H-FARM: sowing the seeds of digital entrepreneurship

London, Paris, Berlin, Ca’ Tron… Do you see an anomaly? If so, you can blame that on old-world conditioning. Where once business chiefs needed to be at the centre of the most powerful capitals, the digital innovation hub H-FARM is proving to be a pioneering force from a farm nestled in the northern Italian countryside. And the key to its success is that it constantly seeks to meet the needs of tomorrow, according to H-FARM Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Maurizio Rossi.


Ciara Cunnane


Silvia Sala

The picturesque location of the H-FARM headquarters, just outside Treviso and one hour from Venice, was once earmarked by Disney as a possible location for its European theme park. Even though this greenfield site is surrounded by grapevines and maize, it is close to two airports and has fast rail links to Italy’s main cities. Disney’s loss is the world’s gain, as H-FARM is quietly transforming how the most important multinationals do business.

When Maurizio founded H-FARM with Riccardo Donadon in 2005, it was the first venture incubator in the world (US seed accelerator Y Combinator launched a few months later). Maurizio brought 25 years of corporate experience. After graduating as a ship captain, his joined his family business, the Rossi Group, which was mainly involved in luxury retail and newspaper publishing. He founded a division of the group in the Nineties focused on adventure sports apparel and after the business was bought out by LVMH in the early Noughties, he wanted a new challenge. Riccardo had founded one of Italy’s first digital agencies in 1997 and after a successful sale, he wanted to help young entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

Working in adventure sports for 13 years fuelled Maurizio’s unorthodox mindset, leading him to formulate H-FARM with Riccardo. ‘Back in the Nineties it was said that the next rock music was going to be the internet and today we can see that has come true,’ he says. ‘We founded H-FARM based on three assumptions. The first was the impact that technology was going to have on all of our lives. The second was that the speed of exponential change was going to be very disruptive. And the third was that the new digital native generation of entrepreneurs, who can leverage technology in a very natural way, would be the driving force.’

Maurizio dresses in the ubiquitous, casual startup version of a CEO. His jeans and plain jumper are given an artistic, offbeat look with fashionable round spectacles and curly locks that would tickle his collar if suits were his style. His look may be relaxed but the day we meet, he is a flurry of activity, bouncing from one meeting to the next before we manage to catch him for a chat.

As we settle into one of H-FARM’s sustainably built offices with solar panels on the roof, he is wrapping up a call with his 18-year-old daughter in Tel Aviv. Maurizio proudly explains how she and his 20-year-old son are both doing well at university there. This sense of family is also important in his business: he is keen to emphasise that while the company is hi-tech, it’s all in aid of developing humanity. After all, the ‘H’ in the name stands for human. ‘The key element behind the culture of H-FARM is people,’ he says. ‘This is a people R&D. Everything we have achieved to date is because of the people who work here. This isn’t a company of a genius with a lot of worker bees; everyone has contributed.’

‘We are successful because we keep updating and pivoting for tomorrow, because tomorrow is different from today.’

H-FARM’s motto is ‘Big shoes and beautiful mind’, which is a direct translation of a local Venetian expression that means intelligence grows from solid roots in the land. For Maurizio, basing the headquarters in nature made sense, even though logistically it can be challenging. ‘It was very important for us to have a good quality of life here and that people who come here would feel the same. One feels very well in nature. We picked this location because it was a cool place and unique; nobody else was going to try and make such a crazy location work,’ he chuckles.

Maurizio and Riccardo funded H-FARM until 2009, after which angel investors came on board and then the company was publicly listed in 2015. Over the past 14 years, it has organically grown into a hub with a three-pronged focus on innovation, entrepreneurship and education.

In 2005, MySpace was the leading social network, Facebook was in beta mode and Wikipedia was gaining traction as a crowdsourced, user-generated content site. These early Web 2.0 communities inspired Maurizio and Riccardo to create a seed accelerator. To date, H-FARM has invested more than €27 million in 120 startups and after some profitable exits, its portfolio now stands at about 60. It also has a network of four million startups around the world.

