Leonard, the 4 pillars of a wise corporate Open Lab

Leonard  is the new innovation entity initiated by VINCI, a major player in construction, and concession agreement indutries. VINCI designs, finances, builds, and operates infrastructure and facilities that help improve daily life and mobility for all. I spoke with Matthieu Lerondeau, Leonard Head of Communications & Communities, about the missions, and organization of Leonard.

1) Nicolas: Leonard rolls out a range of various activities:  technological watch, prospective analysis / foresight (autonomous car, smart city, and digital infrastructures & buildings), incubation, and acceleration. Would you describe these 4 missions for our readers? How would you name this new type of entity: innovation center, innovation incubator, innovation fab, another name?

Matthieu: The combined effects of the digital revolution and energetic transition are reshaping business models in the scope of work of the VINCI Group, a major player in the construction, and concessions fields. We need to think long term, add perspective to our market developments, and seize the new growth opportunities that are opening in this transforming landscape.

In order to identify and tackle these new opportunities, the VINCI ExCom has decided to create Leonard, which you could call an Open Laboratory for the future of cities, and the infrastructure. The project has officially launched in May 2017.

We explore new trends, and point ongoing and coming transformation and disruption in our businesses around the world. You can have a fairly good idea of our fields of interest by checking out our daily trends watch on our Twitter account, and subscribing to our newsletter.

We host and facilitate foresight groups that bring together representatives from all our brands, and lines of work in order to propose new courses of action, and business projects to the VINCI ExCom on emerging long term issues that will be addressed best if addressed together: cities and infrastructure resilience to climate change, the connected and autonomous vehicle and the infrastructure, the future of work, and the impact of digitization on the value chain in construction.

We accelerate cross-business innovative projects led by VINCI employees, support innovative projects emerging at the Group level, and help startups that may open up growth opportunities for VINCI to find their way within the Group.

This Spring, we will open a new 1,400 sq. meter space in Paris that will offer coworking, host innovative projects and promote events dedicated to the future of cities and the infrastructure.

2) My VINCI Startup is the intrapreneurs incubation program: would you explain how VINCI support its employees in order to turn them into intrapreneurs? The first season just highlighted 10 intrapreneurial projects: would you share some of them? If you share this view, would you illustrate how some are close to Vinci core business, while others seem to open new market opportunities?

Our first Group-wide call to innovative projects among VINCI employees received almost 100 answers. A selection committee including external partners selected 10 of them, led by people from a large diversity of brands and trades in VINCI. The only instructions that they were given were to craft a new business value proposition, and to suggest new business ideas that would be relevant to at least 2 brands of VINCI.

Projects include a huge variety of innovative approaches of our trades: a new offer of shared housing, financing the energy transition, developing a new 3D conception tool for renovation, 3D printing and circular economy!

These guys were offered a 4-months journey, during which they would dedicate 20% of their time to developing their projects as well as coaching, and mentoring from the Leonard team, experts and entrepreneurs ready to share their knowledge and experience.

A new selection committee in February will determine which projects will carry on their journey on an extra full-time 4 months period (100% time dedicated to the project).

Our Intrapreneurs are just getting done with their Rush Week: we have just spend 4 days together in our brand new HQ near Gare de Lyon, in Station F, and coworking places such as Numa. During this intensive week, they will have lived the life of entrepreneurs and met more than 30 mentors, among which Julien Coulon, one of the founders of Cedexis, who shared a lively view of his own journey…

3) What will be the acceleration program for startups, and when will it open? What startups will you target?

This aspect of our operations is still work in progress. We have a very pragmatic and cold-headed approach to open innovation and dealing with startups.

There is no “one size fits all” when dealing with young ventures. A personalized and hands-on framework is to be designed for every collaboration opportunity.

At this point, we have started by building a deal flow of companies and partners likely to bring added value to the Group’s offering (construction, infrastructure, mobility, energy, etc.). We also answer to requests from entities of the Group to evaluate the propositions of startups seeking business or funding by VINCI.

At Leonard, startups will be selected in very specific fields of operations in order to collaborate on new business opportunities, and bring their know-how and expertise to the table.

4) Why did you choose to incubate intrapreneurs and accelerate entrepreneurs in the same location? What synergies do you encompass?

With this new location that will open this Spring in Paris, we want to create a completely new environment for VINCI teams, and all innovators working on the future of cities and infrastructure, that will encourage new encounters, mutual discovery, and finally hybridation.

As our Rush Week just proved, intrapreneurs are first, and foremost entrepreneurs: initiators of original startup projects that will share the same challenges, issues and methods as almost any founder. We expect them to share a lot of their issues and priorities with the startups we will host in the future.

5) Leonard’s identity seems to reflect a vivid openness. Why did you choose this angle, and how do you plan to sustain this promise?

We firmly believe openness and hybridation will be key to succeed in creating brand new business propositions and added value for the Group. For instance, we are working on making of Leonard:Paris a hive for all innovators in our trades: coworking and public events will be central to creating those new encounters and collaborations. More: we are impatient to meet the first partners to whom we will hand the keys of our new space to create events and debate ideas we wouldn’t have thought of!

We also believe that the diversity of our team reflects this determination to openness. Leonard is run by a dedicated team of 6 from diverse backgrounds: Philippe Dewost, “Chief Leonard Officer”, has a long record as an entrepreneur and head of investment in Digital at Caisse des Dépôts. Nathalie Martin-Sorvillo, in charge of Innovative Projects and Intrapreneurship, has a long history with VINCI. Julien Villalongue, our Head of Operations and Foresight has spent 4 years working for VINCI Autoroutes. An entrepreneur for 10 years in the digital communication and innovation agency La Netscouade, I joined Leonard as Head of Communities and Communications, simulated by the ambition of crafting a vision and projects that will impact the life of millions. Pierrick Bouffaron, a former Senior Associate at BNP Paribas in San Francisco and a scholar, runs the Acceleration. We were joined by Laure Blanchard, a talented Communication manager who works with me on our communications and community management.

If you believe like us that the future of cities and infrastructure bring together some of the most exciting challenges for innovation and technology, please join our newsletter and our Twitter account to follow our work and be among the first to discover our future innovation space in Paris!



  1. Salut Nicolas,
    very good post and quite instructive.
    It shows in my view a new stage to leading established organizations to embrace innovation at their own capabilities and carefully managing the engagement process with intra and entre preneurs to foster an enduring impact.

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