LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is boosting its startup engines with the launch of an accelerator program — La Maison des Startups — based at Station F, a Paris campus for such entities.
The space will serve as a year-round physical base for a community of startups developed through various initiatives implemented by LVMH since the arrival of group chief digital officer Ian Rogers two and a half years ago.
LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault on Monday led a select group of journalists on a tour of the space, which measures around 2,400 square feet with around 89 work stations.
Set to host 50 international startups yearly in two six-month terms, the program is geared at accelerating collaboration between a curated range of fledgling companies proposing solutions and services for the luxury market and LVMH’s portfolio of 70 brands. All of the startups are already in discussion with, or developing projects with, one or more of the group’s brands, according to a statement.
Over half of them were identified through the LVMH Innovation Award, introduced last year in partnership with the annual Viva Technology fair, which is set to celebrate its third edition this year. Areas span artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, retail and e-commerce, blockchain and anticounterfeiting, and raw materials and sustainability.
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Trend anticipator Heuritech — winner of the inaugural innovation award in 2017 — figures among the program’s first batch of participants. Its neighbors will include VisioPM, specializing in digital signage solutions; Aryballe Technologies, which develops and sells portable, connected and universal odor senses, or digital noses; Sericyne, the inventor of a new highly resistant material produced using silkworms; and Cypheme, an artificial intelligence program capable of detecting a counterfeit product by analyzing the microstructure of the packaging using only a picture from a smartphone.
LVMH employees whose pitches have won awards on the group’s DARE LVMH intrapreneurship program, introduced last July, will also be invited to the space to develop their projects. One is said to involve the creation of a new brand for the group.
Station F was created and backed by Xavier Niel, the life partner of Delphine Arnault, who is executive vice president at Louis Vuitton, the group’s largest brand, a member of the LVMH board and the daughter of Bernard Arnault.
The site is billed as the largest startup campus in the world, measuring 58 meters in width and 310 meters long, the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower lying down.
Based in a reconverted freight station in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, the location was designed by French engineer Eugène Freyssinet in the ’20s, with architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte behind its new incarnation.
The venue boasts eight event spaces, a 360-person auditorium called the Master Stage, 24 themed lounges, more than 60 meeting rooms located in raised glass-fronted shipping containers and a coworking coffee shop, dubbed Anticafé.
Among other actors moving in on the space, L’Oréal in October inked a strategic partnership with Station F to support the development of early-stage digital beauty startups around the globe.
The driving motive for La Maison des Startups, explained LVMH’s Rogers during an interview in the run-up to its launch, was to “funnel” the torrent of startups in the group’s space and nurture relationships with the most relevant crop throughout the year in a dedicated space.
LVMH will provide workshops, networking sessions and seminars, with personalized coaching and support from in-house experts.
The second edition of the group’s innovation award has attracted applications from more than 800 startups, almost 60 percent more than last year, Rogers said. Around 30 finalists selected by a group of journalists and venture capitalists will present in the group’s Luxury Lab booth at Viva Technology in May, with a new winner to be selected.
“One of the things we’ve discovered is that LVMH is so vast, there are challenges of scale. There are so many startups in our space, they call the brands directly, the brands are looking for solutions,” he said.
He said some brands contact him, others reach out to co-CEO of German luggage maker Rimowa, Alexandre Arnault, while still others call on Groupe Arnault, the investment firm controlled by the Arnault family. “There’s no way to get your arms around it,” Rogers said.
“Alexandre Arnault was the one who said, ‘Hey, let’s do something big that gives us a rhythm. Let’s create a moment where we build a relationship with the ones that matter,’” he added. “Instead of it being totally ad-hoc, there’s a process. What I’ve learned is, if you don’t formalize it, you don’t stand a chance. It’s death by a thousand cuts. It gives us a place and a way to prioritize.”
The idea is also to encourage interactions with the group’s “maisons.”
“We hosted Claude Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Parfums Christian Dior, and he spent three hours with the start-ups. Laurent Boillot [Guerlain’s president and CEO] is down there a lot as Guerlain has a team working out of there,” said Rogers, adding that the meetings are set up in a spontaneous manner so as not to create too much distraction for the startups.
“I’ll speak for myself and Alexandre Arnault: I’ve done a number of startups myself, and he’s in the startup community — it’s not a corporate zoo. I don’t want it to be like, ‘Come look at the startups, these foreign creatures.’ [What we look at is], what are some legitimate ways that we can help their businesses, that we can learn from them, get inspiration?” he said.
Rogers described Station F as being like a little city, saying of its scale: “I’ve never personally participated in anything like it.”
“We wanted it to be a beautiful, comfortable place to work, but not extravagant,” he said of the LVMH space.
“When you’re a startup, you don’t need to leave Station F, you can do everything there. You can eat, interact with the French government, make use of the post office — it’s just amazing,” continued the executive, who prior to being tapped by Arnault worked on the launch of seven startups in the music business — including Mediacode, which was purchased by Yahoo — and headed up the launch of Apple Music.
Groupe Arnault and LVMH Luxury Ventures, a new investment entity for emerging brands launched last year, are open to investing in the startups, he said, but “it’s mostly about having this focal point.”
“What is certainly true is that Groupe Arnault is aware of every startup, it’s on their radar … You just want to have that relationship,” added Rogers. Asked if there are other similar initiatives in the pipeline, he replied: “Right now, we’re open. And I think that’s very much the startup way.”