Meet the people who are changing the world we live in: Stefano Capezzone.
Stefano Capezzone is an electronics engineer, entrepreneur and maker. In 2002 he left his job as Marketing & Communication Vice President at big Italian firm to found his first start-up. Since 2015 he is a member of the Digital Champion Team of Rome.
1. How did you end up joining the maker movement? In the ’80s, as a student and passionate electronics hobbyist, I experienced the excitement of technological innovation carried by the first 8-bit microcomputers. Later, during my professional career I have always been involved in digital innovation and I experienced the growth of the information technology and the development of open source software that made computing a commodity. However, only in the last years I found again in the maker movement that kind of enthusiasm that derives from direct contact with the technology. It ‘a movement that operates in the manufacturing sector in a way that has many similarities with the hacker movement in the ‘90s that has transformed and democratized the software sector. When I met the guys of Roma Makers I decided to support their project and to invest also part of my time in the realization of the first Fablab in Rome.
2. What do you most value in the innovation environment? I think that the real value of innovation lies in the ability to make the new technologies available to everyone. Only by breaking down the barriers that keep high the cost of entry to new technologies it is possible to create social innovation and improve the quality of life in a nation.
3. What is your idea of a perfect innovation ecosystem? An innovation ecosystem must be able to create a network between excellences and positive energies that exist in the territory, encouraging the sharing of knowledge and the contamination of different disciplines. Nowadays the classical division between science and technology on one hand, and liberal arts on the other hand is absolutely outdated. Art and design have become an integral part of the development processes of the most innovative technological products. Innovation often comes unexpectedly from areas apparently distant from those which are eventually affected. Let’s look at phenomena such as Arduino, a product born in a design school, designed for artists and creative that today is changing the market of the electronic boards for the embedded systems. The Network is an important structural prerequisite to ensure the dissemination of knowledge and the flow of ideas in an open source model. Recent history shows clearly how the open source models are able to get a tremendous acceleration of technological progress by encouraging cooperation between communities made up of a very high number of strongly motivated people. For a traditional corporate R&D division is not possible to compete with these communities, also with large investments.
4. From your experience as Digital Champion, what kind of activities…do you feel are lacking in the innovation environment that might help maximizing the efforts? In the current environment movements and networks that generate innovation working from the bottom are not enough sustained. The network of Italian makers is one of the most important and active community in the world, there are other networks and initiatives that are able to make innovation also at the social level, however, the innovation support policies are still guided by a top down logic. The system tends to stimulate the creation of business initiatives through the use of capital, most of the incubators and business accelerators for startups are managed according to the logic of the financial world. The short-term target price of the incubated companies is a goal that could bring stakeholders to underestimate the innovative potential of many projects that eventually are not funded. Institutions and administrations should fill this gap with actions that are able to remove the obstacles that often hinder the development of initiatives that could have positive impacts on the innovation ecosystem. Very cheap actions – as the assignment of unused public spaces to associations and networks that carry out innovative and useful activities for their own territory – may be a factor sufficient to support initiatives that are able to grow and become self-financing in the medium term. These projects, developed from the bottom, can create that kind of network, mentioned earlier, able to support the perfect innovation ecosystem.
5. 3D printing and digital manufacturing are most quoted; however, there’s more to the maker movement than just filaments and printers. What do you feel would be worth deepening the knowledge of? Among the technologies that characterize the maker movement, the 3D printer is probably the least frequently used but certainly It is the most striking for the public. The idea of generating a material object starting from an empty plate is fascinating. Actually, the 3D printer is a prototyping tool. For a designer, it is important to get his hands on a physical model of the product he is designing. Through the prototype he can easily see any design flaws more than through a rendering picture plotted on screen or paper. The development cycle of new products is drastically shortened if it is possible to realize low-cost prototypes. The 3D printing technology is not a new technology, It was developed many years ago. The real innovation is the cost reduction of 3D printers due to open source projects conducted by makers. The real impact of the maker movement in the manufacturing sector is just that. Suddenly all technologies involved in the manufacturing of modern high-tech products became available at a very low cost. Numerically controlled machines such as CNC millings and laser cutters, combined with the rapid prototyping technologies in the field of electronic and computing, allow the set-up of digital fabrication laboratories able to realize (almost) anything. Network cooperation, creativity and open source projects permitted the cost reduction of the digital fabrication technologies. Today it is possible to realize a fabrication laboratory or fablab with investments that are measured in tens of thousands of dollars, that is almost two orders of magnitude less than the investment required only a few years ago. Through the creation of a network of digital fabrication laboratories located across the country It is possible to realize a model of manufacturing industry which is able to make products with a high degree of customization in the neighborhood of the final consumer. It ‘a great opportunity to bring the manufacturing of technological products in Western nations, adequately remunerating the work of the new digital artisans and with great benefits in terms of saving resources for the planet. Indeed, in this scenario, the bits of the digital designs travel along the network instead of transporting worldwide the atoms of the final products. It would be worth deepening the knowledge of all the technologies that empower a FabLab to understand the true innovative value of the maker movement.
