[Web2Day] "We need to see sustainable business models based on innovation"

By June 06, 2013
Louis-David Benyayer

An increasing number of initiatives based on the principle of shared value are emerging, but whether or not they turn out to be viable will depend on the business model they adopt. These business models are today still being developed.

Interview with Louis-David Benyayer, co-founder of Without Model, an ‘action tank’ dedicated to business model innovation, at the Web2Day conference on the theme of the Innovative Economy, which was held on 16-17 May in Nantes, in western France.

L'Atelier : Without Model is trying to identify business models that will enable the widespread take-up of an approach based on collaborative and responsible innovation. So, you would say that such models have not yet been discovered, then?

Louis-David Benyayer : It’s true that we’re seeing an increasing number of initiatives based on open source, open data, collaborative working -fablabs* for instance- collaborative consumption, and so on, as well as business models which we would call ‘responsible’. These are based on the principle of ‘shared value’, and seek to respond to societal challenges such as access to water, electrification, etc, while still pursuing the traditional business goals of making turnover, rewarding shareholders, and so on.

These approaches are all part of the response to the general problems we’re facing and business models for such initiatives are only just emerging. There’s still a good deal of thinking that needs to be done if they’re to become sustainable. What is certain is that things have now reached a pivotal point and we believe that in order to be viable you need the right business model.

L'Atelier : So it’s difficult today to come down in favour of one model rather than another...?

Louis-David Benyayer : Well, it’s important to realise that for a long time we’ve been living with one dominant business model for each sector. Today the situation is changing. We’re beginning to see several models coexisting in the same competitive environment. You have to get away from the mindset which says that there has to be just one single dominant business model. You have to realise that there’ll be an increasing number of models running alongside each other.

The car is a good example. Nowadays we have people who manufacture automobiles, people who hire them out, people who organise car-sharing and car-pooling. The manufacturers are also now making hybrid cars. We’ve moved from a dominant model -one industry that makes and sells cars - to a different approach, where there are several models all designed to meet the same need, the need for a vehicle to get you from A to B. The initial business model will continue to exist, but alongside others. So we need to supply the tools that help people understand the situation, rather than trying to dictate what should be happening.

L'Atelier : Major companies are also now beginning to get interested in innovative approaches. What’s their motive for doing so, would you say?

Louis-David Benyayer : I don’t think we should be making predictions here. There are plenty of reasons why they might be interested. The first could be a natural propensity, they might well be genuinely interested in innovation. Danone° is a good example of this. Then the main reason might be a marketing ploy, or other, more defensive, motives. Some companies feel under attack from other firms, or from other models, and see a new business model as a good way of innovating and differentiating themselves. We can also imagine entirely positive reasons for action, wanting to create opportunities from these changes. General Electric, with its ‘reverse innovation’^ approach, provides a good illustration. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that these players are not just going to lie down and remain dormant!

*fablab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop, usually equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled tools, which offers (personal) digital production facilities

°a French food products multinational corporation based in Paris

^GE is reversing the traditional multinational business model whereby high-end products are developed centrally and then adapted for emerging markets; the corporation is now developing local technologies and then distributing them globally

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