par Gabriel Plassat • Non classé

To Berlin and Back Again

Post writen by Philippe MEDA, Innovation Copilot

A few days ago I went to Berlin with a few other people involved in the FabMob program in France. If you are reading this blog, you probably know that with Stéphane SCHULTZ at 15 Marches, my agency has been involved from scratch to help Gabriel PLASSAT design, prototype and copilot this program through its first year of existence.

The FabMob is unique in Europe regarding its scope: it’s a platform program trying to accelerate the French mobility ecosystem. Financed by the ADEME* (the national energy and environment agency) the program has no capitalistic perspective regarding the startups and industries it helps. The expected ‘payment’ is to produce reusable Commons that everyone in the ecosystem should be able to access. These Commons can be anything significative from open-source software bricks to data sets, or even post-mortem analysis of startup failures. In exchange for such remunerations, several actions are proposed such as *real* networking, training, learning expeditions, or proof of concept partners sourcing. And when I put an emphasis on ‘real’ in networking, I mean that we have the means and the will to connect startups to real stakeholders on a territory, or in a multinational.

So that was the pitch.

Now the question is: why go to Berlin, meet startups, accelerators, academics and corporates when you’re working for a French program?

There are three answers to this questions.

The first answer is the most obvious, and the one you expect to read: it is important to benchmark best practices in Europe, bring back key learnings and use them to mature the FabMob program. Well, yes, of course, it’s true. But it’s also slightly a bullshit answer. The kind that you’ll write in an administrative report to explain how the budget was spent. And if you say this, probably no one will dare say that the budget was misspent.

The truth is that pretty much everyone is doing the same things in term of innovation all other Europe. And that’s not a bad thing. In only 48 hours, we met key actors of a dedicated municipal mobility program (equivalent to programs in Paris or Lyon), an extensive hub concentrating in the same location every layer of the innovation ecosystem (think Saclay, Sophia Antipolis or Grenoble’s Europole), a public research institute focused on engineering and production, a no non-sense corporate accelerator (what should probably be SNCF startups initiative), and a design studio.  To some extent, all these initiatives share the same logics as their equivalent in France.

I would say that it is rather unnecessary to travel to Berlin to assess that.

The second answer is much more practical and does make a lot of sense for us. It’s also one of the key reasons the FabMob program was launched: trying to innovate the mobility market in France cannot be achieved until a critical mass is reached.

Or to say it in another way, you cannot change the way people in Paris commute to work a startup at a time. It would be like trying to boil an egg for ten seconds, stopping an hour, heating up the water for ten seconds, stopping… Changing a market as complex and as mature as mobility requires massive synchronicity, redundancy in the offer and the frontal deployment of innovations all other territories.

In that regard, we started 2016 by focusing on that aspect and trying to find territories or corporations capable of offering large-scale proof of concept deployments. We got many things right from the start, learned from a few mistakes, but essentially get the ball rolling pretty well. A central problem persists, though: France is a small market of fewer than 70 million people (two big cities in China) and a very, very risk adverse one on top of that (the worst in Europe to spontaneously adopt innovation). This is the second reason to “why go to Berlin?”, and it’s much real.

The right scope for a mobility acceleration program is Europe, and we have to prepare for this now that FabMob will enter its second year of existence.

Now this answer might raise many other questions. How many European countries are needed to build an effective program? What is the risk of pushing startups to flee France? How long and much money will you need to meet such expectations? Etc.

And this brings us to the third answer that no one wants to hear: working at a European level is easy as hell.

It only involves brushing up your English and having a valid ID. If you’re based in France, the logistics to go to Barcelona, Berlin or Birmingham is essentially less complex (and less expensive) than doing Paris – Bordeaux. And the upside is that you have access to different cultures: networks that might have less barrier to entry, cities that already have allocated money to experiment in a few months what your startup is designing, populations that are natively more willing to test innovations or that are more prone to use green techs, academics that understand engineering, etc.

And yes all these examples pertain to Berlin.

When everyone in France thinks about mobility and startup, Blablacar (one of our key co-founder and partner) comes to mind. Do you think they should cross no border and only work between Nice and Meudon? Innovation is a game of volume, we have to address that reality. So if we consider startups a few of them (or many) will want to run away from France and set up their team in Berlin. Why not? This goes both ways: we’re currently working in France with a 150 people US startup, with a European team based in Berlin. The question is not about trying to close our borders, but to make sure that our own local ecosystem is top notch. And, the last time I asked the Frenchtech team they were convinced that we were #1 in Europe. Who am I to dispute that?

Lastly working at a European level doesn’t mean that the FabMob will be physically represented in UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc. Innovating doesn’t require offices, flagship buildings and rotating logos spinning on every city skyline.

It’s just a matter of investing 48 hours every month or so, and connecting the right people together. Things tend to be rapidly amazing from there.  

And we already started. 

PS : Find all contacts on the wiki !

* ADEME is focused on environment and energy reduction. In the field of transportation, all serious scenarii demonstrate that half of the reduction will be done by technologies on car, fuel and engine and the other half by behavior changes. FabMob is designed to identify theses game changers and give them a chance to build next generation mobility services.