Neil Filosa (C'18) traveled to Italy this past summer to participate in the Italia Innovation Program, a four-week business and entrepreneurship workshop for students from across the world. (Photo courtesy Neil Filosa)
December 2, 2016 — A year ago, Neil Filosa (C’18) knew he wanted to go to Italy. He just didn’t know how he would end up there.
When he first heard about the Italia Innovation Workshop — a spring 2016 entrepreneurship event in which students competed to solve problems posed to them by Italian corporations — Filosa had planned to study abroad at the Villa le Balze in Florence. His group didn’t win the workshop competition, which awarded internships as prizes. He figured he would proceed as planned, applying to the well-known Florence program.
But thanks to the Col. John A. Hager Memorial Scholarship, funded and named by Italian Research Institute board member John A. Hadjipateras and Darcy Hadjipateras, Filosa was granted the opportunity to spend four weeks this past summer working and learning in Italy. He and Caroline DeSantis (C’16) participated in the Italia Innovation summer program, an entrepreneurship program that facilitated hands-on learning with Italian corporations.
“I didn’t win the workshop, but I got really lucky that I found this program,” Filosa said.
Italia Innovation’s four-week program brought students from all over the world together to address challenges that modern Italian companies face. Participants came from a variety of education levels and backgrounds and engaged in an intensive curriculum of business labs, lectures and project work with various Italian companies.
Filosa can’t disclose the name of the company he primarily worked with, but he focused primarily on developing strategies to more effectively market their food products in the United States. He sees the pride and attention to detail of many Italian companies as a natural fit for modern American consumers.
“It was awesome to see how Italian companies have this theme of family,” Filosa said. “Their history is something they take a lot of pride in, especially when it comes to quality of product. They aren’t going to compromise the quality of their products just to improve the bottom line.”
Another highlight for Filosa, an economics and government double major, was a lesson in the business lab about design thinking — the process of finding a user need and shaping products that fit it. The brainstorming sessions that followed helped Filosa and his fellow participants rethink how effective products are made.
“I would have thought you come up with five or 10 ideas,” Filosa said. “But no, you need 100, 200. You come up with a bunch of them on sticky notes, and most aren’t practical. A lot of people are afraid of generating stupid ideas, but it’s worth coming up with as many as you can — something in there will spark a new idea that takes you in a direction you hadn’t thought of before.”
Of course, Filosa’s trip wasn’t entirely about marketing — the Chicago-area native found time between research sessions and brainstorming meetings to get out and see the country.
Participants in the Italia Innovation program spent much of their time hard at work between Venice and nearby Treviso, but Filosa managed to make a weekend visit to Florence, where he originally thought he’d be spending the summer. He cites the Piazzale Michelangelo as one of the best experiences of the entire trip.
“It’s like a garden park above the city, and you can see the Duomo and everything from there. It’s beautiful,” Filosa said.
And while the scenery and program experience were incredible, Filosa feels that one of the biggest advantages of his program was the opportunity to make connections with people from outside Georgetown, who he might otherwise never have met — and some of whom he may see when he travels to Ireland this spring.
“I’ve got a group of truly international friends I can connect with now,” he said.
— Patrick Curran