Outrunning Disruption.

Imagine and build the city of tomorrow.

Meet Incubateur HEC Paris corporate partner Nicolas Bellego, Innovation Director at Icade and Director of Urban Odyssey startup studio.

Lean as implemented in large companies today, is not wrong. In fact, it is much better than it was ten years ago. But it's still perfectible. We know now that startups aren’t smaller versions of large companies. And we also know that companies aren’t bigger versions of startups. That's why it was important to us to connect with Nicolas Bellego, Incubateur HEC Paris corporate partner to get a glimpse of his 15 years of work in the innovation sector and share his advice on how to foster a start-to-end open innovation culture.

Hi Nicolas, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Sure! As early pionneer in start-up incubators in Paris and before joining Icade, I worked both with public organisations (City of Paris, Academics, ...) and private players, from start-ups to large corporations. What really drives me, are three things: design, urban innovation and catalizing entrepreneurship for positive impact.

In 2010, I was part of the creation of Paris&Co - the innovation agency of the City of Paris - where I created and ran several incubation programs to help both start-up and large companies partner up and collaborate. I specifically worked on smart city issues with companies like Renault or SNCF (smart mobility) or JCDecaux (new urban services)

More recently, at Icade, I launched Urban Odyssey, the first corporate start-up studio dedicated in creating solutions for better and more resilient cities. Launched hand-in-hand with Incubateur HEC Paris we select and accelerate our projects in 6 to 9 months at Station F.

With your extensive experience on "both-sides", can you tell us how corporate innovation has evolved and expanded with the advent of open source and other innovation models ?

More than ten years ago, open innovation was the answer to companies in need to inject more innovations into their pipelines while reducing risk and increasing their success rate. This quest for ideas coming from outside initiated the first model of collaboration between large companies and startups. The model, though, was at that time dyadic and by definition not as "open" as it should be. Followed then a multitude of iterative models, innovation labs, excubators, and of course the concept of intrapreneurship.

Over the years, and based on the challenges that I had experienced innovating both within incubators and within large companies, it became clear that it was not one model or another but a hybrid approach that will enable the programs to succeed. A capacity to identify both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs and build the projects nor inside nor outside but alongside the business. And this is what we aim to achieve with Urban Odyssey, our startup studio.

Tell us more about Urban Odyssey, what problems were you trying to solve with the program?

The goal was to design a tool that enables a "two-way bridge" for collaboration and a bespoke model for Icade to build new businesses that will make a positive impact on everyday urban life. But it is above all the story of a successful internal experiment, Cycle Up, an intrapreneurial initiative resulting from a collaboration between the Egis and Icade groups. Led by teams of intrapreneurs from both groups, the project has today become an independent startup specializing in the reuse of construction materials (one of the needs of the group), with a team of 15 people and operating in the construction and real estate market. The initiative made sense because it comes from industry players and can then be deployed directly in the market. This is what brought us to Urban Odyssey. The startup studio makes possible to associate the agility of entrepreneurs with the striking power of an actor like Icade.

How has the project evolved since its launch?

It was a bet, a test made in 2019. The initiative was launched to co-create five or six startups after the Cycle Up project. We were quite open about how the projects came to us - either from inside the company to move them into startup mode, or from outside, with entrepreneurs who needed the support of a large group. The projects selected have now evolved into independent businesses that are expanding into their target markets, such as Vertuo, which focuses on the issue of rainwater in buildings using plants, and is now based Rue de Rivoli , and has received the Solar Impulse label and support from the TIGA program - Investment for the Future.

This year, the issues important to Icade around the city of tomorrow, such as low carbon, biodiversity conservation, better living in the city and at home, are once again at the heart of the call for projects. These issues have been retained and strengthened in response to the crisis that the country has just gone through. Regarding the selection criteria, the program is open to all kind of early stage projects : the only prerequisite is the involvement of Icade in the creation of the startup, not only through the acquisition of a stake, but above all through the deployment of the solution in Icade's markets. We do not forbid other investors to enter the capital, and we are careful not to take up too much room in our first participation. This is why, on the Urban Odyssey board, you will find four members of Icade, and four other investors - Axeleo, Bpifrance, Caisse des Dépôts, and HEC Paris management team.

What's next for Urban Odyssey?

In order to best adapt to the needs of each project, the program was designed and sequenced in two stages. The first phase aims to support the development of the product market fit as quickly as possible. 200,000 to 300,000 euros in equity in the project, from very early stage, so that founders can focus on the "business" aspect as a priority.

At the same time, thanks to our partnership with Incubateur HEC Paris , the projects are incubated for 6 to 9 months at Station F, and thus benefit from the help and advice of the network of HEC Paris and Icade experts. Our goal, and what is at stake, is to industrialize, so that these initiatives can have a real impact on the city. If we want it to change, we have to industrialize. That's why this initiative does not necessarily call for disruption; we want to support the evolution of models and usages, which is already a major challenge.

What are your top 3 tips for a large company who wants to innovate?

  • The objective needs to be cristal clear. Focus on the Why?

  • Build your own model and recruit dedicated teams with expertise in incubation, start-ups, entrepreneurship - do not delegate everything externally in the management of your program or you will struggle to capitalize.

  • Design a hybrid model : one foot out to allow oneself to do things differently, one foot in to co-create value.

What added-value did Incubateur HEC Paris bring to you?

An unmatched expertise in the accompaniment of startups . With more than 70 startups incubated every year, it's a proven partner! Combine that with their knowledge of the corporate world, and you'll find a real "war machine" in achieving tangible results in record time.

Is there one piece of advice that you’d give to a corporate partner joining Incubateur HEC Paris?

Go for it! But get involved and stay committed. It only works if you are active, it's not about delegating and Incubateur HEC Paris got that right since the beginning. It is not a consulting mission. To each its own job!