A chat with Mike Sigal and Sheel Mohnot

Continuing my post series on what mattered last week, here is one about a chat with innovation gurus Mike Sigal and Sheel Mohnot, from 500, and Charles Ruelle and I from EHDA. We met last Friday in our EHDA Paris open space, overlooking Paris. This meeting was made possible by the incredible Pauline Pham, who built a partnership between Deloitte and 500 Startups, and facilitated by Michel De La Bellière, partner at Deloitte.

EHDA office has quite a nice view over Paris — here an EHDA blockchain debate

Why this partnership?

500 Startups being one of the very successful VC and accelerator program, why would they bother about the digital transformation of established corporates? The rationale for the partnership is clear for Deloitte, giving them a strong branding in the innovators’ world, but what’s in it for 500? I asked Mike and Sheel the question.

Mike and Sheel’s answer is straightforward: the visibility of 500 as an innovation platform, and the fact they attract many established corporates (investors in 500, acquisitions of startups in the portfolio, …) means they also get tons of questions about how to successfully operate a corporates’ transformation right. And it’s not a VC job to answer these.

So instead of a patchy answer, the partnership with Deloitte makes sense, as 500 can redirect the corporate digital transformation questions to a capable consultant with the right incentives to answer them and help operate the mutation. As a former consultant myself, I find the association quite nice: I left consulting in 2009 for more impactful life in the startup world, and today the startup world invite consultants at its table.

The chat went on about EHDA’s experience and the 18 months we spent scaling up innovations in the US, UK and France, growing from a 3 people team to nearly 40 today. Out of them, 80% are entrepreneurs in a way or another, and I strongly believe this is key to our outstanding output: EHDA delivers more than 100 experiments per year. Mike and Sheel congratulated us —well, these small moments, being recognized by innovation gurus, feel good!

Attracting top entrepreneurs

I often explain that one of the key enablers of EHDA success was our ability to attract top entrepreneurs and innovators to the world of Euler Hermes. One of my biggest questions these days is: how to continue to bring top level talent? Can we really scale EHDA up, as a platform for innovators? More precisely, how to continue to create the right conditions for a fair relationship with top entrepreneurs, when deep innovation starts spreading across Euler Hermes organization, way beyond EHDA?

When Louis and I co-founded EHDA, it was “difficult but easy”. Indeed, we acknowledged that Euler Hermes was operating in an industry that is unknown to innovators. Simply put, entrepreneurs do not wake up in the morning thinking of disrupting trade credit insurance. Actually even my wife does not manage to explain what this is about, when our friends bother asking. So this made our quest for top entrepreneurs difficult.

However, within minutes of engaging with most entrepreneurs, it matched systematically. Indeed our industry is unknown but fundamentally good, the underlying problems are fascinating, the potential is immense: nearly every entrepreneur we met ended up sharing our vision to build a better B2B ecosystem, leveraging the assets of Euler Hermes.

At the other end of the spectrum, when you can “go big” as a corporate innovators, attracting top entrepreneurs became relatively easy too, thanks to the fantastic work of visionaries like Scott Robinson. Hubs like Plug and Play Fintech create very scalable bridges between the innovators’ world and the universe of established corporates seeking to truly achieve their digital transformation.

Scott and Laurent launching the partnership between PNPTC and BNPP in March 2017

Euler Hermes’ approach is different. Our effort is very frugal and lean. Louis calls it an “alpine style” approach in reference to the mountaineering technique: climbing in a self-sufficient manner, carrying all food, shelter, equipment, etc. — no porter or oxygen supplement. And while EHDA scales up, we keep this frugal philosophy. Which raises the question — can we continue to attract top entrepreneurs? All the more when top innovation hubs also try to attract them?

(How) can EHDA continue to attract top entrepreneurs?

We asked the question to Mike and Sheel. Mike shared his insights on the success of the Innotribe Startup Challenge and the Swift Industry Challenge. In his experience, it is not so much the prize that matters — it is the connexions created between the innovators and Swift clients. Simply put, great startup accelerators give entrepreneurs access to invaluable mentors and investors: similarly, great innovative companies create invaluable connexions between their startup partners and their top clients.

Having worked with several innovators who participated in the Innotribe Startup Challenge, I can see how this was key to the path these entrepreneurs took. Year after year, the Challenge attracts top entrepreneurs, hence co-designing great innovations with Swift clients, and returning even greater value to Swift. Nice virtuous circle.

The Innotribe Startup Challenge success is an inspiring scale-up story for EHDA. We will do our best to continue to offer the best possible proposition to top entrepreneurs — attracting great innovators to our B2B world.

In particular, I am very excited about our upcoming Blockchain SCF Challenge. This is an initiative we designed to create a bridge between the best FinTech blockchain innovators and corporates interested in better understanding the added value of blockchain to their supply chain finance program. Stay tuned!