Although seed acceleration in the domestic Italian market was the primary focus at the start, Maurizio says they soon realised H-FARM could not match the venture capital giants of Silicon Valley and Israel. From their encouragement of entrepreneurship came the genesis for their innovation wing. Maurizio recalls: ‘I said we need to define something that makes sense for H-FARM to play in this game. What makes us unique, and what is the challenge in Europe?

‘It took 40 or 50 years to build the hi-tech ecosystems in Silicon Valley and Israel, whereas Europe is based around low-tech, such as the automotive industry and luxury fashion. This is the body of Europe and all of these companies need to transform. So then we realised we had the right experience from our years working in corporates and also the right connections with the startups we were fostering to be a consulting business between the two. That was the right move, as big corporations need this startup knowledge and it also helps startups develop.’

The innovation wing acts as a consultant to help traditionally non-tech multinationals such as Gucci, Henkel, adidas, Audi and many more find ways to utilise the skills and mindset of the global startup ecosystem so that they don’t get left behind in the tech revolution. To date H-FARM has worked with 200 companies worldwide and 13% of H-FARM revenue comes from collaborations with international brands. On the day we visit H-FARM, Yves Saint Laurent staff are on site for a workshop.

Maurizio says: ‘We are successful because we keep updating and pivoting for tomorrow, because tomorrow is different from today. We took the elements of humans, culture and next-generation technology and created a formula to show corporations that they need to restructure their culture so that every employee is engaged.

‘I believe the future of corporations will be like co-working spaces. The decentralised, Holacracy style of management is similar to how H-FARM works, as everyone takes ownership and we show corporations why we do it like that. Once corporates are ready, we get them to start running programmes of open innovation and recruit talent for a new, tech-led team that can eventually merge with their existing team.’

‘Education is broken everywhere in the world. The traditional education system was to create labourers for work but it doesn’t help people develop. So what’s going to happen now that technology is taking jobs?’

H-FARM has also become a key driver in education reform to help both children and adults improve design thinking, critical thinking and digital entrepreneurship. This method is revolutionising traditional methods of teaching by nurturing students’ individual talents, allowing them to reach their potential through a dynamic programme that incorporates the development of soft skills and innovative learning tools. However, all of this sprang from humble roots.

When H-FARM started providing digital solutions to corporates, it became clear that applying these solutions would require training. Training workshops for corporate staff was the next logical step, which Maurizio and Riccardo took in 2012. Then they began to think about the needs of emerging generations born as digital natives and using digital tools in an entirely different way. From this came H-International School (H-IS) Treviso, founded in Ca’ Tron in 2015, followed by another three schools between Treviso and Milan in Monza, Rosà and Vicenza. They have pupils from kindergarten to high school. H-FARM also runs a bachelor’s degree in digital management in partnership with Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, as well as master’s programmes in computer graphics, virtual reality and concept art at BigRock. The student body has surpassed 1,1f00, an increase of 15% from last year.

H-International School Treviso teacher Cameron Bragg

H-IS Treviso is a short drive from the headquarters and the location is just as scenic. The scent of the surrounding orange trees provides a welcome greeting as chickens cluck nearby. Lilac wisteria creeps around the entrance to the al fresco cafeteria, where the students lunch on dishes made with organic vegetables from the garden under a bamboo awning.

In the evening, the cafeteria becomes a restaurant open to the public. This is part of H-FARM’s commitment to integrate with the community. Gaia Veronese, Press Officer, explains: ‘We don’t want to be in a bubble. Our charitable foundation wing holds free events every week which are open to locals. We also plan to open a library when our headquarters is extended, which the public can access.’ Hiring local staff is a part of this philosophy and is echoed throughout H-FARM’s other four offices in Italy, in Milan, Turin, Rome and Catania. A total of 625 staff (or ‘farmers’ as they are known here) work throughout the five offices.

