Business innovation A year on at BizLab

It’s been a busy twelve months since Airbus’ commercial aircraft Division launched BizLab, a global network of accelerator facilities to speed up the transformation of ground-breaking ideas into valuable business propositions. The results are pouring in.

At the heart of the Toulouse-based BizLab is a mini-amphitheatre, used primarily by start-ups to pitch their projects to an audience.

When Airbus decided to create its first BizLab in Toulouse, it wasn’t breaking completely new ground. The first business incubator was developed in New York in 1959, while Elvis was serving in the army, with the intention of giving fledgling firms access to the premises, technology, expertise and finance that they needed to thrive. Batavia Industrial Centre was the brainchild of an individual academic and was housed in an abandoned warehouse.

Over the last six years, the idea has been picked up by IT and telecommunications giants keen to avoid the threat of disruption from newcomers who thrive in the ever-growing dynamic digital environment. The strategy is to stay ahead by working alongside the best of these people and then to use their projects and approaches to invigorate the bigger partner.

Airbus decided to take the challenge to a new level by creating hybrid accelerators that function as incubators for start-ups and accelerators for more mature businesses needing to get products to market quickly. Internal projects are welcomed as ‘intrapreneurs’, further encouraging the exchange of ways of working between big and small. Once the Toulouse facility was up and running, Airbus extended the network by creating additional BizLabs in Bangalore and Hamburg.

Attracting investors

“When we left university in Germany we didn’t expect to be running our own business in Toulouse quite so soon,” says Alexandre Guérin, co-founder of 3Dtrust. This start-up enables secure, intellectual property (IP)-protected distant manufacturing by streaming encrypted data to 3D printers. “Even after my co-founder Antoine saw the BizLab call for tender, we thought it was a long shot for such a young business,” says Guérin. Just months after their initial pitch, the company set up shop inside the accelerator.

Guérin cites increased credibility as the biggest boost from BizLab. “Attracting investors became easier through Airbus and contacts within the industry became more responsive too,” he explains. “The best cases for secure IP-protected 3D printing are in aviation at the moment, so this is a great opportunity.”

Boosting credibility

Meeting rooms are decked out with an aviation touch to inspire ‘BizLabbers’.

Sai Prabhu, co-founder of Open Turf, believes that BizLab in Bangalore has increased the credibility of his company’s Amuz digital entertainment platform that will allow travellers to make media choices just as they would at home. “We already had a minimum viable product, but our USP is that Amuz works on all forms of Wi-Fi equipped transport: by bus, train or plane the user gets the same non-stop digital experience.” Certification obstacles might have hampered progress but, having arrived at BizLab in February, Prabhu now plans to get to market by year end. “We’re talking seriously with a number of airlines and we’re feeling confident,” he says.

A pass to proximity

“We were in India proposing the use of Li-Fi instead of Wi-Fi in aircraft cockpits and cabins,” says Deepak Solanki, founder of Velminni. “The idea of using light waves to carry data was fine in theory, but for aircraft everything has to be proven safe and effective. We needed to be near experts who work on aircraft cabins and systems. We had to develop some clear, feasible applications and Hamburg’s BizLab gave us the opportunity to do that.” The acceleration since Velmenni started working closely with Airbus has been remarkable and the team now expect to have a viable product ready by year end.

Who are these guys?

“We had an idea and a basic mock-up when I read about BizLab,” says James Lee, director of Hong Kong-based Paperclip Design. “We thought the idea of flexible seating for airlines had great potential but as a design house we needed a way into the industry.” BizLab was able to provide that and although the process of development, certification and manufacture remains a long one, Lee now views success for the ‘butterfly seat’ which easily transforms from a flatbed suite into a premium economy berth as likely rather than possible.  “We now have a proper mock-up and we’re talking to potential customers and manufacturers – coming to Toulouse is turning out very well.”

Inside job

For Ronie Gnecco of Aircam, becoming one of BizLab’s ‘intrapreneurs’ came about by the most direct route possible. “I’d noticed the possibility for a new way of carrying out inspections in my old job but I was far too busy to develop it fully,” he explains. “I heard about BizLab and the prospect of taking time out to work on end-to-end aircraft inspection using UAVs to obtain high-definition images and digital 3D models to identify, locate and record damage was an exciting one.  I sent an email, and now I’m here!”

As well as giving Gnecco the time and finance needed to research the best UAVs for the job and develop the computer tool he needed, BizLab has boosted his motivation: “Working here, a single-minded focus on developing your idea becomes normal. I’ll take that with me whatever happens next.”

The next step

Bruno Gutierres is the head of the BizLab network.

Bruno Gutierres, head of Airbus BizLab, feels confident about the continued growth of the network. “When you look at how much progress the businesses and projects we’re nurturing have made, it is plain to see that we’re making an impact. We hope to be able to extend our reach to other sources of ideas beyond Airbus.”

 

Ed Parkinson

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