Station F: How large corporations are working with startups

Station F, a converted 24,000 square meter railway station just outside downtown Paris, is home to one of the most innovative, ambitious and revolutionary startup ecosystems in the world.  The co-working space has over 1,000 ventures working inside of it at any given time.  The majority of spaces are filled by incubators and accelerators of the world’s largest companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, Adidas, LVMH and L’Oréal.  The ventures inside back numerous ideas from areas of blockchain to artificial intelligence and consumer/retail to social impact.

It was interesting to see how large corporations are tapping into the startup ecosystem.  They want to take advantage of successful startup ventures that may add value to their companies.  However, sometimes it is unclear how larger companies should best work with and engage startups.  We visited the accelerators of Adidas (Platform A) and L’Oréal and saw how they target startups and how they work with startups once they are inside the accelerator programs.

Platform A recently finished closing its first class of startups entering its accelerator.  Platform A decided that each year it would choose themes that it found relevant to Adidas’ core business or customers base and search for startups that fit those characteristics, allowing them to adjust to different trends in the industry each year.  The startups working with Platform A augmented Adidas’ core businesses in many unique ways.  Platform A’s first class of startups include Hero (a live shopping service that connects online shoppers with in-store associates to assist them in purchasing decisions), Overtime (an online sports network that distributes content on social media), Eyecandy (a technology that is introducing augmented reality to sports content) and Running Care (an online coach that helps runners prevent and treat injuries).

Platform A – Adidas Accelerator @ Station F

L’Oréal’s accelerator program was much more targeted in its approach.  They specifically look for startups that are in three main areas:  1) Niche beauty brands that have unique product innovations, 2) Tech startups that have capabilities in areas such as virtual reality, machine learning and social commerce and 3) Tech startups that focus on digital services within beauty.  L’Oréal limits the inclusion to 20 startups per class and most importantly, each startup is given specific mentorship from a dedicated L’Oréal team.

However, it remains an open question to what the best practices are for integrating successful startups into a larger company after completion of an accelerator program (e.g. acquire the entire startup or only seek out specific innovations that could be incorporated into certain business areas) or for the  services/benefits larger companies should offer to startups.  Additionally, there remain issues of IP sharing during startup participation in accelerator programs.  It will be interesting to see how these issues evolve over the next years.  However, one thing is clear.  Large corporations are doing everything they can to tap into and take advantage of the startup ecosystem and Station F is now one of the world’s best startup facilities.

And with that, we are wrapping up our tour. Thank you for following us this summer!

– Team FTS

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