A few days before VivaTech in Paris, the showcase of open-innovation, let’s focus on three companies that chose to set up their innovation labs in Nantes, attracted by the combination of creativity and innovation here.

With their traditional businesses declining, and challenged by start-ups and the GAFAs, large companies have understood that they can’t compete unless they update their models and open up to the outside world. They need to experiment, reinvent themselves, test prototypes, dust off their images and make their employer brands more attractive in order to achieve their transformation. Impressed by the urban project on the Ile de Nantes, La Poste, the Eram group and Microsoft have set up their innovation labs there. They tell us why.

La Poste and its new "Maison de l'Innovation" on the Ile de Nantes

It is in Nantes that La Poste Group will open its "Maison de l’Innovation" at the end of 2021. With 1000 IT specialists today, the Nantes metro area is the company's second largest R&D centre after the Paris region. Currently spread over four sites, they will soon be grouped together in a 15,500 m2 building in the booming Creative Arts District on the Ile de Nantes and the local digital ecosystem. A stone's throw away, the Alstom Halls rise up (pictured above). These former shipyards have been completely renovated to support Nantes’ digital ecosystem, with the Cantine Numérique, startups, the digital campus, a makerspace, a business development centre, and more.

“It’s a contemporary building that will encourage innovation,” says Louis Ramin, Director of the La Poste Network Information System. Innovations include self-guided trolleys to follow mail carriers, smart mailboxes, etc. “It is our Nantes-based developers, with the support of startups incubated in Nantes, who came up with most of these innovations. The Nantes staff are also working on the 100% digital bank ‘Ma French Bank’ to be launched in the summer of 2019,” says the director.

The "Maison de l’Innovation" will strengthen the open-innovation culture and help make La Poste the leader in local services. “La Poste is a company that provides value and local services to the public. Digital transformation affects everyone, so we are thinking about how innovation can improve our services.” La Poste intends to involve local residents in this discussion. The ground floor of the "Maison de l’Innovation" will have a 400m2 collaborative workspace open to the public, where La Poste plans to encourage projects focusing on inclusion that go well beyond its core business, such as initiatives in favour of disadvantaged populations or for young people. Nothing is set in stone, and another idea is to set up a project focusing on the arts and digital technology, given the proximity to Stereolux.
With an average employee age of 50, a second issue is that of the employer brand. La Poste needs to become more attractive to young talent. The new building should reinforce the work already carried out, for example with the School of Design or the Ynov School. "We are investing in artificial intelligence technologies to personalize customer relationships. This is an area that may be of interest to young graduates.”

The Eram Group gains perspective in the Sixième Ciel

"Gain perspective while staying grounded". This is the motto of the "Sixième Ciel", the lab that the Eram Group opened in May 2018 on the 6th floor of the Zero Newton Building (photo above). A leading shoe retailer in France with a dozen brands and more than 1000 stores, this family-owned company, based in Maine-et-Loire 60 kilometres from Nantes, has moved into this collaborative space in the booming Creative Arts District to successfully complete its transformation. "It’s not so much a lab, but rather a hub, the vehicle of our transformation, an open-air laboratory to foster new ideas, connections and creative friction with the ecosystem," says Renaud Montin, in charge of crafting the company’s transformation in this collaborative space. The 3rd generation of Eram leaders are reinventing the company to build a more sustainable model, focusing on "Change for good" (eco-design, reduce packaging, new marketing methods) as well as in the way employees work.

The goal of Sixième Ciel is to engage with others and focus on users to reinvent the company, by promoting connections with the ecosystem and higher education institutions. The prototype of the E-Vone fall-alert smart shoe was designed with the help of the entire ecosystem and feedback from customer groups, as well as the expertise of startups located at the innovation lab. “This is how we will create new pockets of value, through the power of collective resources," says Renaud Montin.

Eram Group's teams also meet periodically in this collaborative space for innovation to co-construct new business practices. Sitting at a tall table, a dozen young merchandisers are working on the next merchandising book for stores. "This is a place where we can accelerate the projects. When the employees are here, they get away from their daily routines, they come here to gain perspective and move their projects forward," explains Renaud Montin. The digital transformation is not just for marketing and communication teams, it concerns everyone. All employees working in the group are invited once a month to participate in "learning expeditions" to discover the collaborative space and find out about the sociological and cultural changes influencing consumer behaviour.
With its fantastic view of the architectural metamorphosis of the Creative Arts District, the site is ideal for hosting external events.

The first "Microsoft Experiences Lab"

Microsoft has chosen Nantes for its very first "Microsoft Experiences Lab", located in Connecting Place, a coworking space at the Nantes St-Nazaire Chamber of Commerce. The leader in productivity platforms and services has been pursuing an open data strategy for several years now, engaging in numerous partnerships with competitors such as SAP and Adobe.

Unlike large groups such as La Poste, which have their own innovation teams, Microsoft intends to promote innovation by joining forces with its customers, SMEs, start-ups or large companies such as Bénéteau and Fleury Michon based in the Nantes region. Microsoft has more than a hundred partners in the area who integrate its solutions in companies.
"SMEs often have 2-3 people who, with a view to digital transformation, will leave the company to get additional training. The Microsoft Experiences Lab will not be a showroom, but will offer sector-specific events that promote ideation, sharing and the local expertise and talent to meet these innovation needs. Our customers will be able to talk to our experts to find the right solutions for them," explains Jérôme Barrier, Director of the Small, Medium and Corporate division.

After two years of research to decide where to open their lab, they chose Nantes for a number of reasons. Pays de la Loire is a dynamic region and has a large number of Microsoft partners, including publishers/startups, integrators, large digital services companies like CGI and new data intelligence companies like Explore. "The Nantes Saint-Nazaire area has a diversified economic environment, with many Microsoft partners and a particularly dynamic startup ecosystem," says Jérôme Barrier.

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