Start-up: the word on everyone’s lips in the business world. We see it at the heart of larger organizations, who feel the winds of change blowing. But these ideas rarely spread without the support of more established key players. And big businesses actually play an essential role in the success of smaller, newer enterprises.
The vital input of businesses
How can large organizations offer concrete help to start-ups?
This is the subject that brought three visionary businessmen together for Montreal’s Startupfest on July 12th: Henri Dolino, Senior Director of Innovation and Digital Strategy at the Desjardins Group; Francis Baillet, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Ubisoft; and Serge Legris, Vice-President of Engineering, Technologies and Products at Videotron.
The discussion was led by Géraldine Martin, Director of Enterpreneurship for the city of Montreal.
Videotron and the Open Sky Laboratory for Smart Life
Videotron quickly saw the importance of helping businesses that are just starting out. It is one of the key partners in the Parcours innovation de PME Montréal program (french only), as well as the Salon 1861, the Défi OSEntreprendre, and the Notman House.
In September 2016, along with Ericsson, the Quartier de l’innovation and the ÉTS, Videotron launched the first Open Sky Laboratory for Smart Life in Canada,
As Serge Legris explained at Startupfest, the idea behind the laboratory is to offer an infrastructure that allows start-ups to try out their ideas. That way, they can take full advantage of cutting-edge technologies to which they might not otherwise have access.
Audacious apps, clothing and connected urban buildings, devices for regulating air quality or traffic, everything can be tested in a quasi-realistic environment. For start-ups it’s a one-of-a-kind luxury.
“It’s a sandbox, a playground,” Legris says. It’s also a parallel universe, and it’s important that it stays that way. “With millions of customers, Videotron would have difficulty letting a start-up put a new technology to the test, inside of our production network. But thanks to the laboratory, we can make a parallel mini-network, that’s not connected to the real production network. And with that, we can play around a little. We can test, explore, progress and proceed through trial and error.”
The start-up philosophy
The development model of start-ups is flexible. Concretely, it proceeds by levels of improvement. Instead of waiting for a product to be completely finished before launching, they put the basic features out there, collect user feedback, and better the product by enriching the experience and correcting any problems. And then they move on to the next step.
“We want to give businesses a chance while they’re getting started to collect this precious data coming from users,” clarifies Legris. Data that measures user satisfaction, functioning and preference. When we want to improve a product, this information is vital. All of that is possible with the Open Sky Laboratory for Smart Life.”
A mentorship role
Beyond providing technological possibilities, an incubator environment and, of course, financing, large enterprises can also get involved as mentors.
The experience of men and women who’ve “been there”, their contacts, advice, and also their encouragement, can often make a difference between an idea that really takes off in the form of a business, and one that will remain only an idea.
“Videotron is a leader in Quebec,” Legris reminds his colleagues at Startupfest. “And a leader should be someone who helps others grow. In the end, everyone benefits.”
How to measure the success of getting involved with start-ups
For Videotron, the measure of success is not primarily financial.
The primary indicators of success are the rate of participation in the laboratory, the enthusiasm that it inspires, and the quality and diversity of the projects that are submitted.
Of course, the company wants new businesses to get started, to develop, and to mature. “But all of that is a bonus. “Videotron is in the business of innovation, letting creativity blossom and come into its own. Then, we’ll see.”
Submitting a project to the Open Sky Laboratory for Smart Life
Starting in the fall of 2017, an online portal will be put in place. This will be the main port of entry for start-ups who would like to participate in the Open Sky Laboratory for Smart Life. The platform will be very thorough, and all the pertinent information will be easily accessible.
At the moment, businesses that are just getting started, who are already prepared, can submit their project through the Quartier de l’innovation’s website:
Start-ups are transforming industries and changing our lives. Videotron welcomes, encourages and supports this kind of change.