The start-up as an innovative partner

The start-up as an innovative partner

03.5.2019 – Creating bridges between a large corporation and start-ups is not always an easy task. However, this becomes indispensable to ensure its capacity for innovation. For example, if one is an insurer, seeking to enhance the value of billions of medical data to help your clients stay healthy, developing partnerships with start-ups specializing in artificial intelligence is necessary. It is no longer possible to do everything internally. So how to make these bridges less slippery?

To innovate is not just to have an original idea. Innovation is about being successful in the marketplace. In large organizations, one of the obstacles when implementing an innovative idea lies in the corporate culture, which is generally better suited to improving existing products and reducing costs. Collaborating with start-ups is a solution to increase a company’s ability to innovate, but the ingredients for success are still very mysterious.

On the other hand, a start-up needs to use the strengths of a large company such as its know-how, its access to customers and its ability to deploy large-scale solutions to achieve a growth phase.

In order to identify these “ingredients” that make it possible to create a successful partnership with a start-up, the EPFL Innovation Park launched, last November, a new training in the form of workshops. The program includes experience sharing, brainstorming sessions and collective resolution of each participant’s challenges.

After two series of very rewarding workshops, here are some interesting elements and examples that can gradually lift the veil on certain ingredients of success.

What are my motivations?

In the first place, it is essential to clearly formulate the reasons why one wants to collaborate with start-ups. This helps to focus the research, optimize interactions and clarify expectations. Two motivations strongly emerged from the exchanges:

To develop a new market: the interaction with start-ups makes it possible to increase business intelligence and enter new markets. For example, Samsung’s innovation entity has set up partnerships and invested in start-ups to define its position in the transportation market.

Samsung has invested in AImotive, a company that develops artificial intelligence for driving autonomous vehicles. It has also taken a stake in Valens, which offers vehicle connectivity solutions. Thanks to AImotive’s algorithms, we will no longer have to concentrate on the road, but we can occupy ourselves differently, such as watching our favorite movies thanks to excellent connectivity in our car. Brick after brick, Samsung is developing its value proposition in the mobility of the future.

To evolve the existing corporate culture and acquire new skills: The co-development of products with start-ups makes it possible to access new work methods and to mix teams with different profiles. The “test and learn” approach, which is simply a question of survival for a start-up, is thus applied in large companies, more accustomed to launching large projects.

Different mechanisms exist to identify startups with which to launch co-development projects, for example Groupe Mutuel set up its “innovation wheel” last year:

What forms of collaboration to put into place?

Keeping its customers in good health by putting innovation (big) data at the heart of its strategy is one of the strong axes of the company vision, presented during the workshops by Nicolas Loeillot. To achieve this, two mechanisms have been put into place to acquire the necessary skills, provide the necessary infrastructure and the appropriate working environment:

Launching an accelerator: In order to attract the best start-ups who have artificial intelligence skills to enhance the medical information that the insurer has, Groupe Mutuel has launched an accelerator named InnoPeaks. Each year, a dozen start-ups work on the premises of the insurer for a period of 12 weeks.

Among the first group is the start-up Medicus. This company interprets medical reports and translates them into simple and understandable actions for the patient. You install their application, take a picture of your blood tests and then discover their meaning and tips, for example, to reduce your glucose level.

Creating an Innolab: the wheel also includes the setting up of an innovation laboratory around data. It consists of grouping all available data within the company to allow the development of algorithms and the exploration of multiple possibilities to enhance its value.

One of the first challenges is the following : how to help the patient heal faster. By analyzing the health path of thousands of patients, the goal is to determine the most effective therapy and action sequence to take in order to treat the patient.

A collaborative approach to identify the ingredients of a successful partnership

Like Groupe Mutuel, many large companies are launching initiatives to innovate by partnering with start-ups. Genève Aéroport, Coty, Total, Berney Associés and Maxon Motor took part in one of the first two sessions, all of them having set up some form of collaboration with start-ups.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs are also participating in these workshops to contribute their perspective. The sharing of experiences and the confrontation of different points of view (perception gap between the entrepreneur and the innovation manager of a large group) will allow us, in the long term, to identify and share all these ingredients that allow an increased chance of a successful partnership.

If you wish to join this community, the next session will take place on September 5th and 6th in the Lausanne area.


Translated from the original version in French written by Raphael Rollier and posted on Le Temps blog