A Look at Credit Agricole’s Open Innovation Incubator

by Nicolas Bry

Fabrice Marsella is head of the Le Village by CA Paris or the village’s Mayor as they say! Benoît Bourdin is Deputy Head of Le Village, and responsible for Partners & CA Group connections / International Network.

The Village is the startup accelerator initiated by Credit Agricole (CA) Banking company which looks at detecting and supporting the next French unicorns in FinTech, and other industries. They kindly accepted to share the learnings of the Village venture after 3 years of operations.

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1) Hi Fabrice & Benoît, could you kindly explain The Village offering which targets startups, but also corporations (partnerships for cross-learning, incubation of intrapreneurial employees, events organization), in a truly open innovation philosophy?

Fabrice: Seven years ago, in a context of this digital revolution, Credit Agricole Group understood that it could not stay alone if it wanted to accelerate the innovation, and the transformation of its businesses and its organisations. When I talk about innovation and transformation, I mean the ways to improve the customer relationship (more immediacy, more personalization…), take the opportunities of the new economy (ie. the sharing economy…), and upgrade our industrial tools (AI, blockchains…).

Benoît: We understood that we need to be closer to startups, in all sectors, more agile and more experts than us, and closer to other large companies (Sanofi, PSA, Sodexo, Avril, BETC…), which want to transform their models too. And it works, because we involve motivated corporations : they need  to accelerate their transformation, and want to collabore with startups ; and we target mature startups : as they have their solutions or products, and start to sell them, they are able to discuss with the top management of corporations. After the first Village in Paris, we launch other villages : 23 villages are opened in France today.

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2) You’ve accelerated over 300 startups over 3 years. How did you manage to onboard them? How is the network implementation helping to attract startups locally? What are your selection criteria, and are you focused on some specific industries? Are you setting-up a jury to sort out candidates?

Benoît: When startups apply for Le Village by CA, they look for to be a part of a very rich ecosystem. They benefit of subsidized prices for the rent of offices and facilities ; they benefit from experts’ support, about communication, marketing, human ressources, sales, fund raising etc…And above all, they benefit from our ability to connect them with corporations. It’s attractive ! Startups can stay two years in our villages. It’s quite long and we have the time to know them, understand their business and plan a real support.

Fabrice: We select startups with four macro-criteria in mind : the innovation feature, the strengths of the team, the business model, and what they could bring to the ecosystem (we avoid competitors). But we also select startups with just the idea : « I believe in it or I don’t ».

Benoît: And during the committee of selection, organized six or seven times per year, there are all of our partners around the table, and we decide together. For each candidate, it’s five minutes for the pitch, five minutes for Q&A, and five minutes for the deliberation, and we vote with the hand, the majority wins ! Intuitive and efficient !

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3) Concurrently, 800 events are organized on a yearly basis, it’s huge! Is it open to partners and resident startups only, what is the process to stage an event at The Village? What kind of events take place at The Village, and how do you attract the audience?

Benoît: Indeed we organize a lot of events, and several kinds of events. The Village by CA is designed for it : auditorium, lab, pitch room… For example startups could organize the launching of a new product for journalists and clients, one of our partner could organize a hackathon with collaborators for its intrapreneurship program or we could facilitate a workshop for our startups about the power of phoning prospection.

A lot of events are opened to external people : some inspiring testimonials of successful entrepreneurs, some workshops or some big events like the restitution of the barometer of the relationship corporates / startups. We communicate to our networks, in particular on social medias, like Twitter and LinkedIn : it’s powerful because our community is larger day after day. But mainly the events concerns specific invited people.

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4) How do you connect startups to the business within the Crédit Agricole line of services, and with your partners? How to streamline the process from the startup idea to the transformation into business?

Fabrice: There is no secret. It’s very simple : we discuss with startups for understanding their needs and their ressources, we discuss with large companies, CA Group, its clients, our partners and other stakeholders (VCs, public actors…) for understanding their needs and ressources, and we connect people. With a lot of goodwill, energy and proximity, it works !

Benoît: Of course, large companies in France have changed their processes and mindset to be able to work with startups. And startups are no more frightened. At the end of the day, everybody shares the value. It’s a virtuous circle.

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5) There wouldn’t be a successful Village story, without a brilliant Village team, the Village People 🙂 : could you present the various team members, and their roles?

Fabrice: We are a small team, independent, agile, and we have a transversal organization. Exactly like a startup !  Of course, some members are more focused on the support of startups, others on the organization of events, others on the international networks or legal stuffs… But each can do a lot of things and help others on a task. We are passionated people!

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6) One more thing… If you had to start again an incubator, what are the things that you would not do, and what the actions that you would emphasize?

Benoît: The Village by CA Paris, and the others in our regions, have been build step by step. It’s a test and learn process. We work with a lot of goodwill, and each of our actions are useful. Eventually one thing that is not enough emphasized until today is the support to the creation of jobs in our Villages. It’s so positive ! 600 jobs only in Paris, in 4 years !

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future of TV - Leading by InnovatingNicolas Bry is Orange Startups Studio COO, an agile entity within Orange Innovation, to incubate internal and external start-ups. International innovation executive, his job is to set up innovation units for new business, in the digital industry. International speaker, entrepreneurs coach, innovation teacher, and ECC freelance consultant, follow him at @nicobry, and catch a glimpse at his articles on RapidInnovation.fr.

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