André Bélanger is the president of Hyperliens, a Montréal company with the mission of accelerating innovation in major companies by working with start-ups. Hyperliens is the consultant for these two realms of the business world for the Ubisoft InnoBahn series. He talked to us about building bridges between entrepreneurs and business giants.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – When you talk about a project between a start-up and a major company, you call it collaborative innovation rather than open innovation. Why is that?
André Bélanger (A.B.) – It’s the most fitting term because we are talking about collaboration with an agent outside the company. This is a joint creation and testing initiative, and not a request for proposals, which provides control over and predictability in the product being delivered.
CCMM – Why should a major company get involved in a joint creation effort?
A.B. – There has to be a desire to work with an outside player that is going to challenge the company. Large companies are always torn between the desire for a solution that meets their needs and the desire for an innovative product. That tension is healthy.
CCMM – And the start-up?
A.B. – It should already have a product or service. A start-up is a temporary organization created to find a market. That means it is exploring; it’s looking for a business model and customers. The Ubisoft InnoBahn experience, which is not an exercise in creativity, is somewhere between incubator and accelerator. It’s an opportunity for start-ups to find a company that will test its product or service.
CCMM – What is Hyperliens’ role in this initiative?
A.B. – We are a catalyst. On one side, we guide the major company in defining its need for innovation, based on the underlying problem it is facing. Then together we define the framework for the project that will be carried out with the selected start-up. We work with the company to assess the value of the start-ups’ pitches, and we help it mediate between the desire for a working solution and the desire to test innovations. On the other side, we help start-ups present their solution to a large company. And after the Ubisoft InnoBahn event, we ensure the pilot project is carried out with the start-up selected and the major company. So it’s an evolving process of joint creation.
CCMM – Let’s talk about the importance of the pitch. What advice would you give start-ups for making a pitch with impact?
A.B. – A pitch has to let the company project itself into the innovation. You need to make them dream at the same time as showing that you are sensitive to their need via the solution presented. The way I see it, there are four dimensions to the pitch.
Reframing the large company’s need. How does the start-up see the problem? How can its product or service respond, in a different context, to the large company’s need? The proposed solution has to open avenues the company would not have exploited on its own.
Clearly presenting the solution and its full potential. It may need to be used throughout the company and not just to solve the problem.
Reassuring the company by demonstrating its ability to deliver and understanding of the risk. Keep in mind that when a company accepts the start-up’s solution, its customers and employees will be destabilized by what’s being proposed. So they want to control their risk.
Unlike an investor, who looks less at a team’s abilities than the market and growth potential, the company needs to know more about the start-up to trust it. So it is important to explain how its approach is realistic and doable. This is a very pragmatic effort: in the end it’s a sales process with a client.
Wrapping up the pitch by reviewing the arguments presented in the solution.
CCMM – Hyperliens has worked with some 50 start-ups since its inception. Have you seen any changes in Montréal’s start-up ecosystem?
A.B. – Absolutely. There is increasing maturity among start-ups: they’re more grounded, and their pitches are increasingly clear. I think Ubisoft InnoBahn reflects the strength of Montréal’s start-up ecosystem.