It may seem like an office located on the top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but the new and modern home of the Free Mind Foundry innovation hub is located in Acireale, within the Directional Center of the Credito Siciliano

The center has equipment, laboratories, and scientific instruments to support creativity. There are open spaces, gyms, chairs built in Germany that measure the heartbeat, and latest generation desks designed to contain plants that increase the level of oxygenation of the environment by improving air quality. It is controlled by cameras and cutting edge sensors that collect data also on acoustic pollution, lighting, people’s satisfaction, stress levels, and average age. And more – an electronic blackboard from which you pick your desk in the morning or book the meeting room, an app from which you choose your business meal, and a map from where you can trace colleagues wherever they are (unless they are in the bathroom).

It may seem like an office located on the top of a skyscraper in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but the new and modern home of the Free Mind Foundry innovation hub is located in Acireale, within the Directional Center of the Credito Siciliano. The setting is Sicilian, with its lava stone from Belpasso, over one hundred and fifty  plants that are typical of the Etna landscape, and the olive, orange and lemon groves and Mt. Etna visible from the windows. “Free Mind Foundry is an attractive concept building that aims to make it clear to many Catanese students and graduates that there is a possibility of innovative work in the area, and they don’t need to buy a one-way ticket to get away,” explains human resources manager Angela Pontorno.

The space, created in just 45 days, is today the largest technological innovation center in Southern Italy and was designed by engineer Simone Massaro, CEO of some of the companies hosted within the facility. 55% of the office houses desktops, anti-interception telephones (designed in Scandinavia with wifi and air conditioning) and co-working spaces for 180 engineers, researchers, academics, start-ups and developers. The remaining 45% is occupied by common spaces. Today, seven companies operating in the digital field, particularly in the field of innovative technologies, work under the same roof. BaxEnergy develops solutions for the monitoring of renewable energy plants, Wisnam is dedicated to the Internet of Things (IP,) and industrial sensor, Digital Shell specializes in designing and developing software solutions, while Red Raion is the creator of  Stormind Games in 3D, 4D and 5D movies for amusement park cinemas. Rimlight studios produces videogames, while Intellisync develops IT solutions with a focus on BigData and artificial intelligence.

“If  no one tries to do something innovative in this region, in the next thirty years it will be no-man’s land,” observes Pontorno as he crosses the spaces where innovation and technology go hand in hand with people’s needs. “This is a company that can hold its own with similar companies abroad, and aims to put Sicily back into the center of the Mediterranean, restoring its role of a crossroads of cultures that mutually enrich each other by exchanging their traditions.” Careful attention is also paid to the environment. There are no paper flipcharts – instead, specially painted glasses and walls are written on with a particular ink; there are no printers next to the desks, but a single photocopy center that releases the sheets as soon as it recognizes the user who generated them. A strong point is the so-called Agora 4.0, the square where people meet to stimulate dialogue and compare ideas. In the immediate aftermath of the Campus opening (Summer 2017), the centre  hosted alternate school work projects, summer jobs and meetings between computer scientists of the world; some courses of the University of Catania will be held here at the start of the new academic year, a sign of the opening of space also to institutions in the local region.

“We collaborate with  University departments  with specialization courses in Computer Science, which allows us to identify talented students with whom we can start thesis work, postgraduate or industrial research fellowships.” Offering a chance to those who do not want to leave Sicily is one of the leitmotifs of the narrative that drives forty-year-old Simone Massaro, founder of BaxEnergy and soul of Free Mind Foundry. He is one of the many bright young people who left Sicily but had the courage to return to invest in his homeland. “You don’t need to be courageous to return, but you need clear ideas regarding the path you want to take,” he says firmly. “It takes more courage to leave one’s homeland, family and habits for the unknown.” As he did at the age of 21, when he had the opportunity to fly to the United States while he was at university, where he was discovered by large software companies. He developed industrial software for the Pentagon and NASA, and he animated the famous Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas and worked for Disney.

“The  experiences that you make in life lead you to make choices,” Massaro comments. “I went away not out of necessity, but to acquire knowledge. I have come back because of my great love for Italy and Sicily and the values of civic education and respect for the homeland that my father, an aeronautics officer, instilled in me when I was a child”. The experience gained abroad and the sense of belonging to one’s own country drove him to do something that would allow other people to develop their talent without going away. “This space puts people at the center because they add value to the business. It’s a cozy place, out of the ordinary, where it’s nice to spend your days and people are more motivated, so much so that they identify themselves in the workplace. This is not guaranteed and it does not fall from the sky, but must be attained by meritocratic criteria and the acceptance of some mental constructs that are not typical of Italy but which allow businesses to be really active in the region.”