Digital for all now

Paris, the capital of open innovation: a glimpse of the place where synergies between startups and major groups are born

Econocom 9 May 2016

At a time when large companies have begun their digital transformation, uses are changing and with these changes comes the need to design new products and services. This transformation also involves finding new innovation methods.  Often slowed down by cumbersome processes and organisations lacking agility, large groups looking to maintain a competitive edge are increasingly turning to startups, offering them support in return for their capacity for innovation.


For this reason, the last few years have seen the development of a variety of organisations dedicated to collaborations between startups, large groups, students and academics. These include emblematic spaces such as NUMA, structures created directly by large groups or investment funds such as the Shaker and Crédit Agricole’s Village by CA. We took a look at these game-changing organisations.


=> Also on our blog: Start-ups and innovation: Paris takes things up a notch





Facilitate unusual encounters – that’s what the Innovation Factory plans to do. “Paris’ first digital innovation cluster” is a hybrid place where large corporations can meet students from the Web School Factory, a digital management school. To encourage open innovation and break down the barriers between the various players in the sector, Marc-François Mignon Mahon, one of the managers, believes serendipity is the key: “Serendipity is the art of finding something you aren’t looking for, the art of promoting fruitful and fortuitous encounters,” he said during the launch party back in October 2014. “That’s what we do every day at the Innovation Factory.


Partner groups, including giants like Bouygues, Accor Hotels, Sodexo, Fondation de France and la Française des Jeux use the place to get in touch with an ecosystem that is conducive to digital co-creation and can, through regular events, create positive dynamics with innovation drivers. has a similar approach. This organisation, which provides free training courses in computer coding to job-seekers and people undergoing professional retraining, helps large groups with innovation issues. Thanks to the hackathons and workshops organised on its premises, employees can get away from their desks and, by rubbing shoulders with the students, familiarise themselves with new, more agile and disruptive methods and processes.


=> Also on our blog: Simplon: a hackathon to get outside the company and learn how to think outside the box





At the Bpifrance hub, meanwhile, companies are put in touch with startups at the hyper-growth stage. They can thus get innovation inspiration from startups that have reached the critical stage of industrialisation and international expansion. “When you innovate together, you innovate more, better and for longer,” as Cécile Brosset, Director of innovation for Bpifrance, recently said.


=> Also on our blog: Hub BPifrance: a place where startups can hook up with large groups







But Paris’s temple of open innovation is NUMA. Part co-working space, part startup accelerator, NUMA is a regular meeting point for large corporations and innovative startups. As Elise Nebout,  head of resources, says:

“With the digital transformation, we’re moving towards the 21st-century company, one that combines collective intelligence with generation Y, new tools and new markets. The large groups need to get in touch with innovative ecosystems such as NUMA’s so they can think, test, interact and expand in all these areas.”


=> Also on our blog: Claudio Vandi, Numa: innovation is more likely to arise from the unexpected than from structured approaches





Another key innovation venue: the Shaker, a 2,200 m2 open innovation campus where startups and large groups get together. The project was launched by investment fund Partech Ventures and various partners, including Econocom Group who provided it with digital equipment. According to Bruno Grossi, Executive Director in charge of Strategy, Acquisitions and Communication at Econocom, “This type of venture gives an idea of the speed at which digital transformations are sweeping through the French economy.”

In the year and a half since it opened, the Shaker has welcomed a number of French startups as well as some American ‘unicorns’ – Pinterest and Dropbox – and offers them regular access to events and conferences organised by partner groups , some of which result in more long-term partnerships, such as developing joint projects.



companies dreaming up their own innovation spaces


More and more large corporations are creating their own innovation spaces. In these ‘corporate’ incubators, startups can find funding and support whilst large groups can come to learn about agile processes and benefit from creativity and innovation. This is what Orange does with its Orange Lab, the French post office with Lab Postal and insurance group AXA with its AXA Factory.


Car giant PSA Peugeot Citroën, meanwhile, has a slightly different approach, as they collaborate with schools and universities at StelLab (Science Technologies Exploratory Lean LABoratory). This structure dedicated to identifying and developing  new technologies features ‘Open Labs,’ shared by the group and universities, innovation groups and academic chairs awarded to universities and schools with the aim of promoting and implementing research programmes in areas of interest for PSA.


In 2013, another industry giant, Air Liquide group, set up the i-Lab to experiment with fast prototyping tools.


banks at the cutting edge of innovation – to prevent “Uberisation”


And which industry sector is the champion of open innovation? Possibly banks: to avoid being ousted by new players with disruptive business models, banks are increasingly looking to collaborate with external players.


“We need to learn from start-ups, who are extremely agile, so that we can maintain a startup spirit in a company that is 150 years old and has 150,000 employees,” said Françoise Mercadel-Delasalles, Société Générale’s Director of Resources and Innovation. To do so, in April 2015 the banking group inaugurated Player, a “collective intelligence” incubator located in the Sentier district of central Paris – on the same street as NUMA. “We are convinced that having an external innovation space helps bring people together and facilitates contact with different talents and startups. With Player, our group can learn new approaches, visions and working methods to boost our digital transformation,” says Aymeril Hoang, Director of Innovation for the group.


© Village by CA


This is also what Crédit Agricole planned to do in June 2014 when it set up the Village by CA, an open innovation space in central Paris. Almost 90 innovative startups now work there, mostly in the fintech sector but also in areas as diverse as healthcare and agriculture. On 17 February 2016, when inviting startups to apply as part of a campaign to recruit 10 new startups, Fabrice Marsella, the “mayor” of the Village, said he was looking for “different projects from the ones we currently work on. We’re particularly looking for startups specialising in block chain, the technology behind bitcoin, and connected devices for the home, for example.”  This is a way to find innovative ideas to transform the group’s business – and not just in the finance sector.


=> Also on our blog: Le Village by CA: a hub of innovation in the heart of Paris


One final example is We Are Innovation (WAI), launched by banking group BNP Paribas. At its premises in Paris and Massy-Saclay, the group supports 1,200 startups at 15 innovation centres and also works with midcaps, giving them the opportunity to benefit from the agility of the startups incubated. A number of collaborations between startups and midcaps have thus resulted from the Innov&Connect programme launched in September 2014.



A club FOR “innovation dating”


As a sign of its dedication to innovation, the city of Paris and the Greater Paris region, via a non-profit organisation called Paris&Co, have created 18 incubators in the capital, come of which are co-run with groups such as La Poste, SNCF and Fondation SFR (such as Social Good Lab, for example, which is dedicated to technological innovations with a social impact).

In addition to these incubation centres, Paris&Co also launched the Open Innovation Club, whose steering committee includes private partners such as Bouygues, Carrefour, Safran ErDF, JCDecaux and SNCF. The aim is to develop business ties between large groups and startups via meetings with multi-year meetings and workshops. In April 2015, Econocom thus organised “Working in the digital age,” an event where 20 startups had the opportunity to give a pitch on the subject at the group’s headquarters and take part in a round table during which the various participants gave feedback on their experience.


So is open innovation  essential for businesses today? To keep up with the frenetic pace of the digital acceleration, an open approach is vital. Collaborating with startups creates a virtuous dynamic, a “win-win” situation which leads to a number of initiatives designed to boost innovation.

Talk to us and share your Digital Maker’s lesson with us!