6. How can makers help solving the need of providing more and more diverse products and services in a scenario of cutting budgets and reduced spending power? The model of distributed digital fabrication just described permits to respond to these needs. The low scale digital fabrication process is able to realize products with a high level of customization and a cost compatible with the new spending power of consumers.
7. IDEO, a world-leading design firm, just hired a 91 years old to join the research team on projects related to aging, obeying a “participatory design” model. How valued is co-design in the making process? And what value does it carry with it? The value of the co-design is very important. Through the cooperation of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and from different educational and professional careers it is possible to perform the process of contamination that generates innovation. Many of the projects that are carried out in the FabLabs are conducted according to a participatory design model.
8. What’s the ‘innovation culture’ outlook in Italy like nowadays? How is the maker movement impacting on it? I am optimistic, I like to think that the innovation culture is starting to penetrate inside the institutions helped also by the strong activity and vitality of the Italian maker movement. The great attention that is perceived to significant events like Maker Faire is one of the most visible signal. The great success in terms of number of visitors of the last edition of Maker Faire is an element that can not be ignored by local politicians. It ‘a signal that among people there is a strong need for innovation.
9. What kind of model would you imagine for our innovation system in Italy? I like to imagine an innovation system that follows the principles of networking, dissemination of knowledge, contamination and open source as described so far, and that starts first of all from the school system.
10. In your opinion, what features should the Italian innovation system enhance in order to become more attractive to an innovation-oriented crowd (read: foreign talents)? Italy is a country culturally rich and potentially attractive to foreign talents. However it is necessary to simplify the bureaucracy that hinders today the birth of many initiatives and creates a breeding ground for corruption. It is also necessary to realize an easier access to financial and credit system.
11. As a Digital Champion, have you been able to create a nurturing environment around your activity? Was it difficult to achieve? Have you ever experienced any ‘loneliness’ in your effort to pursue your goals? The enviroinment in Rome is quite different from that of other smaller urban areas. Here there is a team of seven Digital Champions and we all came from organizations that were active for many years in the field of digital innovation, so we are used to interact with the institutions and governments and we know how to best promote our activities. Undoubtedly it is difficult to obtain concrete results and move bureaucratic structures that continue to operate according to the logic of the old policy, however, the huge media machine set in motion by Riccardo Luna, the Italian Digital Champion appointed by the current Prime Minister, is now greatly facilitating our work.
12. What is your greatest fear about the future of innovation? My greatest fear is that our politicians do not fully understand how urgent and necessary is to reform the innovation system. There are reforms that can no longer be postponed.
13. What do you consider your greatest achievement as a Digital Champion so far? The activity of the Digital Champions has just begun, it is still too early to assess the results. Being successful in less than a month to involve the whole network of Chambers of Commerce across Italy to organize simultaneously a training event about electronic invoicing was a positive achievement.
14. What is your greatest extravagance as an innovator? I do not consider myself an extravagant person, but when in 2002 I voluntarily left a great and safe job as top manager of a big firm to found my first start-up, I’ve have been considered extravagant by many colleagues and friends. What happened in the following years showed that this was the right choice to make at that time. Working as an entrepreneur allows me to be able to start the initiatives that I consider innovative. Innovation is the best weapon to overcome the crisis. In the Chinese language the symbol that represents the crisis is the same that represents the concept of opportunity.
15. What innovation do you think we should start investing on to make our world a better one? Investments in the maker model and digital fabrication technologies can have a great positive impact on our world.
16.If you may give an advice on innovation to the policy-makers , what would it be? The advice is to look closely at what is happening in the Anglo-Saxon countries on policies for innovation and at the same time to consider the experiences of the organizations, spontaneously born from the bottom, that are active in digital innovation.
___________________________________________________________________________After graduating with honors from the University La Sapienza of Rome, Stefano Capezzone started working at an high-tech company in the field of Artificial Intelligence. During the years of strong growth of the ICT sector in Italy, in the 90s, he started a managerial career and continued to work on technological innovation till 2012, when he decided to embrace a new venture and launch his first startup.
Since then, he has continued to start business ventures on the front of advanced digital innovation, building around him a motivated team of partners and associates.
In recent years, his research and development has been directed toward digital manufacturing technologies and new industrial paradigms emerged within the maker movement. Since 2013 he started an important partnership with the Association of Roma Makers who runs the eponymous FabLab in the historical area of Garbatella in Rome.