NOVA External Venturing is the Saint-Gobain unit dedicated to developing strategic partnerships between the Group and start-up companies all over the world. The NOVA team is an active member of the Open Innovation Club and participates to many of our events in San Francisco and Boston.

Delphine Hautoy is the External Ventures Manager focused on building partnerships between Saint-Gobain and start-ups that are aligned with the long-term strategy of the Group. Delphine is particularly interested in AR and VR technologies. She took a moment to give us some updates on the NOVA team and what they have been focusing on.

What is new with NOVA in the past year?

NOVA is actively focusing on six target areas: multi-comfort and energy efficiency, digital tools for customer journeys, VR and AR, advanced materials processing, life sciences, and sensors and connected objects. For the past year we have been deploying this new strategy and made sure we were aligned with the business units needs. This is really shifting the way NOVA is working with the business units, trying to go away from tech scouting to a business development-like arm.

To do so, we are trying to be fully embedded in the innovation eco-system by being actively involved with funds, incubators, start-ups and organizations like the Open Innovation Club. On the business side, we are looking to be closer to the actual business teams and deepen our understanding of the business needs. We then bring start-up and build partnership to help businesses bridge short-term or long-term gaps in their offering of products or services. It is important for NOVA to be aware of the business units’ strategy and needs and find the right start-ups and help build appropriate win-win partnerships.

How does NOVA External Venturing fit into Saint-Gobain’s global Open Innovation strategy?

Saint-Gobain has a real history of innovation. We have been nominated for the sixth year in a row as one of the World’s Top 100 most innovative organizations by Thomson Reuters. We have also been around for over 350 years.

It is critical for us to continue opening ourselves to the world to bring ideas and accelerate innovation to help us, our clients and the world solve some of the most challenging problems. This means not only working with start-ups but also with all actors of the ecosystem such as incubators, VC funds, University tech centers and any actor that aligns with the Group strategy.

Tell us more about your partnership with Greentown Labs and the startup ecosystem in general?

We were one of the first members of Greentown Labs, the largest cleantech incubator in the United States located in Somerville, MA. We have a “testing chamber” inside their walls that anyone can use. We also supported their site expansion through donations of materials and an extension of our partnership. 

Having an office there was also critical to building the right and solid partnerships and relationships with the ecosystem. We are actively engaged into strategic discussions with some of their start-up members. 

With start-ups in general, we are looking at building partnerships that are right for both parties. Those partnerships can take many forms and shapes from JDA to commercialization, geographical expansion support, equity taking and more rarely acquisitions.

You are focused on AR/VR – why is this a particular focus area for NOVA? What are some applications?

Saint-Gobain identified Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality as a target area for NOVA because our businesses want to know more about this technology and its development is happening now!  There are many different applications for AR and VR, but in my opinion 2017 seems to be the year for AR in the enterprise.

For Saint-Gobain, AR and VR can help in 2 different main areas: 

  • Internally, the technology can improve operations in the plants but also in the field like sales and marketing.  Concretely, we are piloting programs for remote maintenance and assistance in different plants around the globe, aiming at leveraging our experts and provide real time support for issues in plants.
  • Externally, it can show value to collaborate more closely with our customers, to facilitate the customer journey by helping clients making quicker and more sound decisions on buying products by visualizing them… We have apps deployed in different businesses mainly related to construction to help clients chose a new garage door or build up a veranda in their house.

Artificial Intelligence is booming, particularly in smart manufacturing. Is Saint-Gobain exploring this area at all?

It is indeed a booming field and we see more and more startups emerging around this technology. We look at Artificial Intelligence from the perspective that it is really embedded with industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing for us. For instance, we could use it to do more predictive analysis when it comes to an issue on a line. It is also part of customer journeys that are becoming more digital, and that we are also working on, by providing more granular data on customers.  We do not expect to replace people by robots or AI but it can enhance people capabilities in any function. The sky seems to be the limit on this topic!

How has the Open Innovation Club benefitted you?

We strongly value our participation to the Open Innovation Club and the OIC is a club I would encourage anyone to join. The Open Innovation Club has been able to understand our needs in terms of the startups we are interested in and focusing on, which is bringing value. I have been able to meet with relevant companies at every event I have attended.

Participating to these events is also a way for us to promote NOVA continue expanding our tradition for Innovation.