The role of innovation design in tackling future challenges – Interview with Ivan Tallarico
By combining his passion for innovation with his experience in the design sector, Tallarico co-founded Designtech, a technological innovation hub focused on design
In this interview, Ivan Tallarico – Co-founder of the innovation hub Designtech in Milan – shared his journey as an entrepreneur in the design and innovation sectors.
Innovation design is a key driver of economic growth in Italy, a country renowned for its excellence in design and manufacturing. From fashion to furniture, Italy has a long history of creating innovative products that combine form and function in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and practical.
By combining his passion for innovation with his experience in the design sector, Tallarico co-founded Designtech, a technological innovation hub focused on design.
The hub aims to bring together a vibrant community of designers, entrepreneurs, and investors that address the future challenges of cities and habitats through open innovation programs that connect startups and leading industry companies.
On one hand, designers have the skills and knowledge to identify user needs and create user-centered solutions that meet those needs. Entrepreneurs have the vision and drive to turn those solutions into viable businesses. Meanwhile, investors provide the financial resources necessary to fund the development and growth of those businesses.
When these three groups work together, they can create new products and services that are not only innovative but also financially viable. Their collaboration can also lead to more efficient and effective use of resources, minimizing the risk of failure and maximizing the chances of success. Ultimately, this collaboration can contribute to economic growth and job creation, as well as the development of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
Designtech recently inaugurated its first innovation space in Milan and is set to open a new space during the upcoming Milan Design Week.
Who is Ivan Tallarico, how did your entrepreneurial design journey begin?
“After studying economics in Milan and having a brief internship experience in Hong Kong, my entrepreneurial adventure began in my family’s business: an industrial carpentry located by the seaside on the border between Calabria and Basilicata (in the south of Italy). It was an unusual place to set up a factory, which inspired a lot of creativity that was absolutely necessary to overcome the difficulties of doing business in a fragile territory far from major international hubs.
When you are born into an entrepreneurial family, you never really know, until you measure yourself outside, how much of an entrepreneur you are by birth and how much by attitude. For this reason, after a few years I chose to take a path outside and particularly abroad, in Brazil, putting myself to the test as a manager.
That experience enriched me so much both personally and professionally, also giving me awareness of my true nature as an entrepreneur. In those years, I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and pursue my independent path.”
Why the Designtech, why did you decide to create an innovation hub and eco-system in the city of Milan?
“I returned to Milan, after living in São Paulo for about 5 years, just before the outbreak of the pandemic. While in Brazil, I immersed myself in the local innovation ecosystem. So, upon returning to Italy, I tried to combine my passion for innovation with the experience gained in the design sector, first within the family business and then as an entrepreneur of an innovative startup in furniture design.
With so many hub initiatives and ecosystems emerging in various fields during that time, I wondered if anyone was working on a design hub in Milan, which was already recognized and appreciated internationally for the presence of many industrial companies and excellent architecture firms. It seemed to me that there was an opportunity to make Milan the capital of startups that wanted to change the world with design.
In my experience as a startup founder in the sector, I had noted a strong lack of high-level networking opportunities with established entrepreneurs in the industry: large industrial companies, contractors, and developers. This was fundamental to quickly scale the business through B2B agreements.
In addition, as a manufacturing startup, I had experienced firsthand the need for access to an industrial infrastructure (which I could not afford) and spaces that could serve as a living lab to test intelligent and interactive products in a real environment.
So, talking about it with those who later became my partners, initially Domenico Greco and Emil Abirascid, we conceived a first open innovation event during the design week in the classic demo day format, selecting other startups like mine and putting them in front of an audience of industry professionals. We received very positive feedback and understood that it made sense to try to give a physical direction to the community of innovators in the world of design.
Designtech was thus born, even though only a few years later – due to the pandemic – it was also formalized as a company that sees me as a co-founder and CEO together with the aforementioned Domenico (CIO) and Emil (Ecosystem Ambassador), to whom Alessandro De Cillis (CMO) and Patrizia Vavassori (COO) were immediately added as co-founders.
