SCImPULSE Foundation was officially established on May 1st 2013, by Stef Cuijpers, Marco Manca, and Massimo Mercuri (rigorously in surname alphabetical order). It happened after months of growingly intense reflections about the need to break through the chains of our economy’s incentive scheme on research and collaboration. In hindsight, we were holding a vision more so than a strategy. In fact, SCImPULSE was born with the Founders’ expertises and networks as its only capital, and a value proposition largely based on peer-to-peer mentoring and “partnership in crime”.
A note should be left about the name: SCImPULSE. It was the teenager child of one of the cofounders who suggested it, after the father mentioned the content of the reflections of the founders-to-be. It would be the crasis of “science” and “impulse”, SCImPULSE, without a chosen pronunciation to be able to play with three words contained in it: science, impulse, and pulse. A true, brilliantly innocent and naïve branding! Without loud and hyped claims, virality seeking campaigns, or lobbying for financial support… one could say ignoring the established set of believes about how to start a social initiative delivering the biggest chance of success… Right from the beginning, the Foundation started seeking natural growth, investing time in direct, tight, and true human connections around the three founding members; provoking challenging conversations evolving around questions like: “what is your dream in the drawer?”; “what if we could make it together?” and “where and how do you think we should start?”. Another hurdle to take was pursuing and obtaining the ANBI status. It was a struggle to explain the tax authorities we would have major activities without moving around much capital or cashflows, where the base of the foundation is “like-for-like” principle, moving people and projects with passion instead of monetary flows. Finally, after several discussions, letters and objections, the status was obtained on April 30th 2014.
How did we do so far?
In the first phase of the Foundation’s activities (2013-2014), it has operated following a completely cashless model. All activities have been made possible by in kind contributions of expertise, labour, tools, spaces, etc, thanks to an complex network of matching- and exchanging needs. Experiences, mentoring, and freedom to challenge/test ideas, have been the currencies of this network. A network which has bound students, successful entrepreneurs, diplomatic functionaries, newly moms, people stuck out of the employment market and at the margin after the crisis, professionals, and of course career researchers… it would seem fair to claim that no bias of selection seems evident, except for the existence within the network of the founders. Even more interesting is the fact that 100% of the individuals who engaged in activities with the Foundation have done so in a continuing way, accompanying the project they initiated or adopted for at least 2 years (range 2-4years), usually leaving only when the project had reached what we label “escape velocity” and called for strategic decision about its life beyond the Foundation (as a startup, a product offered by a partner enterprise, or as a Foundation of its own). Continuity is a characterizing challenge of hackathons, barcamps, and most other “innovation” initiatives, including many opensource projects, especially small ones. SCImPULSE had already surpassed this while not mobilizing any cash as a lever of facilitation and appeal.
During 2014 something happened in SCImPULSE that made the board realize it would be time for a change of pace: the Foundation found itself having to delay or lose opportunities, for the network of exchanges supporting the core of the Foundation was unable to stretch at the edges of human network. The ecosystem had matured sufficiently to call for the inception of a “financial toolkit” to manage an economy that had been based on exchanges almost as direct and immediate as bartering. What had driven this process? First and foremost the need to find an interface between the values circulated by the inner economy at the core of SCImPULSE, and the economies where other stakeholders operated. As a good practice, the Foundation has constantly tried to avoid producing its own electricity… we find this is a better way of saying than “reinventing the wheel” as electricity is already a commodity, and unless the focus of an enterprise were to reinvent the process of producing energy and its economy, it would make very little sense to try to produce it on one’s own internalizing problems like continuity of service, maintenance of infrastructure, load balancing of sources, etc. outside of an economy of scale. Which means that for a growing number of projects the Foundation discovered an interest in collaborating with stakeholders that did not symmetrically reciprocate at face value.
Though prioritizing its interest in experimenting with novel solutions to the challenge of an expanding ecosystem, the Board of Directors also agreed that in order not to lose momentum (in an organization that was already challenging most rules of business administration), the time had come to pragmatically seek funding in order to be able to resort to cash when needed. To the readers finding this ironic, it was reminding that even the above-mentioned hypothetical enterprise aiming to produce electricity alternatively to the current commoditized market, would have at some early point had the need to connect to the current distribution system while working on its revolution. This moment in July 2015 signs the beginning of the transition of the Foundation to the second stage, which will start roughly in January 2016 when the first significant cash flow was injected by a EU grant.
Since then SCImPULSE has had the opportunity to grow significantly further, with new institutional partnerships , and taking the opportunity to experiment with the first couple of spin-offs, evaluating alternative forms of IP management policies and business plans. Furthermore, as the demand for certain activities is growing beyond the possibility to ignore it, for example the demand for the acceleration and collision events, whilst the possibility to run them is currently regulated by the organic flow and accumulation of resources with the inner network of the Foundation, it has been decided to spin-off the Foundation itself, which will register a twin controlled by the same Board of directors embracing a slightly wider mission that would make it possible to let some activities (mostly education, mentoring, and consulting) lose, without diluting the human capital and the focus of SCImPULSE Foundation. The added value hopefully generated by the spin-off through meeting at market value the growing request for the above mentioned services, will be injected into the ANBI to further promote SCImPULSE Foundation’s experimentation.
To conclude has SCImPULSE delivered on its promises?
Yes. SCImPULSE has created a distributed, boundless, environment for fundamental research, social experimentation, and innovation, which has attracted in the past 7 years over 13 brilliant projects and their enthusiastic fellows and associates. It has been able to communicate trust to a wide network of stakeholders, and to gather sense making of its vision now shared with a number of valued partners. It has hosted 5 collision events (Geneva 2015, Geneva 2016, Geneva 2017, Milan 2017, and the joint event with the Geneva City Camp), it launched or contributed to 13 projects (BATMAN, SoundSight, reBoot Banking, Soil&Health, Hephestos, Opera, SALT, BioDynaMo, SmartPlatform4Science, OpenCare, eMatchIdeas, ROBIT, 2RR, Medical Imaging for eXtreme Environments, LivingLab), contributed to 3 Master Courses (reDesign Medicine, HealthIT MBA, HES MBA), contributed to several scientific and networking events (Forum Sanità 2016, Forum Sanità 2017, Colloquia Université de Geneve 2014, CERN openlab Workshop 2016, CERN openlab Workshop 2017, IMIT2014, Innopolis R&D colloquia, 2015 Medical Records Updates Pesaro, CERN Medical Applications Projects Forum 2016, CERN IdeaSquare curious mornings, Rome MakerFair 2016, Cene al buio 2016, …just to mention a few). It contributed value to society for a conservative €1.4M in the last year, thanks to its volunteers.
Let these achievements sink for a moment.
Are we dissatisfied with any of it? Yes, just like every dreamer would always find the ambition to go further and further, relentlessly exploring and pioneering new opportunities, convincedly believing in the possibility to get better, we think that SCImPULSE can and should surpass itself again and again, reaching a new scale, completely resolving the dependency of human enterprises from the politics of the habens, and ultimately contributing to transition humankind into a brighter future.