Sud Ouest’s Théophraste: in-house acceleration and collaborative enterprise
With a print circulation of 300,000, Bordeaux’s Sud Ouest newspaper is the second largest regional print offering in France. Its startup lab – Théophraste – is exploring a novel model for innovation: inviting new local startups to share office space and resources from within the organisation to help accelerate their development.
Beliefs and motivations:
Sud Ouest believes that although innovation can successfully emanate from inside the company, innovation from an external source can sometimes be even more effective due to the diversity it naturally creates. Startups, for example, have their own vision, methodologies and workflows. By reaching out to the local startup scene, Sud Ouest hopes to prompt new products and ways of working via a “shock of cultures”.
“Confronting staff expertise, competences, methodologies to the startups and their own vision and approaches was bound to have positive consequences and create a win-win situation for everyone” said Guillaume Vasse, Head of Digital Development and Head of Marketing (CDO and CMO) at Groupe Sud Ouest.
Established during the first part of 2016, Théophraste – named after Théophraste Renaudot founder of one of the oldest 17th century French newspapers – houses startups for between 6 to 12 months. Its aim is to support and accelerate business development and foster collaboration between the company and the startups.
The implementation of the project took place in two stages. The first was to partner with a regional startup incubator based in Lyon and Bordeaux called 1Kubator. Sud Ouest agreed to host 1Kubator and their startups in their offices free of charge. In exchange the startup experts would help the team at Sud Ouest understand the startup environment and assist them in creating their own startup accelerator.
“This first period was a success as curiosity started taking over very early on with staff inquiring about the 1Kubator startups before even starting the Théophraste programme,” says Vasse.
The second step was to create Sud Ouest’s own acceleration programme. The concept is to lend office space to a handful of startups selected after a call for application launched mid May this year.
Although they don’t have a preconceived idea of what types of startups they are looking for to be selected the startup should:
- Have already obtained legal entity
- Already have a proof of concept
- Could be Media or non media related
The jury, consisting both of Sud Ouest staff and of the 1Kubator team will also take into account individual competencies, group dynamic, but also the originality of the project and the willingness of each team.
The selected startups will then benefit:
- 6 to 12-month acceleration period (flexible period as it will depend on how successful the acceleration is)
- Access to mentors (from Sud Ouest, 1Kubator but also external: legal team, other industries etc.)
- Access to the publisher’s network and competencies (advertising, content and services, logistics etc.)
- Testing environment in a real-life media company (data, beta testers)
- Connection to regional, national and international innovation networks (Bordeaux French Tech, WAN-IFRA’s GAMI network)
- Help with fundraising
- Possibility for the Media company to invest through “media for equity” (ad space for free)
“A win-win situation”
“We don’t want to work with our startups like we would work with a subcontractor” underlines Guillaume Vasse.
Indeed, it is a very clear philosophy at Sud Ouest that the objective is to infuse innovation in the company by experimentation and collaboration – and not just to look for another client-to-contractor relationship.
Startups will have the opportunity to work with and be assisted by a large media group. This provides them with access to a range of skills including communication, user experience, production and digital, Vasse suggests. The interest for Sud Ouest is to learn different ways of thinking and working especially compared to those of a large corporation.
It seems important to keep in mind that it should always remain a win-win situation for the startup and for the company.
The team running Théopraste consists of Guillaume Vasse and the three staff from 1Kubator. Vasse suggests that the financial investment needed was very limited: office space, desks, chairs, time and a new coffee machine. These limited resources make the necessary buy-in from top management easier to obtain.
There’s also opportunities for Sud Ouest staff, who have been given the option of taking a sabbatical leave to start a company hosted by the accelerator.
Keys to success?
The future success of Théopraste may lie in the pre-established company culture at Sud Ouest – it has supported the local innovation startup scene for years before starting this initiative (reporting about tech innovation and startups, participation in startup weekends). Sud Ouest believes that earned legitimacy is important for credibility. Vasse advises: “Don’t reach out to startups just because it’s the done thing at the moment”.
At the same time a startup only looking for free square meters is wasting everyone’s time: “we are looking for a two-way collaboration and an exchange of know-how.”
Another challenge could be the cohabitation between staff and “start-uppers”. Vasse recommends that staff should not feel left aside and that startups and staff were treated the same way.
“This is also one of the reasons why it is a primary importance that Théophraste takes place inside the newspaper building as it creates de facto an obligatory meet-up with the rest of the staff.”
They are actively preparing an offer of ‘media for equity’ for the startups. Media for equity is literally exchanging advertising space against a part of the startup’s capital. For them, the interest is to build a sustainable partnership with a startup that they consider promising and with whom they wish to engage more strongly than through a simple commercial contract. For the startup it’s simply a convenient way to gain useful visibility during the period of acceleration.
Guillaume Vasse, CDO & CMO, Groupe Sud Ouest, France
guillaume.vasse @ gsoi.fr
Media Lab: Theophraste
Tags: accelerator France incubator newspaper startups