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Spotlight Interview: Techinnov's Aurélie Hard

Hard talks corporate interest in startups: "We're lagging behind foreign countries and we need to catch up. I think the major groups are becoming aware of this, but we need to catch up with countries like China or the United States, and that's undeniable."

Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov.
Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov.

Over the past year, the French tech ecosystem has shown a growing focus on the challenge of accelerating relations between large corporations and startups. While the government has been pushing this concept for years, there is still a feeling that the nation's biggest companies are too slow to embrace innovation and still too reticent to partner, invest, or acquire startups.

This subject will be at the forefront later this month at the latest edition of the Techinnov convention. Since the first edition in 2007, the event has had a core mission: Forging links between startups and incumbents. The event is organized by the Essonne Chamber of Commerce and Industry on behalf of the Paris Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce and Industry and will draw a mix of about 2,000 attendees from large corporations and startups.

While there will be the usual day-long series of keynotes and roundtables, the event is also intended to serve a very practical matchmaking role. Using its platform, attendees fill out extensive profiles that include wants and needs so they can find relevant contacts and organize meetings.

"The idea is really to help companies accelerate their development, find the right partner, save time, and get the best possible results from the contacts they make at Techinnov," said Aurélie Hard, project manager at the Essonne CCI and the person in charge of organizing Techinnov.

The latest edition follows a year where the government has launched a series of initiatives to facilitate partnerships and purchases by big companies from startups. By encouraging more sales to big companies, the government wants to give startups a boost while also helping those big companies pursue digital transformation.

For the latest edition of TechInnov, the French government has become an official sponsor via its €54 billion France 2030 program. As such, many of the themes at Techinnov align with the goals of France 2030: HealthTech, FoodTech, AgriTech, and CleanTech.

Despite these efforts, change has been slow. Techinnov cited a recent study by Raise and Bain & Company which said that 67% of large companies say they are aware of the benefits and operational challenges of working with startups. On the other side, 6 out of 10 startups surveyed say they find it difficult to get in touch with potential corporate customers, and 75% said that sales cycles are too long.

In advance of the event, I spoke with Hard about the major challenges that may be slowing the deployment of innovation in France.

Q: Why has it taken so long to change the dynamic between corporates and in France?

AH: I don't think large groups were yet aware of the potential and interest of working with a start-up. And now, there's been a real evolution on the part of the major groups who are showing more and more interest in start-ups these days. We've seen this clearly over the years at Techninnov with [French aerospace and defense giant] Thalès accompanying fifteen companies to the event. It's an indication of the interest of these major groups, who are here to do business and who can act as a kind of leverage for startups.

Q:  While each industry may have its own needs in terms of innovation, are there certain themes that are common to all industries?

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