Meet Bertrand Rojat, Deputy VP Orange Technocentre

“The role and importance of start-ups is now widely acknowledged”

As a graduate of L’École Polytechnique and Télécom ParisTech, I’ve held various positions in telecommunications, IT and digital, as well as technical, marketing and commercial roles. With 20 years of varied experience, always linked to new business, I have a sound knowledge of the market and key players. This is useful in my role as Open Innovation Officer, where my goal is to stimulate co-innovation within an entire ecosystem of partners, customers and competitors.

“Start-ups bring us new ways to innovate”

Bertrand Rojat, Deputy VP Orange Technocentre

“Innovation is necessary for any company’s growth and development. That’s why Orange believes it’s essential to build a rich ecosystem around us – with start-ups, small, medium and large companies, partners as well as customers and competitors – to develop co-innovation.

Start-ups play a vital role within this ecosystem: they allow us to innovate in new ways, more pragmatically, around a well-defined problem, employing an agile approach and iterative development. The role and importance of start-ups is now widely acknowledged, as evidenced by the emergence of very large incubators and multiple programmes run by large companies.

Orange, for its part, supports start-ups by helping them with financing, customer contracts, co-innovation projects with Orange teams, and by giving them more visibility. We have a much more concrete approach today, for example through hackathons or “Innovation Challenges”. These run for a month and tackle a real issue, in collaboration with companies that commit to enter into an industrial partnership with the winners. At the same time, we stimulate innovation internally, via intrapreneurship, through the “Intrapreneur Studio”.

With this surge in start-ups, new players are emerging whose success is sometimes difficult to anticipate. Indeed, there’s no recipe for success. However, two ingredients are essential: a true vision and a good team! All the successful start-ups we’ve supported have both of these attributes. Telegrafik’s founder, for example, really impressed the Orange Fab selection jury by her pitch, which demonstrated a clear vision for her project. Similarly with Famoco, which designs toughened mobile devices, a French Tech start-up seeing rapid international development. Its founder showed real pragmatism when explaining his vision. Or Actility, an IoT start-up in which Orange is an investor, which has achieved outstanding performance. These examples illustrate that creating a start-up is also an incredible experience for the people involved. The Orange Fab network has already supported 300 start-ups… and as such has many beautiful stories to tell!”

Carole Garat, founder of Telegrafik, a French start-up created in 2013, which enables home care for the elderly through IoT technologies.

“Our project really started with the Orange Fab Accelerator”

You went through the Orange Fab Accelerator. What was your objective?

We joined the accelerator very early in the life of the company to take advantage of existing synergies between Orange and Telegrafik. Our collaboration has continued beyond the initial acceleration: we’re now working to industrialise a joint offer.

What benefits have you gained from Orange’s support?

Joining the Orange accelerator has helped to mature and evolve our concept. Beyond our initial business model, our project really started with an 18-month proof of concept (POC) through Orange, involving 50 pilot families and 850 participants.

Where are you today?

We have successfully raised more than €1 million in funds. We also won the BPI France Digital Innovation Competition, an investment of €1.3 million over an 18-month R&D project to develop our future offers. On a personal level, I had the opportunity to join the French Digital Council.

There aren’t many women leading today’s start-ups. How do women approach things differently?

Maybe a more moderate attitude to risk? The fact there are less of us is an advantage. We’re more rare, so we are more visible and better known. On the other hand, during the fundraising phase, prudence can be a disadvantage: investors love the risk!

What advice would you give to young start-ups – and entrepreneurs?

I’d start by congratulating them for having dared! Then I would advise them to be transparent, to discuss ideas, to go out and meet their customers or potential partners, other start-ups… these discussions help us evolve, reassure us and re-motivate us. Hiding is a sure-fire way to fail!

Relive the “Artificial Intelligence and Startup: a Human Adventure” conference held at the Women’s Forum (October 5th, 2017)