From the marketplace to circular welfare – imagination and expertise at the service of impact investing

Three EMBA alumni and a successful project


It starts with a platform to help find a painter or a baby-sitter and ends up designing a circular welfare system for a whole community. That’s what can happen when you have “visionary” drive, the ability to read the context and an innate spirit of enterprise working for you. And, last but not least, solid skills and good travelling companions.

This is how Alessandro Rinaldi’s story begins (and continues). On SDA Bocconi’s 2014 Executive MBA (EMBA) he found the method and theoretical support to transform his insights into an innovative entrepreneurial business reality, as well as the people to share his project with. A project that saw the light in Dubai and that, in two more stages, arrived in Italy.

While he was in the Arab Emirates for his previous job at a multinational company, Alessandro, like many other expatriates, experienced how difficult it was to find small services locally. “It was in that context that it occurred to me that a platform that could meet supply and demand, where artisans, small entrepreneurs, freelancers and professionals could contact their potential clients would be really useful.” This was the first idea for Help4u, a digital marketplace that combines a diverse range of services – from plumbers to personal trainers and baby-sitters – and allows the end user to compare service providers and prices, and then book and pay online.

The project was successful and Rinaldi immediately saw its further potential, realizing that it could be much more than just an online showcase. At this point Edoardo Crotti and Roberto Cecchia come into the picture They were former EMBA participants as well, and the three of them had worked together for over a year at SDA Bocconi, sharing ideas, dreams and inspiration and had come to respect each other. To change the pace of his business Alessandro thought of them and their skills. Together they founded Peekaboox, an evolution of Help4u, an integrated and user-friendly platform that offers small business clients (artisans, small entrepreneurs, etc.) a series of services: creating a website, managing online appointments, scheduling activities, electronic invoicing, monitoring cash flows and income statements, as well as sales promotions. Their initiative is highly successful, subscriptions to the platform boomed and revenue increased by more than 200% in 4 years (2015-2019).

The away success has every chance of being repeated at home. With an extra dimension. The third stage in this journey is called circular Welfare and it starts in Italy, in a limited area for the moment, the province of Biella. This is a pilot experiment but aims to expand to other areas of the country. This time the target group consists of larger companies that are not only offered services for their business but also for their social bottom line and company purpose. Subscribing ventures are requested to invest a small amount of money to buy vouchers that their employees can spend locally, through a digital platform, for various forms of personal and family welfare (health care, assistance, education, sports and entertainment activities, etc.). Employees can choose with one click how to use the welfare allowance made available by their company; businesses and professionals have visibility in the marketplace and companies invest in the local economy, also with a clear reputational advantage.

As well as enjoying well-deserved satisfaction, the time has now come for the three partners to take stock and consider the journey that has brought them this far. Coming from different industries and business functions – from IT to supply chain management – they have shared a training experience that has led their profession in an entirely new and unexpected direction.

Did they expect this before they began their EMBA? Perhaps not completely. “I am a computer scientist and I enrolled on the course to strengthen and broaden my managerial skills; I did not think my life would change,” says Alessandro. “The EMBA has opened my view to 360°.” Roberto speaks of the “will to get back into the game” and Edoardo of “realizing himself through knowledge.” All these expectations have been exceeded by the actual impact of the Master program and the subsequent professional developments. For all three of them the EMBA was a great (trans)formative experience. “My reasons for enrolling in the EMBA are different from the results I have achieved,” Roberto continues. “Here, I learned how important it is to share and discuss with others, especially when you need to make strategic decisions and there is little data available, as in the case of a start-up like ours.” And so far the results have borne out the decisions taken.

It was inevitable to end the conversation with the three alumni by asking them what advice they would give to those who are now or will soon be following the training journey they started seven years ago. Alessandro has no hesitation: “Keep an open mind, don’t take anything for granted.” “Appreciate the value of relationships, not only professional ones, and the importance of mutual esteem and trust,” Edoardo continues. “Without which it would have been hard for us to accept a proposal like the one Alessandro made to us from Dubai.” “At the start I was only counting on myself and my competitive potential,” Roberto echoes. “Then I discovered that the real strength comes from teamwork.” A good suggestion for managers and entrepreneurs who increasingly need to tackle not only financial results but also the social impact and sustainability of their actions.

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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