Before she became an entrepreneur, Sandrine Murcia spent several years with Google as Marketing Director for France and then Europe. 5 years ago she and her partner decided to set up on their own and founded Spring Lab, an innovation and digital transformation consulting firm that worked with major groups such as Airbus and EDF.
As Chairwoman of NUMA for the past 3 years, Sandrine Murcia has also helped set up Camping (now Numa Sprint), a startup accelerator. She is now head of Paris Pionnières, an incubator and business network dedicated to female entrepreneurs.
A real lover of entrepreneurship, Sandrine Murcia devotes her time to boosting innovation by facilitating collaboration between startups and large companies and supporting and assisting women who want to set up their own business. Yet despite her busy schedule, she found time to answer a few questions.
Start-ups AND LARGE groups: INVENTING collaboratiVE APPROACHES
Startups and major groups: is it a good match?
Sandrine Murcia: Over the past 5 years, there has been more and more cooperation between startups and big groups. When we started Spring Lab, big companies were curious about digital in terms of communication, particularly the social networks, but weren’t yet interested in innovation. That was soon to change, when some large groups started buying out startups being more open.
“Innovation often arises from dabbling in areas of expertise in products and services which initially wouldn’t seem to be a priority for the company.”
Companies can’t specialise in everything, so they need to adopt an open innovation approach: see what’s happening elsewhere and learn how to work with startups, because they have a real risk culture.
Most major groups are looking for agility. But even though a company with tens of thousands of employees can’t function like a startup with 5 to 10 people, it’s interesting and motivating for a large group to see how small organisations work. It could inspire them to set up internal “skillsclusters”. This “intrapreneurship” helps employees develop their initiative so they can make a more valuable contribution to the company’s development project.
What sort of partnerships arise between startups and large groups?
That depends of course on what they each want out of it. Initially it’s just a question of getting in touch with and talking to startups or research centres. But sometimes it takes the form of a more structured programme and a stronger partnership. Startups looking for clients can choose large groups as business partners or partners for experimenting. Companies which are expanding and have an international approach have a lot to gain by working with companies with subsidiaries all over the world who can provide them with office space and a network that can help them find potential clients.
There are also some “intrapreneurship” mentoring programmes whereby employees from large groups can mentor startups and help them work on their strategy and business.
The types of collaborations also vary depending on the nature and degree of maturity of the company. But there are lots of things we’ve yet to come up with!
paris Pionnières: DEDICATED TO FEMALE entrepreneurs
What sort of entrepreneurs come to Paris Pionnières?
Mainly women, obviously. We’ve noticed a rapid and very striking change over the past 2-3 years: more and more women want to set up a business and are coming to see us long before they have started their projects, whereas when we first started the incubator, we mainly saw women who were already established and had thought about their project in great detail.
“These days, a lot of the women who come to us are really at the early stages of their business, with just an idea based on a brief analysis of the market … But they’re passionate about their concept and really believe in its potential and want to give it a go.”
Younger and younger women are coming to us. We often see women who have just graduated. For example, the founder of LuckyLoc, a company that rents cars for €1, was 23 when she started up the company. Another of our entrepreneurs launched Vinoga, an online game about winegrowing, when she was 26, with no background in the winegrowing business… And it’s doing really well!
It’s our job to inform and assist as many women as possible who embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure: we aim to instil self-confidence and entrepreneurial spirit in them. We look for women who want to set up a company with a view to expanding and creating jobs: in two years, we’ve supported 200 start-ups which have created over 1,000 jobs. We really want to work on innovative projects with strong economic potential. That requires a very special type of entrepreneur with a particular mind-set – and lots of ambition.
Apart from ambition, what other qualities does an entrepreneur need to succeed?
Mainly curiosity and the ability to say “I’ve never set up a business but I’m going to give it a go.” You also need to choose the right people to help you develop your business and overcome any obstacles you’ll come across. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to other entrepreneurs who’ve been through the same difficulties and doubts.
You also need to be open to other people; you can’t be a lone wolf! When you start up a business, resources (staff and financial) are tight. So you need to rely on others, and mustn’t be afraid to talk about your project to other people, build up a network and create a support system.
“Being autonomous doesn’t mean being all alone. It’s important to maintain a collective mind-se – even though in the end, of course, you always make decisions on your own.”
Another essential quality: tenacity. You mustn’t give up: you’ll get there in the end! So you need to be pretty strong-minded and not scare easily. At Paris Pionnières, we often say: you’re not born an entrepreneur, you become one.
PERSONAL SUPPORT FOR THE ISSUES WOMEN FACE
We offer women support in terms of business (drafting their business plan, help with fundraising, business organisation, etc.), but also personal assistance. Unlike other incubators or accelerators, we support projects from the beginning and help them take off: whether it takes 3 months or 6 months! We’re there to give them time – the women who come to see us often have a day job so time is an issue – and to show the women who’ve decided to set up a business that they’re not alone, but are surrounded by a network of coaches and experts.
All the women who join the Paris Pionnières programme have a coach throughout their time with us. At the beginning, for the “pre-incubation” phase, i.e. to fine-tune the project, draw up the business plan and find the expertise and skills required.
Once the business is set up and they’re in the incubator proper, the coach assist them with a network of mentors: male and female company directors or managers from major groups – some of the women are actually former candidates from our programme.
Women come to see us because they want to be challenged and are looking for a relationship of equals. We offer them an open, welcoming environment: some women who lack self-confidence manage to succeed when dealing with another woman: It can help them overcome their misgivings and obstacles.
“Women come to see us because they know they won’t be judged: if they have to leave early to pick up their kids from school, no one will think anything of it.”
At the incubator, every Wednesday we hold co-working sessions where women – and men, because it’s a mixed organisation – can bring their children. Whilst the parents are working, the kids attend coding or language-learning workshops run by Paris Pionnières startups who specialise in these areas.
“We really believe that having more women heading up companies is beneficial not only for the economy but for society as a whole: it’s a real driver for changing mind-sets!”
50 years ago in France, a woman had to ask her husband’s permission to have a chequebook; now, there are 25-year-old women raising millions of euros. And that’s down to entrepreneurship: that’s why we’re so passionate about this cause, because it’s a very exciting social change.
Crédit photo : Woman working on an airplane motor at North American Aviation, Inc., plant in Calif. by Alfred T. Palmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons