How Ready-Made PLM Sets Start-ups onto the Right Track

A look into Software République’s start-up shortlist for its mobility incubator.

“Mobility 4.0 is an opportunity to join an open innovation ecosystem with Atos, Dassault Systèmes, Orange, Renault Group, STMicroelectronics and Thales to create the solutions that will shape the future of mobility.” (Image courtesy of Renault Group and Software République.)

“Mobility 4.0 is an opportunity to join an open innovation ecosystem with Atos, Dassault Systèmes, Orange, Renault Group, STMicroelectronics and Thales to create the solutions that will shape the future of mobility.” (Image courtesy of Renault Group and Software République.)

The Software République Mobility 4.0 Challenge was launched under the leadership of the Renault Group, with the aim to develop tomorrow’s mobility solutions and systems. The first open innovation challenge from the consortium called for start-ups, entrepreneurs, research institutes, SMEs, academics or individuals wishing to contribute across electronics, software, hardware, data management, connectivity, cybersecurity and more.

The industrial consortium claimed on its website that “for the first time, six of the largest / major European companies have united to form the Software République, providing data, technical tools, knowledge and expertise, giving [winners] the opportunity to create disrupting use cases that will serve business interests with a positive impact.”

After receiving more than 150 project applications over a 6-week period, the Software République selection committee announced that it has short-listed the finalists. Start-ups that have incubated for six to 18 months will work with at least two members of the consortium and in return they will be supplied with tailor made resources to support and mentor the program.

Such resources include access to an “open data” library and an integrated ecosystem of experts, tools and platforms to enable integration with networks of suppliers and partners. With the direct involvement of Dassault Systèmes in the consortium, one can presume that direct access to the 3DEXPERIENCE platform and associated apps will be part of the enabling resources provided to the selected start-ups. In this context, it is interesting to reflect about the role of collaborative product innovation platforms and how PLM solutions might enable (or potentially hinder) creativity in early product development phases.

In this article, I discuss the role of PLM in accelerating innovation—especially when it comes to fostering new product introduction and in the context of start-up incubation.

Wattpark, Geoflex and Vianova, the winners of the first Mobility 4.0 Challenge, are joined by two other start-ups, Angoka and Parcoor, chosen by the incubator’s selection committee. Their respective projects cover the following scope:

  • Angoka contributes to safeguarding machine-to-machine data communication integrity across smart city networks.
  • Geoflex improves the accuracy of satellite location systems, like GPS, to enable smart city ecosystems and mobility products.
  • Parcoor focuses on cybersecurity and autonomous threat detection solutions.
  • Vianova develops safety software solutions to detect and track high incident risks in real time.
  • Wattpark allows for optimisation of electric vehicle charging stations.

As part of their 18-month project, start-ups will have to design and build a prototype for their concept product or solutions, to a given level of maturity (not disclosed as part of the Software République brief). It is expected that they will have the opportunity to leverage standards, data, expertise, materials, suppliers and will be supported by enabling processes, collaboration platforms and tools from their mentors.

As the Software République website puts it, “Our goal is to support start-ups and entrepreneurs to create new business with Software République by opening doors to our resources and providing a tailor-made program.”

PLM in Context of Start-up Incubation

Start-up incubation programs are typically designed as collaborative ecosystems to foster open innovation, co-creation, networking, mentoring, co-funding, early-stage investment or other financial support to develop a given industry sector. Incubation is often enabled by co-location, technical facilities, business support and resource sharing to help entrepreneurs refine and mature their business ideas while facilitating the development of their business capabilities and operations.

When it comes to product development and business growth enablement, PLM solutions are essential enablers to bring all functions, people and data together. As start-ups embark onto their business journey, they need a balance of flexibility, control and freedom to define their own path as they implement and optimize their business operating model.

