Incubator Program Office: growing tomorrow’s projects

In the digital era innovation happens at a sustained rate. We must be capable of quickly identifying our client’s needs, as well as the internal processes that we can improve in order to respond to them. That’s the role of an incubator. It provides the agility that is not found in traditional structures. It gives those involved in innovation (both external and internal) the means by which to develop their ideas, through to the product or service to be sold.

Incubateurs Michelin


What is incubation?

There are several forms of incubation. People already involved with burgeoning ideas or those already being developed can be attracted. They then receive financial and logistics support, as well as advice to help them bring their project into being. This happens in the same way when internal staff are involved. Ideas that are considered “viable” are identified and then the same process is followed. Incubation encourages initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit within the company. Employees are given the opportunity to bring their ideas to fruition.

Incubation at Michelin

At Michelin we have a name for incubation: Incubator Program Office (IPO). Launched in 2014, this program aims to activate projects that are linked to mobility and which gravitate around our core business.
The role of the IPO is to detect relevant projects that are liable to support growth at Michelin in the future. We are looking for ideas, both internally and externally, that can be quickly implemented and have definite objectives. We grow them as far as possible and test them on the market to make sure of their viability. Our ambition is to create, within 5 years, a real portfolio of companies or projects that have been incubated in one of our three structures; in Europe, China and the United States.




Three questions for Gilles Colas des Francs, Global Vice-President, Incubator Program, Michelin


Why was an incubation program launched at Michelin?

It happened because we became aware of the fact that as soon as work was begun on projects that “broke away,” either technologically or in terms of the current offer, established business units were finding it difficult to mobilise resources and time, due to uncertainties as to the result. To deal with this problem, the Comex set up a Corporate Innovation Board, which initiated our Incubator Program Office. The aim is to regain agility and give ourselves the right to make mistakes, in order to test new things. The IPO is important because it allows us to diversify sources of innovation and to go beyond our habitual fields of research.

How does it work?

Schematically, what our research partners do upstream in developing technologies, the IPO does downstream, just prior to commercialisation. We are based on the operational side of things. We rely on internal expertise, whose scope can be extended beyond tires, notably in terms of services. However, we do still remain in the mobility field, where we have our legitimate place.
To begin with we mainly incubated internal initiatives. We used the InnovationWorks project to question our employees about new ideas. This project was very successful, with 4 200 contributions received from Europe alone. In the end we chose 5 initiatives per continent (America, Asia, Europe).
At the same time we linked into the ecosystem of start-ups in order to integrate new approaches, such as working in short loops with clients. That led us to take shares in start-ups that were capable of providing solutions for our ideas.

How does this function on a day to day basis?

We make sure that the projects incubated have a strong link with existing business units, in order to remain rooted in reality. Every initiative is sponsored by a Michelin BU director, who attends board meetings every 90 days. That’s an opportunity for healthy discussions, which create real synergies. The IPO is not something that operates in its own corner, disconnected from others. It feeds on the expertise of our work, which it enriches in return with new ways of doing things.
The ability to redirect an initiative is essential. It is also important to know when to say stop, we have a right to make mistakes. And we do actually say stop in 30% of cases. It’s never a personal failure. And people working in the IPO can easily come back again later; their experience is valued by the company!

Several results have already emerged from the IPO


Symbio FCell

Symbio FCell

Working on the reduction of carbon emissions, the Group decided to invest in Symbio FCell, a start-up that specialises in fuel cells. Today it benefits from the cutting edge logistics of our research structures to accelerate the development of its products. This Michelin-Symbio FCell partnership was awarded the Best Innovative SMB-Major Group partnership prize.



MICHELIN Tweel tire

The airless tire, developed in our US facilities, benefitted from the IPO for the design of new usages. It is used, for example, on loaders and farm machinery.




The IPO is also looking at services for mobility. Our incubator in China, for example, allowed for the development of “WeCare”, a smartphone application that offers a global vehicle maintenance service.