Local workers are also set to be involved in the next big development at H-FARM: the construction of H-Campus at Ca’ Tron, which has been delayed by red tape. A return of 8 million is expected for the territory if officials approve the project. Local architectural firm Zanon Architetti Associati is on board to design the energy-efficient and sustainable campus and the library is being helmed by British architect Richard Rogers, known for the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Millennium Dome in London.

The campus will encompass a nursery, high school and university, with a capacity for 3,000. Maurizio predicts construction will take up to two years. The high school already has 20 boarders but it’s hoped that being able to offer more boarding accommodation will attract foreign pupils. H-IS Treviso has 381 pupils, of which 80% are Italian, 13% are from elsewhere in Europe and 8% are from outside Europe. Maurizio says the extra space is badly needed.

In the meantime, the education team aren’t resting on their laurels. In November 2018 they achieved the Apple Distinguished School stamp of excellence for innovative learning environments. H-IS is one of the first in Italy to join the ranks of 470 Apple Distinguished Schools in 34 countries. The H-IS curriculum is a unique adaptation of the 51-year-old International Baccalaureate, which was initially created for children of ambassadors and adopted by H-FARM because of its flexibility. English is the official school language and pupils also study Italian.

According to Gaia, the curriculum shifts the focus from knowledge to skills. Pupils don’t have set subjects but rather units of enquiry where they figure out topics for themselves. ‘It’s the opposite of the traditional type of learning where the teacher dictates,’ she says above the din of excited chatter as pupils finish for the day. ‘It’s about developing their critical thinking, design thinking, even failure every one of us has tasted the flavour of failure and it’s important they know that this is something they can overcome.’

The 49 teachers come from a range of backgrounds; as well as Anglo countries they are from around Europe and South America. One of the Australian teachers, Cameron Bragg, was so impressed by the H-IS ethos that he moved halfway across the world to teach here.

Cameron was an entrepreneur before he began teaching in Australia seven years ago but became dissatisfied with mainstream education. ‘I came from Australia with my wife solely to work in the H-FARM school, to do education in a radically different way,’ he says. ‘I think it’s totally overdue a reshake, it’s not serving society and it’s certainly not serving kids. Big textbooks full of definitions are not going to help kids be successful in the future; they need to interact with people and apply things they’re learning in a real-world context.

‘I teach business and economics so my topics are very suited to H-IS’s entrepreneurship and innovation model, and I love working here! A lot of our focus is on how entrepreneurial skills can be applied to every aspect of life, from relationships to school, to take initiative to see things that need action and to be the person who takes action.’

‘I believe the future of cities is going to be creating real communities for people, especially the youth.’

Maurizio adds: ‘Education is broken everywhere in the world. The traditional education system was to create labourers because that was needed for working structures but it doesn’t help people develop. So what’s going to happen now that technology is taking jobs? The benefit of new technology is that we can reinvent society. Education is where everything starts and the role of education should be to enable people to fulfil their potential. So our vision is to connect technology with humanistic principles that help society.’

Part of the curriculum for 14-year-old first years is a social entrepreneurship programme known as the Acceleration Lab. Students are mentored by the onsite ‘farmers’ as they come up with community-orientated startup ideas, and some of the products have even made it to market. There is also an Ignition Lab where the school hosts inspirational speakers, and previous guests range from a US Army captain to a Michelin-starred chef. Cameron explains: ‘This helps kids think about how people have overcome challenges to achieve success, and success might be, “I am the CEO of Gucci,” we had him also last year, but it might also be, “I actually left a high-paying job to work in my community or study.” There are different pathways to success.’

The H-IS fees are in line with other international schools in Europe, at 16,000 per year for high school, and the plan is to lower them as the schools are scaled. Scholarships are also offered. Maurizio says he hopes to expand the school network throughout Italy and internationally. H-FARM’s first international hub opened in Barcelona in March 2019 and is being managed by Aleix Valls, former CEO of Mobile World Capital Barcelona. Maurizio enthuses: ‘Barcelona is competing with Berlin, it has the highest number of digital nomads in Europe and it has an interesting startup ecosystem. Aleix has access to the market there and we have the infrastructure so it’s a good union. It only launched a month ago and Aleix is already looking at expanding to Valencia, Madrid and other cities. We’re also in conversations with teams in Berlin to see about forming partnerships there.’