We inaugurated our first innovation space inside the MIND – Milano Innovation District at the beginning of 2022, a place destined to become a world-class innovation district on the outskirts of Milan and from which it seemed natural to start.
The space, equipped with a co-working area for startups, companies, and professionals in the sector, and a technological arena, regularly hosts events, becoming a catalyst for cultural and creative innovation for the district and the city of Milan.”
What are the areas of innovation that Designtech promotes? And why?
“Designtech is a technological innovation hub focused on design that involves the furniture, architecture, construction, and real estate sectors and aims to bring excellent national and international design companies closer to innovative startups.
We want to provide dedicated spaces and services to design solutions that synthesize design and innovation to address the future challenges of cities and habitats such as: circular design, design for additive manufacturing, augmented living, and off-site construction.
Through open innovation programs that connect startups looking to accelerate their growth and leading industry companies seeking innovation, Designtech members have the opportunity to approach the innovation ecosystem and successfully initiate pilot collaborations with startups, creating Proof of Concept (PoC) that allow for testing and validating new disruptive solutions within innovative procurement processes managed by Designtech on behalf of large companies and real estate developers.”
During the upcoming Milan Design Week, Designtech will inaugurate a new space in Milan that will serve as a co-factory for designers and innovators. Can you tell us more about the project and how it will work? Who is involved?
“Actually, the CoFactory construction site, in an advanced stage of development, will be open for visits during the Design Week as part of the Fuorisalone circuit that Designtech will be hosting in the Certosa District in collaboration with the area’s developer, Real Step SICAF.
The Designtech CoFactory, designed by Pininfarina Architecture, represents a hybrid space of about 1,500 square meters that will host digital manufacturing machines and rapid prototyping technologies integrated with office spaces, laboratories, and meeting and training areas. Designed as an open urban factory where manufacturing startups and scaleups, self-producing designers, and makers can coexist, they will have access to a first-class industrial infrastructure shared among them that they would hardly be able to afford individually.
It’s a new “hardware as a service” format for the design and construction industry, a scalable and decentralized advanced manufacturing platform for producing and assembling products from furniture to buildings, characterizing distributed competence centers in a fast and sustainable way.
The CoFactory will be accessible, in a priority and privileged way, to all companies participating in our hub as members.”
This April, in collaboration with DesignWanted and Isola Design, you will be organizing the exhibition ‘Innovation for Living’. What do you believe are the main trends & future directions connected to the theme?
“Spaces are becoming increasingly inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable through the adoption of innovative technological solutions that have the potential to redesign the concept of Living. Furniture becomes digital, intelligent, capable of transforming and adapting to different circumstances and ways of living for users.
Data collected through technology solutions integrated into living environments and products become fundamental for the development of new solutions oriented towards the end user’s well-being. In this context, it is easy to imagine the offer of new services or business models.
At Designtech, we associate all these opportunities with the concept of “Augmented Living”, for which we currently have an innovation program underway.
The exhibition in which we collaborate on the theme of Innovation for Living, which will also host the selection of finalists for the DesignWanted Award, aims to represent for Design Week visitors a window into technological innovation and how it will impact the future of living, bringing the industry into dialogue with innovators and creatives who will be the interpreters of this future.
The exhibition will be guided by a sustainable, open, and smart design approach, where projects by independent designers from all over the world will meet with broad-reaching technological innovations. The goal is to highlight the innovations that are shaping our lives on a global scale.”
What is the next step for Designtech?
“Designtech’s next step, in addition to offering innovation spaces and services dedicated to the design industry, will be to invest directly in startups. We will initiate a capital-raising campaign for this purpose in the coming months.
In particular, with the establishment of a venture-building team already in formation, Designtech will create startups from scratch with the participation and co-investment of companies interested in conducting business development in the form of startups, which can also become qualified investment opportunities for business angels and venture capitalists interested in a “derisked dealflow.”
The venture-building model we are developing will allow us to develop specific startups from scratch to meet the innovative needs of the sectors in which we operate.”