Théophraste: building relationships within the company and with the start-up ecosystem

The French Sud Ouest newspaper in Bordeaux is inviting local start-ups to share office space and resources from within the organisation to help accelerate their development.

Bordeaux’s Sud Ouest newspaper launched Théophraste in 2016, reaching out to the local start-up scene. They hoped to prompt new products and ways of working via a “shock of cultures” by supporting and accelerating business development, and fostering collaboration between the company and the start-ups.

This project has been possible thanks to a win-win partnership with the french incubator 1Kubator. Its Bordeaux incubation program is hosted by Sud Ouest and 1Kubator has in turn helped Sud Ouest design and run its acceleration program Théophraste.

Since then, Théophraste has been broadening its activities, from just testing products to also selling them. The next step will be to valorise the services they offer the start-ups, by taking a stake in the companies that are being developed through their accelerator. So far, the incubation and acceleration programs have been both a cheap and useful investment for Sud Ouest, in terms of providing workspace, and access to their network and people inside the company.

They are learning every step of the way, explains Guillaume Vasse, CDO & CMO at Sud Ouest:

“This is not a project we imagined in every detail. We are learning everyday. First, the only concern was how to house the start-ups, now we’ll have to start figuring out how to stay in contact with them.”

As the start-ups that started within the accelerator are maturing, it becomes important to figure out how to build long-term and sustainable relationships with them. While the start-ups that are in the incubation program are in the Sud Ouest building all the time, the ones in the acceleration program are there only part-time: “Basically, the more they accelerate, the less we see them.”

One way Théophraste is hoping to create stronger partnerships with them is through a media for equity offer: the startups get advertising space to increase their visibility in exchange for a stake in their companies.


Having start-ups so close to the news organisation offers a direct advantage to the media company. One of the start-ups gave them a different perspective on the news site with an unexpected conclusion. They noticed that the pay wall was not immediately visible on the page. Because it started too low, people would just come on the page and left again right away. Engagement has really gone up since the implementation of POOOL’s pay wall.

They’ve just released a new version in which they are developing several scenarios and will be testing them to see which one is more useful. The start-up furthermore proposed Sud Ouest to start collecting other kinds of data that give the media organisation a better idea of what users are actually doing on their site.

People-first approach

The most successful innovations so far have been oriented towards the business side of the media company, focusing on topics like pay walls and lead generation. But beginning of this year, they selected a start-up that is more content and service oriented. This startup, Kapp10, is a service centred on trail running content and results, with a strong community of people. It’s an interesting start-up for a newspaper like Sud Ouest that dedicates an important place to sports in its publications and organises sports events.

Théophraste is also working a Blockchain applied for the media sector, through the startup InBlock that’s currently part of the accelerator.

To know whether it will be a good match, Guillaume Vasse is organising meetings with the relevant people in the company before actually selecting the start-ups, “to make sure that the need you spotted is really shared among people in the company”. Furthermore, the people who present the start-up project are a decisive factor in the selection: “People can change the project. If you have a good project, but the wrong people, it will not work.”

“Meeting of Cultures”

The “shock of cultures” that was expected at the launch of Théophraste turned out to be a “meeting of cultures” that has been really successful. During informal encounters and sharing drinks, but also many work meetings. Especially when they just started working with a start-up, they are meeting each other a lot.

Relationships are important, also with people in the newsroom. A Hackathon, where journalists and entrepreneurs are meeting each other, has been a true turning point in building strong relationships between entrepreneurs and journalists. Due to its success, a second one is currently being planned for next fall.

Moreover, Sud Ouest employees have been asked to answer entrepreneurs’ questions on a voluntary basis. It seems like many face-to-face contact is now taking place, in which both sides are learning. According to Guillaume a lot of relationships are built that he is not even aware of.

At the centre of the game

Théophraste has managed to obtain a certain position within the start-up ecosystem in Bordeaux. The aim is to connect the start-ups in the accelerator with the whole network, because

“we believe it’s through connections that you’re able to accelerate as a start-up. And it’s also very good for us, because it puts us at the centre of the game, in a situation where we are in it, not just looking at the ecosystem,” says Guillaume Vasse.

A new section about the start-up ecosystem in Bordeaux has been created on the website, because it gives them authority to attract start-ups, but they are also really part of it. Important for that is to not only involve people within your own company, but also the other players in the ecosystem, in Sud Ouest’s case in Bordeaux:

“We’re not the only company that has a start-up program. We’re an open innovation initiative, which means we’re part of an ecosystem. We had to make clear that we’re not competing with existing companies.”

All in all, the innovation programs are good for the corporate image and a source of pride for many employees:

“For example, every time a sales representative from the sales house has an appointment with an advertiser here at Sud Ouest, the appointment ends with a visit of the accelerator. And one sales representative told me recently that he is very proud to welcome advertisers here and to make them visit our accelerator, because it shows that our company is changing. That it is an innovation leader and not a lagger. And I think that’s very important.”

Companies and even politicians come to see what Sud Ouest is doing as they are curious about the fact that it seems more than a newspaper. Including former Minister of Economic Affairs and current President Emmanuel Macron.

Also read the previous article on Théophraste: in-house acceleration and collaborative enterprise

Media Lab Day

Sud Ouest will host the first Media Lab Day on 8-9 September 2017 organised by WAN-IFRA’s Global Alliance for Media Innovation. The event is free of charge and for WAN-IFRA members, but the number of places is limited. Participation will be on a first-come-first-serve basis.

You can register here.


Guillaume Vasse, CDO & CMO, Groupe Sud Ouest, France
Twitter: @gvasse



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