the area showed significant momentum in exports, exceeding €12 billion over the previous year 


Production in 2023

However, in 2023, there was a minor setback, with Biella showing a decline in production in line with the national trend in the textile-clothing sector

Nevertheless, during 2023, there was a slight decline, with Biella seeing a drop in production in line with the national trend in the textile-clothing sector. 
The opening of new courses of study designed for the needs of the area, through an agreement between Città Studi, the City of Biella, the CRB Foundation and the University of Turin demonstrate the commitment to training and investments in the area. All this has led to a multidisciplinary approach that enables the city to have the resilience needed to overcome difficult times. Reading the information provided by Eurostat on the economy of this area, there are clear signs of a moderate growth in recent years, considering both the contractive effect of the pandemic and national trends. 

Product exports in the Biella province

According to Eurostat data on the Biella economy, there are clear signs of moderate growth in recent years, both due to the pandemic and the current historical context.

Gross value added shows substantial stability in the period from 2018 to 2021. In contrast, the GDP grew by 5.14% over the period between 2014 and 2021, rising from €4,545.29 million in 2014 to €4,779.11 million in 2021. These figures reflect Biella's resilience, yet strategies are needed to sustain growth. 

The value of Sellalab centers 
The resilience of Biella comes not only from its history and knowhow, but also from the ongoing investments in the area by local companies. Biella’s Open Innovation enables the territory to maintain an important role within the Piedmont region and throughout Northern Italy. At the heart of the Sella projects there is Sellalab, born in 2013 and now an incubator of innovation at national level with 5 locations, 12 partner institutions and 20 networked universities. 
Sellalab has undergone a historical evolution over the past eleven years, adjusting its model to meet the emerging challenges of innovation. This adaptation process has marked a significant transformation phase characterized by strategic interactions and upgrading aimed at maintaining a high degree of competitiveness. This evolution has not only helped strengthen Sella's position as a leader in the innovation ecosystem, but has also enhanced its ability to anticipate and respond to the ever-changing needs of the market and customers. Sellalab’s aim is to be not only a place for sharing but also a multiplier of expertise - according to a study by Harvard University and MIT, which was featured in the Wall Street Journal, collaborating closely together in coworking spaces has led to knowledge sharing and faster innovation even among companies that are involved in different business areas. 

Opening of the Biella Sellalab
Opening of the Biella Sellalab

Stefano Azzalin and Simone Marino founded Sellalab in 2013, in response to the innovation challenge launched by Banca Sella. Their goal was clear from the start - to redefine the concept of banking by embracing innovation and revolutionizing corporate business models. At a time when coworking and smart working were still in their infancy, Sellalab presented a bold vision of the future, aiming to bring useful and sustainable innovation to businesses by anticipating future trends and adapting them to the needs of SMEs. 

HYPE is born and Sellalab opens in Lecce
HYPE is born and Sellalab opens in Lecce

One of Sellalab's most significant successes was its contribution to the development of Hype, a fintech that has revolutionized the industry. Founded around Appersonam’s innovative concepts, it aims to be the first mobile-only digital banking platform focused on a young audience. Its founding team was supported and incubated for four months in Biella, thanks to the involvement of Sellalab. In 2017 Hype reached one million customers. Also in 2015, Sellalab expanded and opened its first branch in Lecce. 

Sellalab creates the Fintech District
Sellalab creates the Fintech District

The Fintech District was born in the Isola area of Milan through the collaboration between Sellalab and Copernico. It involves the most important players in the Italian fintech ecosystem with the aim of representing the Italian fintech community, fostering the development of fintech companies in Italy and Europe, and enabling the growth of the financial ecosystem of the future. Over the years it has worked with more than 290 fintech companies and has represented a very large community comprising more than 50% of the Italian fintech sector. 

Voice Banking and Sellalab in Salerno
Voice Banking and Sellalab in Salerno

The Salerno office is housed in the city's historic Palazzo delle Poste, a building in the heart of the city overlooking the sea. the spaces in this structure are used by digital professionals and startups that in this way can leverage the Sellalab network. In the same year, Banca Sella launched one of the very first Voice Banking services in Italy, thanks to which on the Banca Sella app customers can monitor their accounts and carry out transactions simply by using their own voice. 

