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The Entrepreneurship of Culture

The Rioni "Sassi" Incubator is a recently developed incubator, which focuses on the cultural and creative fields (IC&C), one of the few growth industries in the world in this time of economic crisis. Unlike traditional incubators, often located in industrial areas, this incubator is located in the historical centre of Matera, one of the most ancient cities in the world, one that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. When the project started, the site was a collection of badly neglected ruins - making it fairly easy to convince the Municipality to grant free use of the area in exchange for restoring and rebuilding the site. This was achieved through innovative use of the finance given by the Italian Ministry of Industry towards the building of new incubator. The project was developed by Invitalia (The National Agengy for Inward Investment Promotion and Enterprise Developmnet), while the management was assigned to Sviluppo Basilicata, the Regional Development Agency and the in-house organisation of the Basilicata region supporting development, research and competitiveness within the territory.

The main public and private partners involved in the project also included the Municipality of Matera, who have the lease of the State-owned buildings for a thirty-year period. The Superintendence of Basilicata Cultural Heritage was also involved through the participation of the Peasant Art Museum. The project also saw involvement from the Zetema Foundation who were responsible for the restoration of Ortega's house (a famous artist from the sixties), which is part of the surrounding area.


The development

The restoration was a slow and difficult process as it had to be implemented with full compliance of all the rules governing the preservation of historical and cultural heritage sites. The final result was / is unique. The project covered the restoration of the area, and included the Museum of Rocky Habitat. The housing units that were developed showcase the enchanting area of Sassi, with large central rooms, secondary bedrooms for services, areas formed from tufa stone, all of which open out on to pedestrian walkways and parking areas; together forming an environment that nurtures social relationships. The technologies that underpin the development are both functional and contemporary, and offer the flexibility to adapt with changing needs.

Today, the Rioni Sassi Incubator has become a hub, for the creative world; designers and artists have made it their base owing to the availability of excellent services and the inspirational environment. Besides this, there has been a ‘viral contamination’ with other subjects, primarily citizens and craftsmen, who have become active players themselves in the creative processes and designs that are generated within the incubator.


Location, location, location

Places like this quickly become part of the public consciousness and, as a result, the incubator has become an attraction for both local visitors, as well as international lovers of art and culture who flock to Matera. The city is also a candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2019. Thanks to its tactical location, it has been possible to develop and create positive synergies between countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, etc.) and Matera’s eastern neighbours on the Adriatic (the Balkan countries). This has been achieved through focussed collaboration with galleries and design schools, and the programmes have been supported by both local institutions and private sponsors - usually large companies sensitive to the promotion of their image through art and culture.

Another asset of the incubator is access to local craftspeople, particularly those working with traditional raw materials (stone, wood, leather, clay) with whom artists and designers can create a mutually rewarding and creative relationships. Many designers in the prototyping space, and contemporary artists, continually express interest in indigenous materials and methods.

The main objective is to establish Matera as a gravitational centre for culture, and as a creative cluster, from which it can spread its influence to the surrounding territories, while consolidating its position as the the leading player in an evolving creative framework. For this reason, in parallel with the launch of the incubator, the creation of an international design school (the Matera Design System  - MDS) was a crucially important project; one promoted by Basilicata Regional Government and Sviluppo Basilicata, in collaboration with the Sofa District of Matera. It was a natural follow-up of the MIM Project developed recently in collaboration with Consortium Poli Design of Milan ( The main aim was to promote and sustain the image of Matera as the capital of design in Southern Italy. naturally the strategic geographic location of Matera was fundamental to this.

Design is very much the order of the day to establish competitiveness in the industry, and ensure our ability to compete in global markets. The role of the incubator in this area is strategic. It is an instrument that promotes product innovation, offers guidance, influencing and creating lifestyles, enabling diversification and quick response to market changes.

The project has underlined the importance of marrying creative skills to best business practices in the area. It has served to define the opportunities for growth that are prevalent in this sector of entrepreneurship. It is interesting to note that the start-ups are proactively interested in promoting and serving both the private and public sector cause; they are keen to see public-private sector partnerships, and to serve on projects supported by national or EU funds. This is a remarkably open-minded approach, typical of the creative / cultural industry, and quite unusual when compared to more traditional sectors.


Local strengths

The location of a cultural incubator is crucial to its success, and in Matera, the incubator is housed in a historical building located in Civita, an ancient part of Sassi. However, the area is dotted with other initiatives, all of which serve to make the immediate neighbourhood a cultural hub. The incubator has as its neighbours the home of the famous Spanish painter, José Ortega, the famous MUSMA (the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture), the Matera International Design School, the Romanic Cathedral, the site of the Matera 2019 Committee... All of these are complementary to the projects and ideas that emerge from the incubator.

The incubator has become a hub for culture and creativity where innovation, design, ancient local handicrafts come together in a happy melange of creativity. Together they have created a new model for the revitalisation of small businesses in the area, as well as innovative start-ups and spin-offs. A lot of this is owed to the services provided by the incubator staff and the business and entrepreneurship training courses that are offered. Next autumn the incubator will host a programme for creative and cultural start-ups, in partnership with Intesa San Paolo Group, the noted Italian Bank, and Italia Camp, a well-known youth association for social innovation.

Conscious of the need for a profitable exchange between territories and businesses, the Rioni Sassi incubator tries hard to facilitate interaction between different entities within the community, raising awareness about the value of culture and engaging the community in the initiation and further development of creative projects, starting of course, with those who are directly involved. Therefore, the challenge consists in identifying potential and necessary forms of cooperation and creating the necessary links between culture, education, research and economic systems, without losing sight of the goals and needs of the community. Matera can become a place for creative output only if its objective is to be a catalyst of innovation. This ultimate goal requires that the research carried out inside local companies, and inside the Rioni Sassi incubator, be diffused throughout the region in order to create other similar spaces.

Today companies have to deal with time-consuming factors, which make operating effectively, quite difficult. Once issues like easy access to credit, fiscal pressures and bureaucratic demands have been sorted out, small and medium-sized businesses can get on with doing what they do best. Being innovative risk-takers and the promoters of new and up-coming talent.

And so it goes...

In summary, The Incubator Rione Sassi and the other incubators managed by Sviluppo Basilicata (one specialised in green economy and the other in agro-biotech) have the following aims that they strive to implement:

  • value the uniqueness of the territory by enhancing its scientific, cultural and aesthetic excellence within an international context

  • sustain the development of creative and cultural industries, with the participation of both public and private stakeholders

  • identify internationally, those entities that might be ideal alliances and collaborations

  • value the identity of the territory as a place of creation and export it as a brand

The socio-economic development, combined with the attractiveness of the cultural, natural potential of the city of Matera is an extraordinary opportunity for the entire territory. It is also an excellent model of valorization of cultural heritage into a new sustainable and innovative model of business. It is a model that can serve as an example to other regions with similar potential.


Vittorio Simoncelli, Head of B.U. Local Development & Business Incubator at Sviluppo Basilicata Spa - the Regional Development Agency of Basilicata region (Italy). He graduated in Political and International Science at University of Rome "La Sapienza", with a Master’s in Management of Innovation at Saint Anna School in Pisa. He has over 15 years experience of SME's internationalisation and innovation, EU Projects, enterprise creation and entrepreneurship, SMEs and start-up financing, networking and institutional building. He managed the start-up of three business incubators. He was also the Project Office Manager at Chamber of Commerce in Potenza, and is an the author of many historical and socio-economic essays.
Published on 24-05-2013 19:41 by David Tee. 1329 page views

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