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GRASSROOTS Three-day Hackathon and Transnational Project Meeting in Matera, Italy

Grassroots is an Erasmus+ project that wants to take advantage of ecotourism entrepreneurship as an emerging and powerful trend. GRASSROOTS aims to introduce new models, skills, experiential learning, collaborative conversations, exchange of best practices, and formal and informal entrepreneurship education to youth in the fields of eco-tourism sport, street food, street art and digitalisation.

In early October representatives from the seven partners collaborating on the project gathered in the ancient city of Matera, in southern Italy, for a Transnational Project Meeting and a three-day hackathon.  Project partners invited young entrepreneurs from each of their local regions to accompany them to Matera to participate in the hackathon. The objective of the hackathon was to introduce youth entrepreneurs to a structured format for exploring the potential for a sustainable ecotourism experience.

Borrowing tools and techniques from the IT sector, the hackathon was an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to explore and interrogate the potential for developing six different sustainable eco-tourism businesses across Europe. The young entrepreneurs were divided into six teams, each tasked to focus on a specific potential tourism start-up business. A key element of their project was to identify a challenge, for example, the imbalance in tourism activity close to popular mass tourism destinations where the hinterland generated very limited revenue from tourism, and propose a solution.

Before the teams began their work, they were introduced to a template based on the lean business model canvas and specifically developed for the GRASSROOTS project.  This template was designed by the host team at Materahub and provided a structured pathway for the teams to follow as they collaborated to develop the potential start-ups.  The teams considered potential ecotourism experiences in France, Italy, Ireland and Sweden.

Over the three days of the Hackathon, group work was also supported by presentations from guest speakers.  The first speaker, Elvira Stephanie De Giacomo, has a PhD in Economic Geography and completed her thesis on sustainable tourism in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.  With a wealth of experience in tourism project management, Elvira is currently leading the PNRR ProjectTourism of the Roots – an Integrated Strategy for the recovery of the Tourism Sector in Italy post-Covid-19”. Vania Couzilla, a stage director and documentary film-maker, is also deeply involved in experiential cultural tourism experiences in Matera, as well as working for EcoVerticale, an eco-friendly and multi-purpose cultural space providing tourist accommodation in the Sassi area of Matera.

The group also got to enjoy an interactive tourism experience which took each team, on a scavenger hunt walk through the Serra Venerdi neighbourhood of Matera.  Although only a ten-minute walk from the historic centre of Matera, this neighbourhood struggles to attract tourists, despite having local markets, food providers, art installations and a community with a rich story to tell about Matera.

The young entrepreneurs were supported by the project team who attended every hackathon session to offer mentoring support, answer questions, and also pose questions or present issues that they felt the teams might need to consider.  On the final day of the event, each team of young entrepreneurs presented their proposed sustainable tourism initiative to the entire group.  The mentors assessed the projects, which were all of a very high standard, selecting a winning team as well as first and second runners-up.

The entire group extended thanks and appreciation to Sara Simeone of MateraHub who organised the event with the support of Hai Ly and the rest of the Materahub team. As well as planning a busy and productive programme of work there was plenty of opportunity for Partners and the young entrepreneurs to network and enjoy the heritage sites, scenic walks, shops and restaurants of Matera.  To learn more about the GRASSROOTS project, visit the project website and follow on social media for updates.


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