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Italy: Where An Innovation Renaissance Continues to Flourish

Even Leonardo de Vinci would be amazed by innovation in today’s Italy.

Most people, including myself, usually travel to Italy to marvel at its rich history of culture around the arts, architecture, and food. On my most recent visit, however, I had the opportunity to glimpse the future, explore 21st-century digital breakthroughs, and meet with ecosystems of pioneering entrepreneurs.

Like during the glorious Renaissance period itself, innovation flourishes today throughout Italy – from Rome and Milan to Naples and Venice, and many other places in between. From connected smart cities and workplaces of the future to AI translation platforms and automated mailboxes — the landscape of digitization here is as breathtaking as its natural countryside.

As we approach the celebration of Cisco’s 25th anniversary in Italy this summer, it’s inspiring to learn about all the opportunities to stretch the imagination of what’s possible through strong collaborations with tech pioneers, local government, universities, developers, customers, and a wide diversity of partners.

You may have heard our recent announcement to further ignite digital transformation in Italy by opening a new Cisco Center of Excellence and Co-Innovation, focusing on Privacy and Cybersecurity, to be located in Milan next year. In a press release, Agostino Santoni, Managing Director, of Cisco Italy, said, “This new co-innovation center, dedicated to the latest technologies that enable privacy and security, is a key addition to our overall efforts to support digitization in Italy through our Country Digital Acceleration program Digitaliani.”

Cisco Center of Excellence and Co-Innovation

The new Center of Excellence and Co-Innovation will bring together customers and partner ecosystems to solve privacy and cybersecurity as well as other business and social problems. Together, from infrastructure to applications, they will build solutions on the network that leverage the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, and myriad other digital technologies. The new center will also be connected to a global network of 14 similar Co-Innovation Centers as well as Cisco DevNet, a platform with more than 500,000 developers, enabling solutions made locally to be scaled globally.

Because of Agostino’s leadership, combined with the collective drive of many Cisco teams — including HR, Sales, and Engineering — and of course our talented ecosystem, we have already established the strongest possible foundation for even more explosive innovation through the Italy Innovation Exchange. Launched in 2016, the Exchange is an open innovation framework to connect with existing communities of innovators and invest in locations where innovation is already happening, including support of startups, developers, universities, skills training, and research. The Exchange also should be credited for driving the Digitaliani Program and serving as the catalyst for digital innovation and transformation countrywide.

During my recent, week-long journey in Italy, I was so impressed with all the accomplishments throughout the country. Here is a brief itinerary of innovations we’re co-developing with our customers and ecosystems:

ROME: The Pi Campus

Here, I met with Marco Trombetti, a serial and passionate entrepreneur who founded, Translated, an AI-driven translation platform used by businesses worldwide. After ten years in Silicon Valley, Marco decided to take his experiences back to Italy and re-created a “micro” innovation hub called Pi Campus, which is set amid a beautiful and green residential area of luxury villas. The Pi Campus brings together the most promising students (mostly with post-doctoral degrees), startups, and companies, and through a venture, capital entity invests in AI-based solutions. It wouldn’t be surprising if “the next big thing” emerged from this thriving hotbed of innovation.

MILAN: Cariplo Factory and the Talent Garden

I had the privilege of learning about and witnessing two exciting engagements here. First, working with the Cariplo Factory, a consultancy for open innovation methodologies, and with a number of global startups, Cisco Italy is co-innovating new smart city Proofs of Concept that combine IoT technologies with our network platform. Cariplo Factory’s vision is big and bold, so eloquently expressed by one of the Factory’s partners, Enrico Noseda, who knows how to sustain innovation in a fast-growing startup. Who knows? The future of your city may be born here.

Nearby at the Talent Garden, its Chief Digital Officer, Alessandro Braga, explained how this is Europe’s largest network of co-working spaces that supports companies at 23 campuses in eight countries. He showed how it is so much more than just physical spaces for co-workers. It’s more of a stimulating ecosystem that helps companies accelerate growth and thrive. Cisco not only provides technology infrastructure here, but also leverages these neutral spaces to engage with startups and customers, connect DevNet with developers, introduce innovations such as Telepresence, and conduct Digital Transformation master classes along with Intesa San Paolo to train digital decision-makers of the future.

When Talent Garden wanted to scale, it turned to Cisco Meraki’s security appliances, switches, access points, and cameras for a reliable solution that’s expected to scale from 300 to 800 access points by 2020. With Meraki infrastructure and partnerships with startups such as Cloud4wi and Sofia Locks, Talent Garden now has the capability to build smart living and connected spaces with a network platform that can improve worker experiences, automate access controls, connect people, speed onboarding processes, and even analyze new ways to enhance productivity.

NAPLES: University Frederico II and 5G Cell

Known as one of the oldest continuously inhabited urban areas in the world, today Naples thrives with many active volcanoes of digital innovation. In partnership with DevNet and the University Federico II, Cisco has built a Digital Transformation lab where we have also launched a new Networking Academy and where we hold student events such as hackathons – one of which I was lucky enough to see. At the DTlab, students developed a number of ingenious digital prototypes ranging from monitoring the deterioration of artwork to automatically locating the nearest garbage dumpsters in a smart city.

But that’s not all – next door, we’ve launched a digital innovation hub with TIM Telecom Italia and I was able to touch and see the first 5G Cell in Naples as well as other prototypes that can lead to a game-changing opportunity in various markets. Through the magic convergence of IoT, AR/VR, WiFi, Multi-Cloud, SD-Wan, and Cloud Brokerage technology, we have created a novel collaborative approach with this Communication Service Provider to attract new customers interested in co-innovating solutions that can be taken to market.


Instead of a maze of canals navigated by gondolas, imagine a green farm in the middle of the Venetian countryside where the key factor is “human”. This is H-FARM, a unique “Human Farm,” which cultivates innovation, entrepreneurship, and education at the same time. The brainchild of Riccardo Donadon, H-FARM supports innovative companies from early-stage startups to established enterprises while also providing education from primary school to the university level (in partnership with the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice). Here, Cisco Italy works with H-FARM’s Digital Transformation and Open Innovation unit to bring innovation and platforms to corporate customers. We conducted an open innovation project on the smart City of the Future with Poste Italiane, and we are currently running a separate project with another company in the field of Industry 4.0 and customer experience.

And all this is just the beginning. Again, as we ramp up for our 25th year in Italy this summer, and as we plan for the opening of the Cisco Center of Excellence and Co-Innovation next year, more innovations like these that improve business results and societal conditions will just keep thriving throughout this country. Indeed, there’s little doubt even Leonardo would be proud and impressed.

This article originally appeared in Cisco Blogs on June 20, 2019


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