Catherine Seys, Startup Program Director (Strategic Innovation Lab), Ubisoft

French video games company Ubisoft, better known for its title Assassin’s Creed, on Wednesday announced the expansion of its startup programme into Singapore. The Ubisoft Entrepreneurs Lab programme, which is already into its fourth season in Paris, will look to accelerate tech companies from across the world who have some kind of synergy with the gaming and entertainment industry, and nurture them to be future ready.

The Singapore initiative will take place from September 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.

Last week, Ubisoft invited e27 to Paris to interact with some of its startups which are working from the Station F startup campus, as well as as several experts from the French startup ecosystem. During the press tour, e27 also talked to Catherine Seys, Startup Program Director at Strategic Innovation Lab at Ubisoft.

Seys talked in length about the programme, the ecosystem, and the Singapore initiative.

Edited excerpts:

What are the key objectives of Ubisoft Entrepreneurs Lab? What values does this programme bring to startups? 

The main objective of the programme is to contribute to our main mission at the Strategic Innovation Lab –that is to anticipate possible futures of entertainment.

The startups undergoing this programme will get Ubisoft’s backing (not funding), expertise, and they will also get visibility. They will also get an opportunity to pitch in front of Ubisoft’s top management and will also get access to our international network.

Why did you choose to partner with Station F to run the programme in France?

Station F is one of the largest startup campuses in the world and it is pretty unique. It has an entire ecosystem under one roof. It has all facilities and VCs. What startups need is capital, mentorship and other kinds of support. Station F has all this.

There is the kind of romantic perception that it is good to fail. Of course, failure is a great learning, but it is still hard. But when you have access to VCs next door, then it is better and it may prevent your company from failing. I really liked this approach of Station F, that of not talking romantically about companies failing but providing the entire ecosystem under one roof.

Having said that, Station F is not involved in our Singapore initiative. In Singapore, we will partner with IMDA and PIXEL.

Why are you expanding the programme into Singapore? Is the Singapore initiative similar to the programme being run in Paris?

Singapore has a very dynamic startup ecosystem, even though the market is small. It is a very good place for entrepreneurs to start a company.

Additionally, we have a studio in Singapore, which is crucial. We are offering expertise and talents to these companies. We have quite a lot of talents in Singapore.

Also Read: French video games company Ubisoft expands its startup programme to Singapore

What we intend to do is to run the same programme in Singapore as well. We don’t want it to be different in terms of spirit and principle of it.

However, this programme is very customised. Depending on the topic that we have identified with entrepreneurs — and if we feel that it makes sense for Ubisoft as well as for the startups to work together — then we assign one or two specific Ubisoft experts for these startups, and these experts will be in charge of making the relationship happen.

For instance, one of our startup Mimesys, which develops the future of communication and creates the first holographic meeting platform in AR and VR. Tis firm was helped by one of our experts to improve the shape of their holograph. What I am trying to say that we have very good experts inside Ubisoft, who will bring as much values to startups as they can and also will make sure that we as an organisation have learnings from them.

A part of my role is to formalise these learnings and share these learnings with Ubisoft.

What kind of companies do you select for the programme? Only gaming companies? Or any tech company with which you can find some synergy? How many startups do you expect in the first batch?

We are not targeting only gaming/entertainment companies, but also companies that have some kind of synergies with us. For instance, we have been supporting a company called iExec for the last two seasons. It is a French and Chinese company that creates decentralised marketplace for cloud computing resources.

Also Read: An ex-French Minister’s VC firm strives to bridge Asian and European startup ecosystems

Obviously, iExec is not involved in gaming specifically. But gaming is one of the verticals they are targeting. So it is very interesting for us to be working with them. We have worked with them in many different ways. One of the ways was as cloud purchasers. We are not helping them to make their technology better, but we can help them in other ways.

As for the number of startups, we like to take small steps. It is our first project for Singapore. We started with four in the fist season in Paris and  support seven companies in this season. What is important for us is not the quantity, but the quality of the project, to which we can bring value and from which we can learn.

Frances culture and language etc. are totally different from that of Singapore. Do you expect these challenges to affect your Singapore programme?

Of course, there will be some challenges. However, I don’t think language is not going to be a barrier. But the time zone difference will create some issues. There will be some logistics adjustments.

I would not have engaged in opening the programme in Singapore, if we didn’t have our studio in the country. I know Singapore very well and I know our local employees. I don’t think there’ll be any cultural adjustments.

Singapore has a very vibrant startup ecosystem and entrepreneurs here are very innovative. Does this kind of a startup culture exist in France? Are there any similarities between Singapore’s and French startup ecosystems?

Yeah, there are many similarities, especially when it comes to public support. France has got what they call DPI, which is a public financing arm dedicated to innovation. So when you are an innovating startup in France, you have quite a lot of options to grab public funding.

France as a whole has been gearing towards far more innovative tech ecosystem.

Asia’s VC ecosystem is quite vibrant and active. What about the French VC ecosystem? Are there enough VCs to support early-stage companies?

I am not a VC specialist. But from what I see at Station F, France is good at investing between Series A and C, and we are more and more expanding. The number of deals is decreasing but the amount invested is on the rise. So our deals are getting bigger and bigger. I think our ecosystem is maturing. French Tech will push some focus on the seed stage which is very important too, because some risk capital has moved from seed to Series A. So, now there is a gap to in Series C. But again, this is just an overall perception.

There is a huge disconnect between Asian and European startups. We don’t see many Asian companies expanding to Asia and vice versa. Do you foresee a big flow of startups from Europe especially France to Asia in the near future?

Well, it has been our vision since we started talking about our programme. However, Europe is in the shadow from an Asia point of view, and Asia is in the shadow from a European point of view (there are no enough collaborations between startups in Asia and Europe).

In photos: A stroll around STATION F, one of the biggest startup campuses in the world

I don’t expect a massive flow, but yes that is what we definitely would like to see in the future. We have already partnered with French Tech (government programme), which means that if we have someone from Singapore wants to come to build a company in France and undergo our programme at Station F, we can ask the government to go through the procedure. The government will then decide whether to give a French Tech Visa to the startup.

What are the major challenges for French startups expanding into Asia?

I haven’t got an opportunity to talk specifically about this because this is not something French companies are doing already. At Station F, we have two startups from the US, who despite having a big domestic market came to France. We also have two startups from the UK and one from Switzerland. We didn’t came across any startups, who had to face the challenge of having to expand into Asia.