It has been a truism since the days Eugene Kleiner and Tom Perkins first started venture investing that there is great value in helping a company reduce risk, whether through technical or market development.
But a short-hand way for the really big returns to be made comes from finding a new business model or combination of low-cost technologies in the way Apple has done with the IPhone and ITunes or Uber to the taxi industry.
The challenge for many investors is less about recognising these opportunities when they emerge than in trying to explain what they are looking for to non-specialists. In this way, pointing to technical issues, such as number of patents, is a lot easier: “Look, the idea must be great as it involves these fundamental breakthroughs in science.”
This road has led to lots of money to be lost, whether in clean-tech or computer hardware until the large rewards are reaped by those who tweaked the business model on how people buy it through leasing or appeal to emotion and status.
It is, therefore, highly significant that France’s main public investment agency, BPIfrance, has changed the definition of what it deems “innovative” and hence worthy of backing.
The definition now incorporates five criteria beyond technical: product innovation, service and use, behaviour and organisation, marketing and sales, social impact and business model. Projects will be assessed on a scale of zero to four on these criteria.
The move has been warmly received by many, including influential Rude Baguette press, which said: “BPIfrance is among the most transparent government investment bank[s], releasing [its] results to the public and setting a concrete line for how both governments and private investment funds can think differently about innovation without reducing it to ‘gut feeling’.
“Particularly for France, I believe BPIfrance’s adjustment addresses a cultural issue head on, which may have rippling positive effects. Too often France finds itself one step ahead on research, and two steps behind on development.
“Investing based solely on research potential rewards this behaviour and punishes those who are too busy building a scalable business to re-invent the wheel. By redefining and opening up its definition of innovation, BPIfrance is sending a signal across France, and even outside of France, that the country needs to redefine its priorities when it comes to supporting entrepreneurship.”
Why find a new way to say what is a spot-on point by the Anglo-phone folks in France. But, hopefully, there should be no need for the modesty of“even outside of France”as BPIfrance’s move should herald a sea-change in thinking among those concerned by how “innovations” reach the market.