Opening of the Sellalab in Padova and of Sellalab Academy
Opening of the Sellalab in Padova and of Sellalab Academy

The fourth Sellalab was established in the heart of the city at Prato della Valle 72, in the former Foro Boario, a historic location that opens up to the future to host young entrepreneurs, startup teams, and freelancers. Also born was the Sellalab Academy, stemming from the spirit of Open Innovation. The new school provided by the Sella Group helps young professionals to promote a culture of innovation. 

Sellalab Open Coworking is established
Sellalab Open Coworking is established

The Sellalab Open Coworking facility was established at the Lanificio Maurizio Sella in Biella, a completely open and renovated space where young digital professionals, startups and companies work together in what was once a wool mill. This move once again underlined Sella's great attention to the local area and to virtuous resilience. 

Sellalab and things to come 
Since the creation of Sellalab, Biella citizens have started to see the Sella Group not only as a banking institution, but rather as a driver for innovation. Through the various Sellalab centers and Open Coworking, doors were opened to the local community with the organization of free events and training courses - in 2020 as many as 7,500 participants attended digital events. This has boosted the digital skills of young people, workers and entrepreneurs. Sellalab's five locations bear witness to its ethical mission - by supporting companies and their positive impact on the local areas, it is possible to create a healthy relationship with the businesses that contribute to the flourishing of the areas themselves. The strategy adopted within the ecosystem spans all Sellalab locations and aims to bring small and medium-sized businesses closer to their territory in order to revitalize it through purpose-driven innovation capable of supporting growth towards a more sustainable economy for both people and the environment. 


Stakeholders who came into contact with Sella

Digital professionals and corporates were able to network and expand their knowledge As a result of Sellalab's initiatives


The number of initiatives organized locally and nationwide

Sellalab centers are not only incubators of local expertise but also training centers where it is possible to organize and attend unique initiatives 


The number of partnerships organized locally and nationwide

Thanks to the Sellalab centers, many companies and professionals are able to leverage the network created in the centers to improve work and their own connections

New generations connected 
In this longform we have explained how the Sellalab centers have played a crucial role in the digital evolution of local communities and their economies. To find out more, you are also invited to read the new report by Milan Polytechnic entitled "Open Glocal Innovation," drawn up on the occasion of Sellalab's tenth anniversary (you can find it here). Staying on the subject of Biella, we talked about how the Sella Group has taken the values of the Biella area and enhanced them, consolidating its position and extending the model throughout Italy. But there is more. What has been put in place is a virtuous mechanism that rethinks the role of space, accelerating transformations. 
After all, this is what happens when open innovation meets the local districts and they become part of a network, connected, and fluid. In short, glocal. "The time needed for a disruptive change requires a collaborative approach, even in one of the most inaccessible corporate areas -strategy. Today, solutions cannot just be confined to the control room and limited to the approval of the executive committee. They must be brought to the attention of the people." This is what Christian Stadler, professor at Warwick Business School, says in his book “Open Strategy”. Because today's best enterprises have adopted a new way of doing strategy. "Instead of relegating decisions to the control room, they are opening them up to the outside world, involving broader groups of stakeholders. It is time for transversal alliances. We no longer need silos, we need integrated ecosystems," wrote James Bamford, Gerard Baynham and David Ernst in the management magazine Harvard Business Review. So today the best innovations are expressed as ‘we’, are born in unlikely contexts, and happen through the contamination of talents. A winning strategy embraces the whole organization and is distributed, pervasive, and networked. More than that, it extends to the supply chain and to third parties, it involves customers and even competitors. It is also evident in our own local districts, which have always been proof of the relevance of places when it comes to writing the new pages of the future. 

The Italian industrial districts

There are 141 industrial districts identified by Istat. They make up around a quarter of the country's production system and employ around a third of the workforce

So everything starts from places. Because in these connected times, paradoxically, places attract us like magnets. And it is from the places that the revolutions in values that bind communities and new networked districts marked by constant innovation start. People and places thus draw open innovation, which becomes glocal. It is what plural vision is all about. This was also advocated recently by the World Economic Forum in Davos in the summits following the pandemic emergency that has scarred the entire world. "No institution or individual alone can meet the challenges of the present time. Today, nobody can save themselves". More than a warning, an imperative rule today to live in this interconnected world, which is as unstable as ever.