It’s one of Paris’ key centres of innovation. The result of a merger between Camping, France’s first startup accelerator (now NUMA Sprint) and Cantine, the country’s first coworking space, NUMA is a playground for companies interested in open innovation. At the helm of the organisation is Claudio Vandi, NUMA’s Director of Innovation. With a team of around twelve people, Vandi helps large groups become more agile by coaching them through intrapreneurship projects and strengthening ties with the ecosystem, particularly with startups.
So how do you support large companies and teach them about the implications of open innovation? How to get employees on board and change the rules of the game? What advice do you give a company looking to open up to innovation from the outside? These are some of the questions we asked Claudio Vandi.
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How would you define open innovation?
Open innovation means working with an ecosystem of partners, service providers, even competitors. It differs from traditional R&D methods, whereby companies develop innovation entirely in-house.
As soon as an innovation comes to NUMA, it is by definition, open. There are two types of openness. The first means opening up a company’s outlook, exploring new territories and re-evaluating its business in order to find new ways of addressing needs and generating growth.
The second form of openness involves becoming more “permeable,” i.e. bringing in different skills from the ones the company is used to incorporating.
HOW TO MAKE COMPANIES MORE AGILE
How does NUMA help companies looking to implement this sort of approach?
At NUMA, we started our business quite early on so had time to develop our tools in line with the companies’ growing maturity. Our services now keep up with the different phases of a group’s digital transformation.
It starts with a learning and acculturation phase: part of our job involves training employees in design, prototyping and lean methods, because the initial stage of transformation involves learning about more “startup”-oriented tools and methods.
We also have more operational tools. For in-house projects, which are managed by the company itself, for example improving existing tools, we can encourage intrapreneurship by coaching internal teams through their project.
For matters which are further-removed from a company’s usual practices (enhancing the offering or setting up partnerships for new projects), we work in an open innovation rationale. We bring in startups and project managers to set up collaborations between large groups and younger, more agile companies.
When a company wants to set up a new startup to explore a new market, we help them go further than they would have done if they had relied purely on their internal resources and we recruit external skills via a flexible organisation we call the “start-up studio.”
intrapreneurSHIP TO DRIVE transformation
What exactly does that entail?
With DataCity, an ongoing smart city project, we’re working with companies like Suez, Vinci and Cisco, but also the City of Paris, to create new services. This involves bringing together startups that have solutions and need to experiment in order to progress faster in their markets. We’re basically reinventing startup competitions, shifting towards an “experimentation” model whereby startups and companies work together. This enables large groups to move faster and test things outside their usual markets on the one hand, whilst the startups can break into areas where it can often take a long time to land their first client.
For intrapreneurship projects, a team can come to NUMA for coaching, in the same way as startups do. Working outside the company and getting input from people with different skillsets – designers and developers – opens up new possibilities. For example, at the moment some project managers from RATP (the Paris metro and bus company, Ed) come to us once a week. They won a competition and come regularly to NUMA to move their project forward. We’ve also collaborated with Renault, ERDF and Leroy-Merlin. It’s always the internal teams who want to get out of their comfort zone and are looking for people like us as a change from their usual partners.
What sort of people do you deal with?
It varies. The Innovation departments are always involved, but their role varies from one company to another. Sometimes, they’re the ones who incite other departments to get things moving. For projects which require in-house teams to free up their schedules and work differently, HR also gets involved.
In any event, it’s generally large groups in a variety of industry sectors because our role focuses mainly on methodology. We work a lot with public transport companies like RATP, the SNCF (the French national railways, Ed) and the Société du Grand Paris, so we have a better network and a better understanding of the challenges of this industry. But we mostly work in a cross-disciplinary rationale.
COMPANIES NO LONGER AFRAid TO OPEN UP
Have you noticed an increase in open innovation adoption?
The situation has changed a lot in France. A few years ago, companies were still wondering whether to take the plunge. Now they understand how important it is to have an open innovation approach, they want to shake things up and are now asking themselves how to do it rather than whether to do it. They come to NUMA to get inspiration from what we’re doing with startups, and try and understand what the best option for them is.
We recently organised a conference on intrapreneurship and the venue was full of companies who came to talk about the subject. Just a year or two ago, it was a very new idea. Everyone’s interested in it now as a way of effecting their transformation.
Are you able to measure the impact of the various projects you work on?
It depends on the type of project. If a team comes to develop a new product, we can see whether they develop it faster or differently than they would have without our help. The network is another indicator. The key question is whether or not the companies continue to work with the people they met when working with us and whether or not they’re in an open innovation rationale.
We can also measure the changes to processes. It’s mainly individuals who, after consulting us, can become evangelists for new methods in their company and get their colleagues on board to transform the company’s processes and organisation. If there are enough ambassadors, the company really changes.
THE RECIPE FOR succesS? GET EMPLOYEES’ INPUT
Do you ever encounter any reluctance from employees?
We did during the last wave, when companies tended to do everything with startups. Employees were often reluctant to outsource to new external providers and wanted to know why they couldn’t take part and innovate too.
But when employees are involved and can take part, they become a real driving force for the project.
Motivation is the key to success, just like with startups: we can’t accelerate a startup unless the CEO really wants to work with us.
And last of all, what advice would you give to a company planning an open innovation approach?
You shouldn’t try and duplicate an existing brief. The ultimate objectives should be very clear: companies should be very specific about what they hope to get out of this approach in terms of the internal impact.
As for how to achieve this, you have to accept that you can’t foresee everything right from the beginning and be flexible: more innovations are the result of unexpected situations than from structured approaches. An employee who leaves a company to set up his or her own venture should be given the freedom to try out different ways of achieving the desired result.
Team management should be agile: you don’t want to get bogged down with too many innovation committees. We would also recommend having a phase-by-phase budget, which will allow you to launch projects quickly, rather than waiting until you can get huge budgets, which could slow things down. This is especially important because getting started quickly is one of the keys to engagement!
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