The trend of co-working and co-living spaces in cities is only going to accelerate, according to Maurizio. ‘I believe the future of cities is going to be creating real communities for people, especially the youth. Co-living and co-working will be basic infrastructure, probably managed by players who can connect to institutions and investors. On a smaller scale that is what H-FARM is. Millenials need places just for them that will help foster their talent and also attract talent, like the way artists were drawn to cities like Berlin, New York and San Francisco and this created that disruptive culture element that led to the rise of those cities.’

Maurizio believes it is up to millennials to create these changes. ‘Unfortunately there is a big inertia in Europe because the old generation still dominates everything. The young generation is the first global generation. They share a lot of common things despite their diversity. This generation needs a new lifestyle; it has new principles, such as sustainability. That’s why youths need to be empowered with the right education and tools to change the world.’

For more information about H-FARM visit its website.


伦敦、巴黎、柏林、科泰拉 你看到异状了吗如果有可归咎旧世界的条件。过去的商业领导曾需待在最强大的首都中心,这个来自意大利北部乡间的H-FARM已被证明是数字创新的先锋力量。根据H-FARM的共同创办人/共同首席执行官玛瑞欧 罗西(Maruizio Rossi) 表示,成功的关键在不断寻求为了满足未来所需的东西


Ciara Cunnane


Silvia Sala


2005年玛瑞欧与里卡多 都那顿 (Riccardo Donadon)共同创立H-FARM,它是世界第一个分险投资孵化器(美国种子加速器Y Combinator于几个月后才推出)。玛瑞欧带着他从事25年的企业经验。他主修船长科毕业后,加入了自家家族企业罗西集团,主要从事奢侈品零售和报纸出版业务。90年代,他在该集团成立专注于冒险运动服装的一个部门,2000初期年间LVMH收购该业务后,他想从事另一个新挑战。1997年里卡多在意大利成立了第一间数字代理商,并在成功销售后,他想帮助年轻企业家实现梦想。



我们进入H-FARM其屋顶有太阳能电池板的可持续建造办公室之一,他正与在特拉维夫的18岁女儿打完电话。玛瑞欧自豪地说在那里攻读大学的女儿和20岁的儿子学术表现良好。家庭感对他的事业也很重要:他热衷地强调,虽然公司属高科技产业,但这都有助发展人性。毕竟公司名子中的“H”代表人类。 “H-FARM文化背后的关键因素就是人。” 他说: “这是人们的内部开发。至今我们达成的一切都是因为在这工作的人。这间并不是有许多任务蜂的天才公司; 每个人都付出贡献。


H-FARM的座右铭是“大鞋和美丽的心”,这是威尼斯当地谚语的直译文,意味着智慧从土地里坚固的根源发展而来。对玛瑞欧而言,将总部设在大自然是有道理的,即使从后勤支持上它具有挑战性。“对我们来说,拥有良好的生活质量至关重要,来这里的人会感同身受。处于自然环境中使人感觉很好。我们选了这个位置,因为它是与众不同的地方; 他笑着说: “也没有别人会选在这个疯狂的地点了。”


2005年,MySpace为领先的社交网络,Facebook处于测试阶段,维基百科则作为一个众包,用户生成的内容正逐渐取得关注。这些早期的Web 2.0社区激发了玛瑞欧和里卡多创建种子加速器。 目前H-FARM已在120间的初创公司投资超过1.27亿欧元,并也卖掉目前约70家赚钱的公司。它拥有遍及全球的400万初创公司网络系统。



创新部门担任顾问的角色,帮助传统上非科技业的跨国公司,如古驰,汉高,阿迪达斯,奥迪或其他寻找利用全球创业生态系统技能和思维方式的方法,让他们不至于被科技革命抛在后头。 至今,H-FARM已与200家公司合作,H-FARM收入中有13%来自这些合作。 我们参观H-FARM的当天,圣罗兰的员工正在现场参加研讨会。



“世界各地的教育都破碎了。 传统的教育制度是为工作而创造劳动力,但却无助于人们的发展。 现今科技已取代传统劳动,那么将会发生什么呢?”

