A priori, as you can imagine, I thought that this appetite and familiarity with open innovation could facilitate the development of this corporate incubator. However, the incubator had to adapt by constantly rotating … to the point where it not only resembled its guests, the start-ups, but also became like its internal customers (the market lines or business units).
According to the manager of this corporate incubator: ” he corporate incubator has gone through three main stages”. First of all, at the service of others: “80% of my teams worked for the rest of the group and 20% on our projects!“. All in all, the corporate incubator was overwhelmingly seeking to place start-ups with market lines. In the second phase, one year after its launch: ” 80% of us worked on our projects in our strategic fields, and the remaining 20% on internal support! “. This first pivot enabled the corporate incubator to be anchored on the strategic orientations of the large group. In the third phase (still a year later): ” it was a question of obtaining more resources and being able to say on the projects that we carry that we are going to leverage group skills, a distribution network, capital, a factory, a customer! “. With this second pivot, it was therefore a question of generating value by capitalising on start-ups, within the strategic frameworks resulting from the first pivot.
Faced with such changes, the head of this corporate incubator made a point of specifying that “it was not a vocation to move for the sake of moving, but the structure needed to adapt if it wanted to succeed in generating value for the group”.
These changes were therefore not the result of chance. They were the result of a real ambition, and not only from elsewhere. In fact, as I looked deeper into this case, I was able to see that these changes were also the result of the unfortunate experiences accumulated by the manager of this corporate incubator with the business units the internal market lines of the large group).
The head of this incubator also shared with me a series of remarks that seem to be as clear as rock water and that need not be translated. ” “It’s difficult to get the market lines into our dynamic and it’s normal at the same time because that’s not what we’re asking of them. To have gone through Operations (business units) before, at no time are you incentivized on innovation; you are asked to be efficient, to control risks. All innovation contracts, when they arrive in the field, it’s communication, but also inefficiency, uncertainty, with a very negative impact on your operating account. So, as a good manager, you have no interest in pushing innovation”.
The head of the corporate incubator added: ” It’s complicated because even if you have the support of the top management within the group, they will never put pressure on Operations. In other words, the top management considers that Operations has a mandate that is theirs, and that the corporate incubator has its own! Seen from the group’s top management, it’s up to us to manage… “.
It is therefore the conviction of “the schizophrenia of large groups that oppose innovation and efficiency”, which led to the adaptations that the head of this corporate incubator made to the structure. Today, according to its manager: “ the corporate incubator has become a market line and it is really a start-up…” whose model he is constantly seeking to evolve, to make it scalable through projects that can shake up traditional internal economic models.
This case highlights three lessons. The first is, in my opinion, that a corporate incubator or accelerator, if it wants to ensure its sustainability, must constantly keep moving, just like start-ups. The second is that a corporate incubator or accelerator will only have an impact if it is responsible for what it carries. Finally, the third is that a corporate incubator or accelerator, even if it is not viable in the long term, will still have an effect on the ability of the large group to make choices, because it will have brought new biases in any case. Wait and see…