PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton wants to do for start-ups what it has done for young fashion designers.
The luxury conglomerate revealed Tuesday that it is launching the LVMH Innovation Award, which will reward one of the companies participating in the second edition of the Viva Technology event, due to be held in Paris from June 15 to 17.
Ian Rogers, chief digital officer of LVMH, unveiled the initiative at a high-profile press conference at the Élysée presidential palace in Paris attended by Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH, and Maurice Lévy, ceo of advertising and public relations agency Publicis, who are co-organizers of the tech forum.
French President François Hollande spoke at the end of the lengthy presentation, held on a podium set up in an ornate reception room. “For the last few years, France has tried to be as welcoming as possible for start-ups and technology firms,” said the outgoing Socialist leader, noting that Paris has the biggest number of incubators in Europe.
Arnault used the platform to promote Viva Technology, which was launched last year at the initiative of his Groupe Les Echos media group in collaboration with Publicis. At the inaugural edition, LVMH hosted a Luxury Lab welcoming start-ups that address the daily challenges of luxury businesses.
“This is becoming a globally recognized event that rivals the Las Vegas show,” the luxury titan said, referring to the Consumer Electronics Show trade event, held in January, where leading firms unveil their technology innovations.
“It allows us to have amazing synergies and I think this year, we will have even more participants than last year,” he told reporters after the press conference. Viva Technology drew 45,000 visitors and 5,000 start-ups last year, in addition to 6,000 ceo’s and 250 investors.
France wants to turn Viva Technology into a leading global event, with scheduled guests this year including Peter Fenton, general partner at venture capital firm Benchmark; Tony Hsieh, ceo of Zappos; Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and ceo of General Electric, and Peggy Johnson, executive vice president of business development at Microsoft.
“We want to become the digital equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival,” said Lévy, displaying an ad man’s knack for a catchy sales pitch.
Arnault took advantage of the press conference to tout the agility of his group, parent of brands including Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon and Sephora, and call for the government to relax regulations governing French firms.
“I think, in our group, the start-up spirit is key for the success of management. I mean, even in a large brand, we should keep the proprietary spirit of the founder and it’s where we have the link between the heritage and the future, and it’s key for success,” he said in English as he left the event.
“Now you also have the digital world with e-commerce and with a lot of evolution inside the skills. I was mentioning, for instance, the connected watch that we did with Tag Heuer, which was a big success, and we have a new version coming on the market very soon. It’s a real watch with a lot of modern equipment, so that’s the evolution,” Arnault added.
The executive had earlier told the assembly that Tag Heuer has sold 100,000 connected watches since the product was introduced and that one of the LVMH group brands was poised to launch a connected suitcase, though he did not specify whether it was Louis Vuitton or the group’s recently acquired luggage-maker Rimowa.
Commenting on the fact that the event was held at the Elysée, Arnault said: “Why not? In the future, we can show that France is for the start-up world. I hope it will also push the French government to be more helpful for the enterprises and the enterprise spirit in the future, instead of what has been a tradition in France: putting more and more fiscal pressure, more and more social rules, more and more regulatory rules that are blocking the enterprise.”
Rogers said the idea for the new prize was born out of a conversation he had with Alexandre Arnault, son of the founder and co-ceo of Rimowa. Arnault, who holds a master’s degree in innovation at the elite Paris school Polytechnique, has recently been given a higher profile in the family business, accompanying his father to meet President-elect Donald Trump in New York in January.
“The LVMH Innovation Award really came from Alexandre Arnault and myself speaking about all the things that we’re doing at LVMH relative to start-ups and really thinking, ‘OK, how can we focus this? Because instead of doing a hundred little things, can we do one big thing that’s meaningful?’” Rogers told WWD.
“What we don’t want to do is to be the big company that kind of puts the start-ups in a zoo, and then you go visit the zoo. We don’t want to do that. We want to be really helpful to the start-ups. For me, I’ve done seven start-ups and I’ve sold three of them to big companies, and I see value on both sides personally,” he said.
“There’s value in being in a big group, there’s value in being a start-up. One’s not better than the other, so the idea is to take the best of both worlds and put them together,” added Rogers, a digital music veteran who was ceo of Beats Music and subsequently helped Apple launch its Apple Music subscription service.
The competition is open to any company from France or another country created less than five years ago whose most recent valuation is less than $100 million and whose activity has a connection with LVMH group sectors.
In a model inspired by the LVMH Prize for young designers, launched in 2013, a committee of experts will select the 32 shortlisted start-ups, which will be showcased at the LVMH Lab this year. These experts will include entrepreneurs, ceo’s, investors and journalists.
“We want them to be selected by people who can be useful to them. We want to start to build relationships between people who are valuable in the luxury ecosystem and these startups, and build that sooner,” Rogers said.
The winner will be chosen following pitch sessions, and a final selection, directly at the Viva Technology show.
The successful candidate will be invited to meet with LVMH group teams in charge of private equity investments to discuss potential relationships with the group and its brands. That could include mentoring, a partnership or investment, said Rogers — though he emphasized that all participants stand to gain.
“One of the things we’ve learned from the LVMH Prize is that the value isn’t in being the winner. The value actually is in the whole process,” he said.
“I can point to a number of companies who were at Viva Technology last year, who we at LVMH have ongoing relationships with as a result. So not only did we get introduced to them through the process, but we were able to introduce them to others from the organization through the process,” he explained.