The social and solidarity economy is also entitled to incubators

Start-ups in the social and solidarity economy (SSE) respond to general social issues that are not being fully answered by public authorities, and that may no longer be interesting to traditional businesses. Dedicated incubators have developed in order to support them and respond to their specific requirements. Spotlight on Bond’innov in the Paris region with Director Ninon Duval, and Ronalpia based in Lyon with co-founder Lena Geitner.

Can you explain your incubator in a few words?

Ninon Duval: Bond’innov (opens in a new window) was created in 2011. It’s the only French incubator that specialises in innovation projects with French-speaking African countries. The idea came from both the Parisian suburb Bondy, home to many nationalities and diasporas, and also its founders including the Research Institute for Development (IRD).

Lena Geitner: Ronalpia (opens in a new window) was founded 5 years ago in Lyon by two students. We firmly believed that we had to stimulate the social and solidarity economy, and not just in the Paris region! We therefore wanted to create an ecosystem that promoted the development of these projects by providing funding and support to companies with a strong social conviction. Today we’ve expanded to Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Étienne.

What type of projects do you support?

L.G.: We identify the best social and solidarity economy projects. The selection process is based on criteria including the project’s stance, social purpose and sustainable business model and also success factors such as motivation, resilience and tenacity of project owners. Finally, of course, we select the most entrepreneurial projects in our region… or that want to set up in our region.

N.D.: We support innovation projects, which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re related to technology or science. They are mainly social or environmental innovation projects that can have a real impact in terms of sustainable development. They can be focused on any sector (health, agriculture, environment, food production…) but must create jobs and value in Paris and/or in one or more African country.

What support do you offer social entrepreneurs?

N.D.: We’ve designed new ways to support start-ups across different continents: online tools, various resources, remote support and opportunities to collaborate with other African incubators who we partner with. Finally, since 2016, we can offer finance tools such as unsecured loans.

L.G.: We offer personalised support to encourage entrepreneurs from the social and solidarity economy to come or stay in the region. We also encourage them to work among peers by organising group training. And to promote a real community, entrepreneurs who have benefited from the free incubation programme must give some time back by taking part in the selection committee, coaching, sharing their experience…

Ninon Duval © Bond’innov

Lena Geitner © DR

Ronalpia’s team © DR

What do you think is your main asset?

L.G.: Our key strength is that we dared! We took a chance on regional anchoring and our success confirms the need for specific SSE support in the regions. Each year, we receive 150 applications… for 30 places! Entrepreneurs face real regional inequalities when it comes to accessing funding or gaining visibility. This year, we want to go even further, by creating a dedicated incubator that will support isolated businesses without them having to come to Lyon or Grenoble, so that they can get help where they are. In the same spirit, we’re experimenting with an incubator outside metropolitan France too!

N.D.: Our biggest asset is our team: our people are international, passionate, multilingual, and they’ve developed a real know-how to meet the specific needs of our suburbs. This multicultural team is able to understand the models that are specific to the countries across Southern Africa. For example, a start-up presented us with a bank guarantee project for African students wishing to study in France. A conventional incubator would have a harder time understanding this project, yet Studely (opens in a new window) helped 600 students receive a loan last year in its first year of operating. And start-ups are expanding to 10 African countries this year!