Conclusions from ROCK green incubation in Bologna

Social innovation & eco-entrepreneurship to mobilize civil society and step up our response to climate change and plastic pollution

On November 9, at Fondazione Rusconi, in Bologna, under the coordination of University of Bologna (UNIBO) - Green Office, led by Sara Pennellini, Ecopreneurs for the Climate facilitated an intense, 1-day, hands-on incubation session, within a 5-month online follow-up program, starting right after the Bologna ROCK Hackathon in May, and aiming to develop the social businesses that resulted.

In particular, two projects took part in the incubation: BackBO -Bologna ROCK hackathon’s winner-, and the merger of the two winners from last year’s Climate-KIC Climathon in Bologna: Zefiro and Stay Cool. BackBO is a “circollaborative” lab (a circular economy laboratory in a coworking space in bologna), where people transform their disposable packaging into valuable items and are rewarded for it. This should help our societies evolve away from the throw-away culture, and contribute to the sustainable development of cities, benefiting the local economy, society and the environment. Zefiro - Stay Cool will support and improve the response of cities to heat waves, reducing the number of people affected, especially among the most vulnerable and socially excluded, through the use of a platform and an app.

During the session we designed and implemented a real-life test of the projects’ value proposition, through small-scale prototypes and direct consultation (interviews and surveys) of stakeholders, partners and potential customers, seeking to check the underlying hypotheses and enhance the added value provided in light of the results obtained. Besides, both in preparation for the interviews conducted and in review of them with the feedback obtained, we also worked on the communication dimension, honing their core messages for their various targets.

Zooming in, the weeks prior to the onsite session we arranged a series of interviews with potential partners and customers, which we prepared for (tailor-made questionnaires and pitches) in advanced and fine-tuned on the same day, in the early morning. Specifically, over the course of the day, we consulted the following people and organizations, always beginning by explaining the context within the ROCK framework:

Zefiro / Staycool:

  • Comune di Bologna (city council) via Raffaella Gueze from the “Ufficio Sostenibilità” (sustainability office).
  • Unipol, an insurance company present in Bologna, and a partner of UNIBO on a related European project
  • local NGO dealing with vulnerable groups subject to climate change risks in the city
  • CMCC - Centro EuroMediterraneo sui Cambiamenti Climatici, and in particular the CSP - Climate Simulation and Prediction Division located in Bologna


In the case of BackBO, emphasis was put on understanding the drivers that could trigger and maximize the engagement of users’ (and final beneficiaries), that is Bologna’s citizens and residents, and particularly university students in Via Zamboni area. To this end, a face-to-face survey was performed at the Scuderia Bar, at Piaza Verdi, right at the heart of the university district, and where the project has its headquarters and lab.

Moreover, given Pietro Ceciarini -BackBO’s founder-, as winner of the Bologna ROCK Hackathon, is slated to participate in an EU side event and a Meet-the-expert session, together with Jesus Iglesias from ECO4CLIM, at the UN Climate Change Conference -COP24- in Poland on December 14, co-organized by several ROCK partners (EUROCITIES, ECO4CLIM, July’s Bicycle), we begun honing his pitch addressed at decision makers on the world stage, and aiming at conveying the need to support social enterprises providing inclusive and sustainable business solutions to climate change-related challenges. Related articles on the ROCK website:

  1. EU side event:
  2. EU meet-the-experts session:


Overall, the conclusions reached at the incubation session, and the work ahead, were as follows:

Stay Cool / Zefiro team:

As a result of the value proposition test (interviews + analysis), we realized that:

  • The municipality (COBO) could be a highly valuable "enabling" partner providing institutional support, visibility, promotion, legitimacy, and other valuable assets to be explored. Additional meetings are required to keep building this promising and necessary partnership.
  • The case of insurance companies, like UNIPOL, is more complex and demands further conversation with them to identify their needs more accurately, and adapt the value proposition accordingly, if appropriate and possible, while maintaining the original objectives. While they didn’t show much interest in vulnerable people as potential, direct clients of theirs, they did talk about both SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) and large companies as their principal target, so this new project beneficiary could be considered now to find common ground. Also, other insurance companies, with different approaches and targets could be engaged.
  • As per the NGOs connecting with the vulnerable communities, their initial reaction was a bit negative, but it may have to do with the interview's channel (phone) not allowing to set the context adequately at first, so further validation is needed via a face-to-face meeting, and also with other NGOs to enlarge the sample.
  • Besides all of the above, the main finding is that there is no clear customer group yet, and thus, as the "green business canvas" methodology, based on the iterative Lean Startup philosophy, suggests going back to previous steps and revisiting certain hypotheses. At this stage, Jesus’ (ECO4CLIM) recommendation would be to, while sticking to the same objectives (after all they address factual challenges, already justified by evidence in section 1.2 of the project document), it should envisaged to revisit the stakeholders related to the objectives (table in section 2.1), looking for new ones holding potential to be customers, in particular:
    • Private institutions dealing with the same beneficiaries (or in general people affected by the challenges addressed) like hospitals and schools.
    • Companies (large, medium and small) whose employees could be affected as well, for instance in terms of transportation. The green routes service from Zefiro may create value at this point, perhaps in collaboration (partnerships) with other mobility solutions like car/bike renting or sharing.
    • Individual citizens, pertaining certain characteristics like being aware of (and affected by) the problem, and capable of affording a dedicated service. Dealing with end users directly is usually complex and resource-intensive, so it should only be explored through partnerships with other companies or organizations that already involve them successfully, like some personal mobility apps.

Moving forward in the incubation, the team now has to study these new potential customers by re-taking steps from 2.1 to 3.1 (basically the customer cards and customized value proposition), in preparation for new tests with them coming up.


The initial consultation performed offered some hints on ways to lever the engagement of students and users of the crowd-sourced plastic-waste up-cycling project that is BackBO. Specifically, it underscored two main findings: young people are generally aware of the plastic pollution problem globally and in the area; and while survey respondents tend to say that they would participate in “clean-your-city action days”, real engagement is not certain until the actual activity is carried out, because of the usual “I don’t want to look bad on the interview” type of feeling. In this sense, this crucial information will now serve to design and plan a real participatory test, simulating the project’s intended functioning, that will be run in Scuderia on December 4.

Also, arrangements and final preparations for Pietro’s participation in COP24 will now enter its last phase, in terms of logistics and tweaking the presentation to be delivered.

Last but not least, the ecopreneurs were advised to always seize the opportunity to talk to a relevant number of common people (final beneficiaries), from different profiles (including vulnerable but also students and tourists), to understand their views on the topics at hand (climate change, heat waves, plastic pollution, etc.), so as to ultimately mobilize civil society to step up our collective response to these “glocal” challenges.

Author: Iglesias Saugar Jesus - ECO4CLIM