Bioeconomy, agro-food, start-ups and Expo Milan 2015. These are the issues that Il Bioeconomista faces in this interview with Gianluca Carenzo, director general of the Science Park of Lodi and president of Apsti, the Association of Italian Science Parks.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Let us understand: what exactly is a science park?
The science and technology park is an organization managed by innovation professionals, which deals with providing services to businesses to foster technology transfer from research. At least, this is the definition recognized internationally. In reality science parks in Italy, at least in recent years, after the period of the crisis, are increasingly reaffirming more as places of innovation, capable of using relationships and networks to produce useful services to the market, innovative start-ups and also manage policies such as the technological clusters.
The Science Park of Lodi is focused on agro-food. What is innovation in this area?
The agro-food sector has a long value chain, from primary production to the supermarket, as well as influences in areas such as the environment and agro-energy. This leads to a high degree of fragmentation and a need for companies to understand how to drive innovation processes. PTP-Science park offers cutting-edge services that range from improved plant varieties to the traceability of typical products and create start-ups also in new areas such as, for example, precision agriculture. The protection and recovery of our agro-food sector passes necessarily by innovation and Italy should continue to be the world’s undisputed leader.
Your Science Park was one of the main player of Expo Milan 2015. What is, in your opinion, the legacy that Expo 2015 left the Italian agro-food sector and to the bio-based economy?
Expo was a unique global platform to showcase our excellence. Now all the relationships built in those six months have to be exploited. We talk every day with small producers who have understood that today the world is really very close but we have to help them to produce and sell better, capturing the nuances of a global consumer greatly changed but interested in the quality of our made in Italy .
On the Expo area, the government aims at creating a Human Technopole dedicated to life sciences. What do you think about this?
The Human Technopole is an ambitious project, which is very focused on basic research. It is an important and decisive step to bring attention on Italy also talking about science and technology. Now we have to study how to put it online with existing players and local and foreign companies, and create a mechanism to also promote research that will be created there. From this point of view as Apsti (Association of Italian Science Parks) we are ready to talk with IIT (Italian Institute of Technology, editor’s note).
Regarding the national strategy on bioeconomy, Italy is lagging. From your point of view, which measures can not be missing from the Italian plan?
From my point of view it should be analyzed well how Italy wants to position itself in the global context. We are a country poor in raw materials but rich in talent and expertise in the industrial chemicals sector (now in green chemistry). I think we need investments to strengthen our research and innovation, rewarding those who already manage to attract public or private funding from abroad. The technology must be at the top in the rankings of priorities. We need also to create skills where we are less strong, for example in the development of business and access to the capital markets (both debt and equity).
At the Utrecht Conference in April stakeholders openly discussed to introduce a system of green public procurement for bio-based products and a carbon tax to discourage the use of fossil fuels. What do you think about this?
I agree. Italy must be at the forefront in these regulations on the green economy. There are initiatives under way that go in that direction. If we were able to anticipate the application of the EU directives, we would do a step forward in making our country more attractive.
As Science Park you are also an incubator for start-ups. What is the role played by start-ups in the European bioeconomy? What kind of regulatory and fiscal measures do they need?
Start-ups today need three measures: 1. Quick start: less bureaucracy and access to capital, from this point of view we are still a bit backwards. 2. funding. It’s unconceivable to wait for two year or more to receive a grant for a completed and reported research. 3. market access: preferential market conditions would help, as well as a stronger link with universities regarding the skills of students. We will sign very soon with four universities and other important Italian stakeholders the launch of the first master on Bioeconomy and Circular economy in Italy.