Digital for all now

Le Village by CA: a hub of innovation in the heart of Paris

Econocom 2 May 2016

On Rue de la Boétie, in the heart of Paris’ business district, is Le Village by CA, the startup incubator of banking group Crédit Agricole. Started in October 2014, it now houses over one hundred startups on its 4,500 m2 premises.  The aim is to foster innovation and help develop the next Big Thing … and it’s working: in one year, the startups in the Village have raised almost €35 million. Around ten of these, such as Early Birds, a predictive, omnichannel marketing service, or Sharepay, a payment card that can debit different accounts, are on Challenge magazine’s Top 100 startups to invest in.

 

We met Fabrice Marsella, the “Mayor,” on the Village square, the hub of the startup incubator, open 24/7, where synergies are created in a lively, productive atmosphere.

 

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The Village square

The Village is a real community, made up of over one hundred startups on 23-month acceleration programmes. To help with business development and expansion, they are provided with all the necessary operational tools.

 

Take fund-raising, for example, an essential phase for a new business. At the Village, the entrepreneurs are put in touch with business angels who not only help them to fully grasp the implications of this crucial stage, but also share best practices to maximise their chances of success. The entrepreneurs can also talk to accountants, lawyers and companies who’ve been through this phase. “The startup world is community-based so conducive to sharing experience and feedback,” says Fabrice Marsella.

 

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The Village is a real community, made up of over one hundred startups on 23-month acceleration programmes. To help with business development and expansion, they are provided with all the necessary operational tools.

 

Take fund-raising, for example, an essential phase for a new business. At the Village, the entrepreneurs are put in touch with business angels who not only help them to fully grasp the implications of this crucial stage, but also share best practices to maximise their chances of success. The entrepreneurs can also talk to accountants, lawyers and companies who’ve been through this phase. “The startup world is community-based so conducive to sharing experience and feedback,” says Fabrice Marsella.

 

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In any event, any startup that comes to the Village must be mature enough to be able to deal with major groups: one of the key activities of the incubator is to put the startups in touch with a network of SMEs and large companies looking for innovation. “A large group takes about two years to make its mind up, whereas a startup typically takes two years to develop. These different timelines mean it’s difficult to bring the organisations together,” says Marsella. “What we aim to do is align these different cycles and create hybridisations that allow the companies to inspire each other, develop and create new offers.”

 

 

“innovation ARISES FROM a combination of different viewpoints”

 

 The Village has a number of partners, some of whom are in the tech sector (Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett Packard) whilst others are from completely different sectors such as Sanofi, Sodexo and Engie. But they all have one thing in common: a desire to rub shoulders with innovative outfits and structures and open up to the ecosystem.

Each partner has appointed a “Village interface” who comes regularly – once or twice a week – to meet with the startups. Another important point: each partner helps select which startups get onto the programme. As the Mayor puts it: “It’s this variety of points of view that enables us to detect the rising stars in every sector.

 

Not every company gets financial support: it depends on the priorities of each partner. However, each one sponsors one or more startups, for example by giving the young entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch to its C-level executives, and thus help accelerate development.

 

For the startups, being around major groups gives them a testing ground to help boost their growth. But aside from collaborating with startups, for Crédit Agricole, the Village is also an opportunity to set up think-tanks with large companies that they had never been in touch with. “The Crédit Agricole Federation has been headquartered on the same street as Sanofi for years,” explains Marsella. “And yet, before we set up the Village, we’d never communicated.

 

 

“THE digital transition IS ALSO ABOUT KEEPING PACE WITH A CHANGING WORLD”

 

There are plenty of examples of successful collaborations, one of which involved crowdfunding. Whilst Crédit Agricole had initially followed this trend from afar, it didn’t become actively interested in it until Miimosa, a platform for financing agricultural ventures, joined the Village. The two companies have now joined forces to offer an innovative solution.

 

“The Village enables us to push back boundaries and break into areas we wouldn’t normally be involved in.”

 

Another example is Data&Data, a startup that detects counterfeits of luxury brands on the social media in real time, which, Marsella admits, “isn’t something you would normally associate with us, but Data&Data is branching out into healthcare and wines and spirits, industries which are very important for usSo we’re looking together at how we can progress in these areas.”

 

The innovation resulting from the collaboration with startups doesn’t just benefit offers but affects the group’s processes too. Coxibiz, a startup that recruits people by evaluating candidates’ skills through role-play situations, has been tested by Crédit Agricole’s HR department. Mobile-Spot, meanwhile, an indoor positioning expert which has already been deployed at Paris department store Printemps Haussmann, will enable staff at Crédit Agricole’s Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and soon their Montrouge branch to find their way around.

 

“The Village is a place where new organisations can experiment. We’re trying to build a horizontal model whereby everyone can contribute to the adventure, in the spirit of intrapreneurship.”

 

Another startup called Videotelling which makes short, animated information videos, made the Village’s presentation video, even before the project got off the ground. “At the time, we didn’t sell the concept as well as we do now because we hadn’t experienced it yet,” explains Fabrice Marsella. “But when I watch it now, I realise the video showed real foresight.” Video Telling now works with all the Village’s major partners as well as a number of the resident startups and has gone from two members of staff to a dozen.

 

 

“we do everything to SHORTEN circuits AND FOCUS ON INTERESTING EVENTS”

 

In addition, the Village hosts some 800 events a year. These are organised by the startups themselves, for product launches, for example, as it’s an ideal venue for press conferences or partner events. Every two months, Engie organises “Innovation mornings” presented by writer Erik Orsenna. “The last one was attended by Axelle Lemaire and Gilles Babinet,” says Marsella. “It was very exciting for the startups who attended.”

 

The “villagers” who were unable to attend could listen to a live broadcast or podcast of it on Radio Village Innovation, which reports on Village life but also on the outside world through a series of programmes, reports and interviews.

 

In addition, the Village on Rue de la Boétie will soon be expanding all over France, with around twenty villages scheduled to open by 2017 in Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Montpellier. “There are entrepreneurs all over France,” says Marsella. “An entrepreneur from Toulouse may not want to set up shop in Paris.

 

The Village currently has around twenty temporary offices all over the world, the most recent addition being a two hundred square metre space in central Manhattan. The idea is that inhabitants from one Village can go to any other Village in France or any office in the world. In the Mayor’s view, this is “one of the strengths of the model and the advantage of belonging to a major group.

 

So what happens after the 23-month acceleration period is over? Another sort of relationship develops: the Village has an alumni organisation, open to all the startups so they can maintain ties with the Village. The alumni association also organises regular dinners between entrepreneurs and company heads and enables members to rent venues at special rates.

 

And once companies leave the incubator, there are plenty of other new startups vying for a place in the Village: in 18 months, the Village has received over 1,000 applications.  “Demand is huge,” says Fabrice Marsella proudly. “The Village is well established in the startup ecosystem and has earned a reputation for quality.”

 

Also on our blog:

=> Hub Bpifrance: a place where startups can hook up with large groups

=> Elise Nebout, NUMA: there are a 1000 and 1 ways to be an entrepreneur

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