A Whirlwind Tour of VivaTech 2017

According to French President Emmanuel Macron, France is quickly becoming a nation of startups. We couldn’t agree more. Which is why a conference like VivaTech is about a lot more than just showing off the latest VR gadgets (although those are pretty cool we have to say). What exactly is VivaTech you might ask? In the summer of 2016, France took on an ambitious project: creating a massive conference about all things tech and with the goal of bringing together businesses and startups to innovate the way into the future. Since breaking down barriers to innovation is something we know a lot about here at Stringcan, VivaTech has become one of the most important events we participate in each year. And this year’s showing certainly lived up to expectations. Picture 50,000 attendees, 5,000 startups, 7,000 CEOs, 1,000 investors, and some of the world’s biggest companies crammed into an exhibition center for a three-day smorgasbord of tech talent and innovation. Tech Crunch has the perfect one-word description: ginormous.

But Stringcan wasn’t just a passive observer at VivaTech 2017. This year, we partnered with none other than Cisco to help them design the strategy and planning for their IoT for Business Lab. We know that Cisco is among the most active companies working with startups today. For them, this isn’t just a trend they’re attaching their name to. It’s a way for the company to innovate and keep up with new technologies that they can integrate into their platforms to support their clients.

And that was essentially the idea behind Cisco’s presence at VivaTech. There were several more advanced startups that have been working with Cisco for some time (you have to check out Copsonic by the way - we heard these guys are the next big thing coming out of the French startup scene - ever heard of ultrasonic authentication?), as well as dozens of Cisco experts on site to help companies and startups with their software and hardware issues.

But the real highlight was the IoT for Business Lab. The idea behind the lab was simple: a two-day competition among 23 startups to create a low fidelity prototype that solves an actual Cisco partner client problem and can be integrated into one of Cisco’s platforms. Okay, so maybe the task doesn’t sound as simple as the idea behind it. But that was the point. This wasn’t just a time for networking over French espresso and croissants (though that was fun too). We wanted to see actual prototyping being done. The startups involved were able to select among three different challenge categories: Retail, Supply Chain, and Smart Buildings. In addition to Cisco experts assisting in the prototype development, there were also several Cisco client partner companies present to work with the startups to validate use cases. These included Nexity, Carrefour, Airbus, Manpower, and Norauto. Airbus, for example, presented startups with the challenge of creating a technology to guide helicopter landings in emergency situations.

Things started early on Thursday, the first day of the conference. After getting things kicked off with our very own Jason McDonald (we still don’t know where he gets all that energy at that hour of the morning) and Ghislain Bourgin from Cisco, Stringcan paired up startups and Cisco partner clients and led them in a Design Thinking Primer module. The keyword here was empathy. The startups were forced to come up with questions for Cisco partner clients in order to understand the challenge in more detail. From the answers they received during this first stage, the startups then produced POV statements that succinctly and precisely defined that challenge. The next step was something that we call “Pictionary on Red Bull”: six minutes of frantic sketching of prototype ideas. Finally, startups and partner clients discussed the ideas presented and made a game plan for how to develop the prototype. And yes, all of that was done in just over two hours. Talk about a morning workout. The afternoon was then left to connecting the startups to experts and partner clients on hand to help them continue to advance their ideas. This was a crucial stage, as it was very important that the startups were well advanced in their prototype design before pitching.

This continued into the next day as well. Stringcan once again played the role of facilitator: ensuring that the startups were talking to the right people and keeping track of their progress in terms of prototyping. John was an absolute hero in making sure this stayed organized. The rest of Friday morning was also filled with pitch practice for the startups; we wanted them in top shape for the afternoon. A big thanks to Joel and Sabri from the Stringcan team for giving the startups pointers to make their presentations pitch perfect (sorry I had to). Friday afternoon brought the blitz to a dramatic conclusion: each startup had three minutes to pitch their prototype to a jury of experts. Winners were then selected. Scanalytics took the prize for Smart Buildings, MishiPay in Retail, and Pzartech in Supply Chain. These three, along with eight of the other startups, will now have the option of working with Cisco over a four-week period to continue to advance their prototype and demo it to the company. The best startups from that next stage will then move into a more long-term relationship with Cisco. The champagne glasses came out (quite literally - we’re in France remember), and the rest of the evening provided ample opportunity for networking and meeting new friends and potential partners.

Saturday was certainly the calmest of the three days at Viva Tech, although it was also the only day open to the general public. There was a lot of time left for the startups to begin testing their prototypes and for general relationship building. We also invited startups from Cisco client companies, as well as some of our own startups from the Lab, to come pitch in front of an audience. By late afternoon, the three day conference had come to an end. A sigh of relief and an opportunity to get some much-needed sleep. Now you understand why we called it a whirlwind at the beginning.

This was our first year working with Cisco on this program, but the feedback we’ve been getting has been outstanding so far. Stringcan provided precision in planning and careful attention to strategy, and the results could be seen in how smoothly things went. But our most important contribution was in making connections and breaking down barriers to innovation. That’s sort of our specialty if you haven’t already heard. Needless to say, we hope to be back next year with more of the same. A big thanks to Cisco, the startups, and partner clients for making Viva Tech 2017 a great success. For now, it’s time to get back to work in the Paris summer heat!