PLM is often perceived as a necessary hurdle for start-ups, especially as they gear themselves up to scale and grow to the next level, whereas the selection and deployment of PLM solutions can rapidly become a daunting task for uninitiated new business owners. Start-up incubation brings several questions when leveraging PLM resources from the Software République consortium:

  • What can start-ups learn from early exposure to PLM-related data management best practices?
  • Which concept data is anticipated to be managed in the PLM platform and to which level of integration?
  • How should start-ups leverage enterprise process integration at an early stage of their development, without hindering their ability to drive creativity?
  • How might digitalization foster open innovation, realizing value from concepts through associated business insights?
  • Will the PLM platform be provided free of charge to the selected start-ups, for how long, and how will they transition to a new operating model post the 18-month incubation?

What Can Start-ups Learn from Early PLM Adoption?

On the one hand, start-ups can benefit from learning and adopting PLM early, being able to avoid costly mistakes as they plan, scale and ramp-up production. Data exchange traceability is essential at an early stage to have visibility on information shared with the supply chain, report on issues, track basic changes, perform early impact assessment and more.

On the other hand, data control processes can be constraining if too much bureaucracy or control is introduced in early product development phases. Start-ups often have limited resources to drive process adherence and governance; they also have limited time to define or learn holistic enterprise processes, especially as they tune their own cultural identity. Their focus is primarily on pragmatic communication, and getting the job done quickly through iterative learning—which is an integral part of the incubation process.

Start-ups can surely benefit from right-sized data management practices and “PLM light” processes from early days, and gradually build or adopt additional capabilities as they mature and scale towards production intent. This constitutes an opportunity to tune their operations and develop the required talents as they scale and seek further investments. This links to the usual debate about “learning by doing” and how mentoring or counselling can significantly accelerate things. Having the relevant support at the right time can help start-ups significantly boost their learning and ability to deliver, possibly without making costly early mistakes from unfruitful experimentation or poor management.

Which Data is Anticipated to be Managed in the PLM Platform?

Start-ups need access to suppliers and their component data as they define and design their product concept. Such data might include technical specifications, standard parts, CAD data, simulation data, weight and other physical properties, issues, assemblies, part lists, materials, supplier information, cost data, basic work/assembly instruction, requirements, product attributes, resource schedules, early quality procedures, part approval documents, decision logs and more.

Accessing pre-defined data and processes can save significant amounts of time, assuming that the information is easy to find, classify, structure, retrieve and share across functional teams and supply chains. PLM is often the core repository for product and project engineering data, minimising data entry and maximising reuse from an early time.

Basic change traceability and data exchange tools can save both time and money when collaborating internally and externally. The right balance is to be found between too many processes early and the minimum viable solution that will ensure quality delivery towards production intent readiness.

Will the PLM Platform Be Provided Free of Charge by Dassault Systèmes, and for How Long?

Start-ups with compelling value propositions often get attention from their big brother mature OEMs and enterprise solution vendors which are possibly looking to surf on their success—should they eventually succeed. Incubation is clearly a way to nurture these start-ups and increase their ability to succeed.

Through the Software République initiative, Dassault Systèmes has the opportunity to put their 3DXEPERIENCE platform to the test with existing and new use cases related to the mobility innovation scope. This is also an opportunity to gain new customers of their solutions, should the start-ups decide to continue with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform once they complete their 18-month incubation period.

There is also the usual question of “vendor lock-up,” especially when accessing resources free of charge for a period of time and then moving to a commercial model. There is perhaps no significant risk of lock-up for start-ups, due to limited data volumes and their initial simplicity. Nevertheless, having to pay for extensive PLM capabilities at some point can probably change their perspective, especially if they cannot afford it once the free-of-charge period has expired.

It will certainly be in the start-up’s interest to define and stick to a minimum viable product when leveraging PLM during their free trial period. It will also be a period of learning to work with PLM (and other) vendors and define the best PLM maturity route to gradually build on their incubation experience (this is assuming that the Software République engagement comes with a free 18-month access to 3DEXPERIENCE).

What are your thoughts?