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HUB Trotting: HUB Milan Where Design and Entrepreneurship Flourish

Originally posted late October 2011 at here

Italy is known for food, design and fashion – Milan its second largest city is considered the center of business and fashion. The current economic crisis has placed Italy in a negative light, this brings us to the people at HUB Milan who are working harder than ever to make Italy strong and successful.

Hub Milan is part of the Hub Network which comprises of co-working spaces around the world for social entrepreneurs (people who are inventing solutions for socio-economic problems)

I’ve seen a few other HUBs in my HUB trot, including those in London and San Francisco, but I was particularly moved by HUB Milan. The culture and giving nature of the founders and members, makes this more than a co-working space, it’s like a second home. I interviewed Francesca Calo, a host at the HUB, to understand the culture and projects at the HUB and with Andrea Paoletti, one of its main architects to comprehend the thought behind the interior design of the HUB Milan.

Naureen Nayyar (NN): What makes Hub Milan unique?

Francesca Calo (FC): The HUB Milan has different projects. For example they have Eppela, a crowdfunding site, the kickstarter of Italy, who are also working as CSR consultants for companies, there is also the first Italian newspaper for an ipad, a startup that is an online incubator, some food catering startups, consultancies and companies on environment and locally you even have a startup at the HUB trying to implement social housing in Milan.

Basically you have different types of projects from design, architecture to environment, crowdfunding. There is a strong value inside the hub, we are able to create synergies and create social impact in the community. Although the time in Italy has been rough for most entrepreneurs, HUB Milan serves as an opportunity for community to truly connect in their creative and innovative space.

NN: What is the state of social enterprise in Italy?

FC: The critical point that Italians face is the lack of money and big bureaucratic processes. If you don’t have money it is hard to find the opportunity to find funding. Entrepreneurship here is not supported by the government and in the other side there is a problem with culture, the generations before they did not have the idea of entrepreneurship. They found a place to work all their life. It is not like this anymore.The HUB Milan works to support the Italian startup ecosystem, by also working to promote StartuParty, an event that occurs in different parts of Italy. In order to get a taste of espresso and creativity early in the day, this month “Creative Mornings Milan” was started at HUB Milan.

Andrea Paoletti who served as one of the main architects for HUB Milan explained how HUBs promote social good and provide a work space that is modern and sustainable in its interior design. Yet, as Italian design is about attention to details, the Hub Milan has particularly gone into great extent to reuse furniture, recycled materials, and produce a workspace that was not only built by the community that uses the space, but also helps them to see that aesthetic design can be sustainable. Watch the video below to see the way the interior was transformed.

Naureen Nayyar (NN): Tell me what it was like in the beginning?

Andrea Paoletti (AP): This was initial a perfect box for a normal office, so we really had to change the space to what would be the HUB, so a different place. What we are doing here is to experiment a new kind of office and how through the design we can inspire new businesses. In the beginning we went through the process with Oliver, the main architect who designed the first two HUB houses in London. What we did is we invited all the members to come here and to contribute with their ideas about how this place could be like, we asked them to make some sketches, or give us some ideas.

NN: Are there things special to this HUB?

AP: Well, most of the spaces have more than one function. The kitchen, for example, is not just a kitchen, that can also be an informal area, where they can have short meetings, or work with their laptop. The entrance needed to be something that is representative of the HUB, it’s where all the activities of the month are posted, then we have a small living area, where people can stay there, or a visitor can stop there too. We also have another room, it’s a meeting room, it’s quiet small, so we created a move-able wall with frames for the windows that way it can be extended or closed for a meeting.

NN: How does this fit with the goal of other HUB locations?

AP: What we tried to do is use reclaimed material, and use these materials to create new furniture. The idea is to help the people and in a certain way to educate them to think about how materials and objects never die, but they can survive by using them, and giving them new life. So this is the most creative part, because you really have to think out of the box, because sometimes something you think has one use, you can see it has different uses. You just have to think about that, and really open your mind. There is so much waste in industrial process. We used their waste to make things such as a sign in our basement meeting place. So, design is not just about functionality, but also about educating the users about the reusing of products.

NN: That’s great, any last thoughts?

AP: Yes, in regards to the furniture, such as the couch, we are giving new meaning to the furniture, not just the ones we are used to. So yes, to educate people and provide them a special place to work is part of the design of this location.

Naureen Nayyar is writing from Europe for Dutiee and planning to visit various HUBs in the area. She can be reached via @norabean on twitter

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