Il Litorale - where two worlds come together
"Litorale" (littoral, seaboard) is a term that suggests the joining of land and sea. It expresses permeability, but also a landing place – for the navigator seeking firm ground – and a beginning – for explorers seeking new horizons. Il Litorale is an initiative of USI in the heart of Lugano, at the Quartiere Maghetti, a place where the academic and entrepreneurial worlds join forces to develop an ecosystem that creates value by the effects of "cross-fertilisation'".
Research and innovation are more than just two buzzwords that one hears from policy makers. They are by all means an essential driving force behind the economic development of many countries, especially of Switzerland which is known for having scarce natural resources – other than brainpower and advanced skills. Nowadays, new technologies and services are most often the product of small entrepreneurial initiatives, which are commonly referred to as ‘start-ups’ and which have a strong potential across all Swiss cities. However, leveraging this strength to build up regional start-up ecosystems requires meeting points and places where innovation becomes visible to spark the interest in entrepreneurial activities.
With Il Litorale (Italian for “seaboard”), Lugano has now such a space in the historical Maghetti district, offering open spaces for events and a few closed office spaces. On April 11, USI officially celebrated the opening of Il Litorale with over fifty invited guests – city authorities, citizens, business executives, university stakeholders and members of the academic community, thus embodying the rationale behind the project, which aims at being the place where the academic and entrepreneurial worlds can gather in a friendly and informal environment, to develop an ecosystem that creates value by the effects of "cross-fertilisation”.
The goals behind the project are essentially three: (1) getting the academic community to "move out" of the campus and, at the same time, to "bring in" potential stakeholders from the region and have them interact in a physical location, off-campus; (2) being closer to the entrepreneurial context and providing students and graduates a privileged access to such, through a strategically located outpost in the city centre; and (3) creating a so-called "community of practice" to enable cross-fertilization and create value, fostering thus economic and social development in the region.
In recent times, many higher education institutions have developed similar projects, typically through partnerships with industries or other stakeholders. USI, however, has chosen to touch base with its core element: its students. The main driving force at Il Litorale is, in fact, the group of students and graduates of USI who have created Match Strategies, a no-profit association to which the university has entrusted the activities of 'community building'. The task assigned to Match Strategies is essentially to forge the said community of practice, which is where theory and practice come together, where experts and practitioners share knowledge and enter a mutual learning process. For example, students learning from entrepreneurs about the current needs of the world of work, entrepreneurs learning about new trends in higher education (student fresh approach), and academics learning about news trend in society leading to further academic investigation.
To better understand the value of this partnership, we spoke with the President of Match Strategies, Giorgia Pati, who shared with us her views and expectations.
Giorgia, at the opening event of Il Litorale you declared, “It is rare for a university to offer such an opportunity to a student association”. Could you elaborate on this?
It is commonly thought that students are young people who lack experience, who have just entered adulthood, and that are therefore not entirely ready to take on responsibilities in the professional domain. My colleagues and I, the founders of Match Strategies, have a different vision: young people not only want to learn, but also offer their skills with an absolutely fresh and innovative approach. The Rector of USI, Boas Erez, has inevitably shown that he recognizes and shares this, entrusting us with the responsibility of coordinating the new spaces at the Maghetti district. In our opinion, USI has been able to distinguish itself from the traditional universities, providing a practical training tool that will accompany the theoretical one for all the students who will benefit from Il Litorale.
The co-working context in Ticino is in full bloom, do you see a risk of saturation? How is the USI initiative different from the rest of the crowd?
This is quite true, and I believe that it is in line with local policies that increasingly tend to relaunch Ticino as a region able to compete with the Swiss standards of growth and innovation. The world is full of co-working venues, but our value proposition is rather different: Il Litorale is a space where we intend to create a real community, sharing goals and values, and where stakeholders from the academic world and citizens will be able to meet. The creation of such community is in progress, mainly through a series of events aimed at students, researchers, professors, startups and local businesses. This format is consistent with what is developing all over the world; recently, I witnessed a startup competition held in Shanghai, which was organized in a coworking space. These are the concepts we would like to bring to Lugano.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Frankly, I would like to be exactly where I am now but with a few more wrinkles, more experience and even more people who can help us to realise new initiatives, projects and goals similar to those we intend to achieve now. I cannot imagine what the world will be like in five years' time, but I certainly intend to seek constantly for professional contexts that can give me the opportunity to learn and grow by improving myself.
At the opening event of Il Litorale, to underscore the contamination between innovation, creativity and society, the technological creativity of SLUX, the startup born from an idea of young inventor Alessandro Pasquali, was showcased to the many visitors who attended. Alessandro showed the potential of transmitting and receiving devices with short-range light he designed to allow non-experts to learn about this fascinating world. SLUX engages in the wireless transmission of information by light beams – as opposed to the common radio waves – with a wide range of applications, such as BioMed, Fintech, communication, entertainment, aerospace, audio, Smart Cities, security, military, automotive, indoor and underwater geolocation, and Internet of Things (IoT) markets.
Alessandro, tell us about the motivations behind your invention and how you created SLUX, with which intents and objectives.
Since I was a child, I have always had a passion for science and experimentation, from building small radios to chemical reactions, and I have been involved in a number of experiments. Light in particular had a certain fascination that interested me. Therefore, I wanted to try to use it to convey information. The experiments went on for many years, stemming from pure scientific passion and exploration. Once the efficiency of the systems was increased and I understood the practical applications that could be implemented, I created my own company, SLUX, to offer something new and beautiful in the world of telecommunications.
What are the main hurdles a young inventor has to face when bringing his idea to the market?
That is a very interesting question. There are many difficulties to overcome, especially when you start from scratch. I have had many cases of people or investors, who, despite having in front of them working prototypes and the demonstration of connections such as the one I performed across the Channel, did not fully understand the potential of the market or have been unable to address the many gaps that a structure like mine in this stage clearly had. Perhaps they wanted to see more of my entrepreneurial side as well as my inventor side.
Can a creative mind be also a great entrepreneur?
I think a creative mind can certainly be an entrepreneur, because I think that creativity is an essential element of entrepreneurship. Certainly, there are also many types of entrepreneurs. However, I reckon it is too early to say whether a class of successful entrepreneurs-inventors already exists, or whether I can be considered one myself.
You have a significant number of patents to your invention (11 to date), covering most of the developed part of the planet. When do you see this technology become a standard in the telecoms market?
I think it is very difficult to answer to this, given the very large amount of variables not yet set, but I hope it will happen as soon as possible, for the overall advancement of people and technology. Just as the twentieth century was defined by the development of electronics, UNESCO has defined the current one as the century of photonics. In fact, many physical limits are increasingly difficult to overcome with current approaches, while light is a means that can enable a far-reaching change in the dynamics on which the telecommunications and information technology are based. A date or a certainty that this will happen is nevertheless beyond me. On my side, I can say that I am fully committed to provide this service to people.
The original version of this article was published by Ticino Welcome nr. 062 (June-August 2019), pages 26-28.