Taking a 50-strong Birmingham Made Me 2015 (BMM15) delegation to Milan proved to be an eye opener for our city, Birmingham City University and our delegates.
For the first time, Birmingham had a presence at the world-renowned Milan Design Expo, with Milan this year also hosting the Universal Expo 2015.
Through city council contacts, BMM15 was able to exhibit its Capsule Expo, designed by students from BCU's school of fashion, textiles and 3D design, and hold its two days of workshops in the heart of Milan's most prestigious retail area at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II near the Duomo di Milano.
Last month's visit included a trip to the world-famous Alessi factory, meeting Alberto Alessi himself, to M&Z, a local tap manufacturer, and enjoying presentations from John Mathers, CEO, Design Council, Enterprise Europe Network, UKTI, the British Consulate General and Politecnico di Milano, among others.
A string of new introductions was established with Renato Galliano, Milan Council's director of economic development, innovation, university and smart city, who is involved in their newly established metropolitan authority - something similar to a combined authority which brings together the different municipalities around Milan.
He highlighted the critical leadership role of the city council in developing entrepreneurship and collaboration between partners and in promoting the city's reputation for fashion and design.
Stressing the primary importance of Milan and Lombardy to the Italian economy, he said: "Economic development for us is fused with fashion and design because we consider this a cultural asset and, while the wider economy is driven at a national level, fashion and design are driven by the city.
"We are looking to double our tourist numbers this year as a result of hosting the Universal Expo."
Last year, six million tourists visited the city, with official figures suggesting 15 million tickets had been sold for this year's expo.
He added: "The city has very important and prestigious schools of fashion and design within its university base.
"Politecnico di Milano's Departimento di Design is known internationally for its strengths in this area.
"Our city hosts European Design Network Institute (Istituto Europeo di Design), the Milan Fashion Institute and the Institute of Design Milan.
"We reach 200,000 students a year and offer a range of services to them including housing and fiscal services.
"We host fashion and design weeks to assist in their career development. We have identified core arts for our city and we are involved in a European project with eight countries to profile and develop performance, visual arts and heritage."
To support the growth of their cultural assets, they facilitate and support business start-ups because, in this area, many businesses are small and highly dynamic with 43 per cent of them having fewer than five employees and only 25 per cent of people are employed in larger businesses.
"Because of this factor our network of partnerships is very important," added Mr Galliano.
"Each company acting alone does not have the power to produce and enter into national and international markets on its own. But working together they can make progress that would otherwise not be possible."
Milan Fashion Week attracts over 2,000 journalists to the city, over 15,000 buyers and they have seen 5.4 per cent growth in turnover between 2013 and 2014.
Their Design Week consists of two different events attracting over 350,000 visitors, with both producing their own design week figures as a means of measuring growth and improvement as well as outcomes for the city.
Each district in the city organises itself for special events and activities during the Expo. In each area there is local association promoting the area and managing the space.
"This started in Tortona in south Milan where the Armani Museum is located focussing on fashion and design," added Mr Galliano.
"We have developed an approach building on social inclusion and which promotes and enhances areas where start-ups can be located using public private partnerships.
"Public calls have been used in creativity and fashion to develop a specialist network of incubators across the city."
An incubator belonging to the municipality of Milan focusing on social innovation, together with a cultural and creative industries hub located at OCA in Tortona, had been set up and a new 'Fab Lab' maker space was being developed with incubators linking into schools helping students with start-ups.
Start-up activity funding from the municipality had led to a project called Orange Fibre which used orange peel to develop new textiles and fabrics which had recently gained a UN Award.
Milan had 32 co-working locations across the city and was working with all shareholders at municipality level to develop a sharing culture by showing what was in it for each and all partners involved.
Mr Galliano concluded: "The key for our city has been to develop a connected and linked up city system, rather than lots of different activities.
"A palimpsest is produced listing all fashion, art and design events. Any subsequent events are added to this. It is a living reference document for all partners."
Beverley Nielsen is the founder of Birmingham Made Me Design Expo and director employer engagement at Birmingham City University