H-FARM也成为教育改革的关键驱动力,并同时帮助儿童和成人提升设计思维、批判性思维和数字创业。 透过这种方式培养学生的个人才能,彻底改变传统的教学方式,使他们能够通过结合软技能和创新学习工具的动态计划发挥潜能。 它从幼儿园跨足到硕士水平,并且在规模上与声望不断成长。然而,所有的这一切都来自谦虚的根本。

当H-FARM开始为企业提供数字媒体解决方案时,很显然地提供解决方案将需要训练。玛瑞欧和里卡多在2012年即开始实施,为企业员工提供的训练研讨会是下一个合理的步骤。从这里,他们开始为新兴数字原生世代而做打算,并用全然不同的方式使用数字媒体工具。2015年在Ca’Tron成立的H-International School(H-IS)特雷维索由此而生,随后又在特雷维索和米兰,玫瑰(Rosa)和 维琴察(Vicenza)之间设立了三所学校。 他们有幼儿园到高中部的学生。 H-FARM还与威尼斯Ca’Foscari大学合作并提供数字管理学士学位,以及BigRock的计算机图形学,虚拟现实和概念艺术硕士课程。 学生人数比去年增加了15%,超过1200人。

H-International School Treviso teacher Cameron Bragg

H-IS Treviso距离总部车程很短,地理位置也如同风景般的好。四周橘子树的气息提供了欢迎的问候,附近的鸡群也啼叫着。户外自助餐厅入口处的紫藤花蔓延着,学生坐在竹制的遮阳篷底下,以花园有机蔬菜制成的菜肴享用午餐。

晚上,自助餐厅摇身一变成对外开放的餐厅。这是H-FARM致力于融合当地社区的一部分。通讯经理盖亚 佛罗尼(Gaia Veronese)解释着:’我们不愿活在幻想中。我们的慈善基金会每周为当地人举办免费活动。我们还计划等总部扩建后开设供民众使用的图书馆。“招聘当地员工是理念的一部分,并与H-FARM在意大利,米兰,都灵,罗马和卡塔尼亚的其他四个办事处理念相呼应 。这五间办公室总共有625名员工(或称为“农民”)。

当地工人也将参与H-FARM的下个重大开发项目:在Ca’Tron的H-Campus校园施工,因官僚的繁琐程序而延误着。如果官员核准此项目,预计该地区将可返还800万欧元。 当地建筑事务所Zanon Architetti Associati正设计节能和可持续发展的校园,图书馆由英国建筑师理查德德德德德德德德德德德 罗杰斯(Richard Rogers)掌舵,他以设计巴黎的蓬毕杜中心和伦敦的千禧巨蛋而闻名。

校园将设置可容纳3000人的托儿所,高中部和大学部。玛瑞欧预计建设将耗时两年余。高中部已经有20名的寄宿生,但希望能够盖更多的学生宿舍以吸引外籍学生。 H-IS Treviso特雷维索共有317名学生,其中80%是意大利人,13%来自欧洲其他地方,并有8%来自非欧洲国家。玛瑞欧表示急需额外的空间。

同时,教育团队并没有安于现状。 2018年11月,他们在创新学习环境中获得了卓越的苹果杰出学校奖。在34国470所的苹果杰出学校之中,H-IS是意大利加入的第一间学校。H-IS提供的课程针对51年的国际文凭的独特改编,起初是为大使的孩子们创立的,因其灵活性而被H-FARM采用。官方学校语言为英语,学生也习意大利语。

根据盖亚(Gaia),课程将重点从知识转移到技能。学生没有固定的学科,他们为自己找出主题研究单元。 “与老师要求的传统学习形式大相径庭。” 正当学生们结束这一天时,她激动不已说道: “这是关于发展他们的批判性思维、设计思维、甚至失败 – 即便我们都尝过失败的滋味,重要的是让他们了解一切是能克服的。”

49名教师来自不同背景,有来自盎格鲁国家、来自欧洲或南美洲。其中一位澳大利亚教师卡麦隆 布格(Cameron Bragg) 非常认同H-IS的办校精神,于是他从世界的另一端前来教书。

卡麦隆过去在澳大利亚曾是一名企业家,七年前他开始教书,但对主流教育感到不满。他说: 我和妻子从澳大利亚来只是为了到H-FARM学校教书,全然不同的方式做教育。“我认为早该开始这个重塑了,因为它并没有为社会尽到服务,肯定也没有为孩子们服务。满是定义的大型教科书并不会帮助孩子未来得到成功;他们需要与人们互动,并应用于现实环境所学事物。



玛瑞欧补充说:“世界各地的教育都破碎了。 传统的教育制度是为工作而创造劳动力,但却无助于人们的发展。 现今科技已取代传统劳动,那么将会发生什么呢?新科技的好处在让我们重塑社会。教育是一切的开始,它应是扮演让人们发挥潜能的角色。因此,我们的愿景是将科技与帮助社会的人文本质连接着。

专为14岁学生设计第一年的部分课程是一个社会企业家,又称为加速实验室计划。学生们受现场提出社区导向的创业理念的“农民”指导,有些产品甚至已经推到市场。还有一个燃烧实验室,在那里学校举办鼓舞人心的演讲,前任嘉宾包括美国陆军上尉和米其林星级厨师。 卡麦隆解释:“帮助孩子思考该如何克服挑战以取得成功,至于成功可能是“我是古驰(Gucci)的首席执行官”,去年我们有请到他。但成功也可能是 “我离开了高薪工作 – 而为我的社区付出,或者为自己进修。”这些都是通往成功的各种途径。”

H-IS的学费与意大利其他国际学校一致,高中部每年11,000欧元,但计划在学校扩大规模时降低学费,并提供奖学金。玛瑞欧说他希望在全意大利和国际学校扩大网络。第一个H-FARM的国际枢纽于2019年3月巴塞罗那开业,由巴塞罗那移动世界前首席执行官Aleix Valls管理。玛瑞欧热情地说:“巴塞罗那正与柏林竞争,它有欧洲为数最多的数字游牧民族,并且有一个有趣的初创生态系统。 Aleix可任意的接触当地市场,而我们有基础设施,因此这是一个好的结盟。它仅仅推出一个月,Aleix已经开始着手扩张到瓦伦西亚,马德里和其他城市了。我们还与柏林团队进行对话,了解是否能建立合作伙伴关系。

玛瑞欧表示,城市中共同工作和共同居住空间的趋势只会提高。“我相信城市的未来将为人们,尤其是年轻人创造真正的社群。共同生活和共同工作将是基础设施,也许由连接机构和投资者的玩家管理。H-FARM等于较小的规模。千禧一代只需有助培养自身才能的地方,并吸引如: 对艺术家有吸引力的柏林、纽约和旧金山等城市的人才,这创造了破坏性的文化元素,并引发这些城市的崛起。

玛瑞欧认为,创造这些变化其实取决于千禧世代。 “不幸的是,欧洲有一个很大的惯性,老一辈仍然主导一切。年轻一辈族群是第一个全球化世代。尽管多样化,它们仍享有许多共同点。这代需要一种新的生活方式; 它有如可持续性的新原则。这就是为什么他们需要正当的教育和改变世界的工具。”


This website uses cookies to provide necessary site functionality and improve user experience. If you close this box or continue browsing, you agree to the use of cookies as outlined in Next Generation Living’s Privacy Policy.