In December the Partech Ventures investment fund opened a campus in Paris for around forty startups. Seven large firms from a range of sectors will be helping them bring their digital innovations to fruition.

Partech Ventures, a venture capital firm with offices in Paris, Berlin and San Francisco, has set up Partech Shaker – a campus dedicated to open innovation – at the former premises of the French newspaper Le Figaro, in the central 2nd district of Paris. The founders are claiming a ‘world first’. “It’s neither an incubator nor an accelerator,” explained Romain Lavault, entrepreneur and General Partner of Partech Ventures, during the official opening of the campus in mid-December. Many startups, once they have raised initial funds, feel the “stress of the blank page” and wonder how they can move to the next stage, the growth phase. “So handholding at this stage needs to centre on the operational aspect, i.e. we need to help them find their ecosystem,” underlines Lavault. Basically it’s a matter of “You focus on your growth, and we’ll do the rest.” The ‘rest’ consists of providing the startups with advice in the areas of strategy, legal and financial issues, and communication. However one of the cornerstones of the Partech Shaker initiative is involving major companies in the handholding process.

Seven ‘innovation partners’

Seven large French firms from various sectors have responded to the call from Partech to come on board the project as ‘innovation partners’: Lagardère Active (the media activities arm of the French Lagardère Group), France Télévisions (French public national television broadcaster), Saint-Gobain (French multinational corporation), Econocom (a company offering online services to firms), BNP Paribas, Dentsu Aegis Network (advertising) and Haworth (office furniture). For a year, their designated teams will enjoy permanent access to the Shaker premises, will be able to meet the startups working there and interact with them on their ideas and innovations. The concept has been formalised, added a representative of Lagardère Active, which he argues gives the Partech Shaker initiative its unique character. “These startups are a source of innovation, on which the established companies will be able to draw in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors,” points out Romain Lavault. A France TV representative threw out a challenge to the Partech Shaker startups: “We need to reinvent ourselves; the industry is experiencing total disruption. Come and help us find a future for television.” BNP Paribas, also a partner, sees the venture as a ‘laboratory’ which “will enable us to get involved in a different way and try out new approaches.” For a firm like Saint-Gobain, which “doesn’t have the digital culture in its genes, this is the first time we’ll be departing from our set way of doing things and working on the basis of what the startup offers us.” So what exactly do these large firms plan to contribute to the startups in return? They aim to create business openings by putting them in touch with their own customers and international networks, and by providing advice on, for example, how to sell themselves better.

Longer term: 40 startups on 9 floors

Currently there are just around twenty startups installed at the campus but the idea is that eventually some forty fledgling firms will have the chance to work closely with the larger partners. The building has nine floors with a total of 2,200 m2 of space for offices, co-working zones, relaxation areas etc. Office space is available in variable dimensions to suit the size and resources of each team. The startups will be selected to work there on the basis of their innovative qualities and their business field, and will all be funded by Partech Ventures. At the moment, some of the startups accommodated at the campus are not funded by Partech Ventures but have still been chosen as they make an important contribution to the current ecosystem. For example, People Edgar, a recruitment firm specialising in the digital sector, is being hosted by Partech Shaker. “This makes sense because this startup can help the others to grow their teams,” explains Romain Lavault. All the startups there are in a growth phase. “We started with just three of us last year, now there are fifteen, and we’re hoping to expand the team still further,” revealed Arthur Dagard, one of the founders of Evergig, a startup which specialises in putting together videos of music concerts by drawing on all the photos and sequences taken and posted online. Evergig has raised €1 million from the Partech Entrepreneur seed fund and early-stage venture capital firm 360 Capital Partners and is looking to raise a further €5 million from other sources. The other startups accommodated in the building include Kartable, which specialises in online educational support. Sigfox, a Toulouse-based telecoms operator for low-energy connected objects, whose president is well-known French businesswoman Anne Lauvergeon, has also installed part of its workforce in the Partech Shaker premises. These startups are all at an important phase in their growth, and it will be interesting to see to what extent the interaction and contacts forged with the partner firms during the year will help to create win-win scenarios.

By Virginie de Kerautem