Two out of three startups polled in France have no relationship with a large established company, mainly due to communication difficulties between these very different types of organisation. However 95% of startup entrepreneurs regard such relationships favourably, as they can be very useful in helping small businesses to thrive.
How can collaboration between large firm and startups be made easier and smoother? This was the subject of a survey* carried out by international innovation agency faberNovel, with the aim of suggesting improvements to the ‘Neuilly Nouveaux Médias’ (‘New Media in Neuilly’) initiative, which started up in 2010 in Neuilly, a suburb to the west of Paris. Under the Neuilly initiative, around twenty large firms located in the Paris region make space available free of charge at their premises to host entrepreneurs running promising projects, for a maximum period of 23 months. The Neuilly Nouveaux Médias team claim that this ‘distributed incubator’ approach is unique in France. Just as with the traditional type of incubator, applicants have to pitch to a jury and only the best projects are selected by the partnering large firms.
Startups need backing from a major firm
The study makes the observation that the backing of a large corporation provides startups with useful support and the chance to raise their profile, rather than hard business contracts. Meanwhile, the participating major companies are motivated to take part in the initiative because: “At the moment, the Neuilly Nouveaux Médias partners basically want to contribute to the development of innovative startups in France. They see their involvement as a practical vehicle for corporate philanthropy,” explains Albert Asséraf, General Manager of Strategy, Studies and Marketing at multinational advertising company JCDecaux, who is honorary President of Neuilly Nouveaux Médias. “The hosting system also offers them a way of keeping up with what’s happening on the entrepreneurship front in France,” he points out. Although the study does not cast any doubt on the value of such relationships between the two types of firm, it nevertheless points to various imperfections when it comes to practical co-operation.
Wanted: ‘orchestra conductor’ to smooth startup relations
Despite the almost universal desire of major firms to encourage innovative initiatives – by creating incubators, organising hackathons, etc. – startups often bemoan the fact that it is difficult to gain access to people in big companies. “There’s a still a gap between what they would like to do and what they’re actually doing. It’s often a question of timing, which is very different for a startup compared to a large firm,” underlines Albert Asséraf. Among the recommendations for improving relations coming from side of the startups, the one most urgently in need of implementation would be to “appoint someone at each host corporation to act as ‘orchestra conductor’. S/he would provide a sort of day-to-day operational support, “streamlining contacts with the startup team by putting them in touch with the right people inside the big firm, and so on,” suggests Albert Asséraf. This is an idea which he intends to explore further with the Neuilly Nouveaux Médias partners.
*The survey was carried out on the basis of eight individual interviews with founders of startups, plus replies from a hundred entrepreneurs to a 30-question questionnaire.