Frédéric Gerard is the CEO of Winnovation, the innovation arm of Bouygues Group. As an active member of the Open Innovation Club, Frédéric shared some insights on Winnovation’s innovation approach and trends he is currently scouting in Silicon Valley and beyond.
What is the role of Winnovation?
Winnovation is a subsidiary of the French conglomerate Bouygues. Bouygues is a diversified industrial group organized around five sectors of activity: construction, real estate, road and railway, telecoms and media. Winnovation is the external innovation unity based in Silicon Valley since 2001 covering all five sectors.
Our role is to identify new trends, and build partnerships between the group and startups as well as with large companies in the US. Since the beginning of 2016, Winnovation is also working for Webhelp, the third European Customer Support.
What is Bouygues’s innovation strategy?
Bouygues has always been an innovative company. It was actually the first construction company to own a computer, at a time when they were cumbersome and reserved for experts. Bouygues has innovation teams in all the subsidiaries and a centralized team to organize events and other initiatives.
For example, TFI hosts media startups, Bouygues Telecom organizes startup challenges and brings the winners for a week-long trip in Silicon Valley. Bouygues Construction and Bouygues Immobilier have internal innovation challenges for their employees and winners can see their idea come to life. Martin Bouygues, the chairman of the group, is even personally reviewing innovation during “Innovation Days” and other events. Recently the group decided to build investment funds in all the subsidiaries to help strategic startups.
What are your toughest challenges?
The toughest challenge is finding an internal champion or the right person within the group to engage with the startup. We need to find someone that is willing to invest time, to test and work closely with the startup on a solution.
Speed and timing is also quite challenging. We need to be able to keep interacting with the startups we engaged with, and be able to answer them fast. Having Winnovation’s team in Silicon Valley is key to help bridge the gap.
We probably engage with two hundred startups a year, have 10 POCs and only few contracts.
Do you think that open innovation is crucial for large corporations to remain at the cutting-edge of innovation? How does Winnnovation implement this approach?
Yes it is crucial ! Speed is important in the worldwide competition, and open innovation brings more speed to a large group like Bouygues. Winnovation understands the needs of the group and is able to find startups that can provide the right solutions. Being able to execute the right match-making between startups and executives in the group in crucial. We also need to be close to the startups and be in touch with them regularly and this is why Winnovation is based in the US.
What are the disruptive trends you have seen in Silicon Valley?
Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality devices are becoming available at a reasonable price and make the technology more attractive for professional uses cases. Artificial Intelligence and Bots are also a growing trend opening new capabilities.
What kind of technology / startup are you looking for right now?
- Indoor localization is still a missing digital building block to foster the use of robots and BIM (Building information Modeling) on construction sites.
- Security and health of all the workers on a construction site is key for us. We are always interested in technologies that help increase their security and make their work less tiring.
- Better serving Bouygues Telecom’s customers with new services and a better customer care are also a big focus.
What do you bring to startups with whom you engage?
We are customers first of the startups we work with. At first, one subsidiary will successfully use the product or service, and then all the others will follow. We partner with startups by testing their products or services in the field, and give feedback. We also want startups to succeed and gain more customers, so we promote their services to others.
What benefits do you see from participating in the Open Innovation Club?
The Open Innovation Club is a great way for us to interact with other large French companies with an office in Silicon Valley. It is also a opportunity to meet with US and French startups on a specific theme. It allows us to meet new startups and get introductions. Additionally, it is a good way to help French startups come to Silicon Valley.