Stimulating innovation in creative sme’s, Italian style

Milan is probably not the place you’d expect to have a conversation about the problems of stimulating innovation given the city’s global reputation for design and fashion.

Designing Connectivity [and here “connectivity” is networks and information rather than digital] was an event hosted by the Design Faculty of the Politecnico di Milano and the Creative Industries KTN. Exploring the confluence of design, sustainability and innovation the workshop brought together experts from the UK and Italy to share experience, insight and case studies.

I was struck in particular by the similarities of the issues as they related to growing small creative businesses – and specifically creating the network infrastructure and “eco-system” for sustained growth. The aims and to some extent the models will be familiar but I’ve highlighted some of the Italian examples below as interesting:


Kublai ( is effectively an open procurement network, acting as an interface between creative community and policy need. It seeks to assist in two ways, firstly by helping creatives generate appropriate proposals and projects, and secondly in an endorsement role, helping policymakers trust creative projects.

Kublai acts across a blog, a social network, a Second Life presence (acting as an inexpensive interaction and icebreaker) and regular events. It has 2500 active users, with staff recruited from its own community, and a peer-to-peer ethos with transparency and openness as core values.


By contrast Treviso Tecnologia ( has a far more interventionist approach. Treviso and surroundings suffer familiar issues of talent retention and the impacts of globalisation on what was previously a strong manufacturing region.

With a target audience which is 90% SME Treviso Tecnologia acts across a broad mix of policy input, business advice, networking, research, R&D, IPR and incubation functions. With a mainly technology and design focus its incubation facilities incorporate 3D printing and ergonomics for product design prototyping. It also has a direct linkage to the patent & design office for technical guidance on IP issues.


In Milan Design Hub ( is conceived as a digital network and meeting point acting in connecting role between university and commerce. Design Hub actively brokers live commercial projects to create benefits for both student designers and client businesses – specifically the type of manufacturing industries which might not regularly use designers.


One of the contributors defined the ecology for growth as “talent + education + entrepreneurship + industry”, which struck me as fairly universal (c.f. the definition as “talent + money” in my recent workshop in East London). The initiatives above, and many UK examples, are seeking to effectively and efficiently join those elements together – to be the “+” in the equation, to catalyse and connect.

Designing Connectivity sparked some interesting connections and debate, and the full content of the day and next steps will be shared on the CIKTN site once collated.

The sustainability elements of the event will I am sure be covered under the CIKTN Sustainability Beacon but I thought I’d note my favourite design example of the day from Seed Foundation’s Clare Brass: tea bags with water-saving advice printed on them distributed for plumbers to give to their customers, because after all what is the first question a plumber gets asked on arrival?


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