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Renault Silicon Valley Innovation Center: A cross-functional team applying design thinking principles to open innovation

Serge Passolunghi has been leading the Renault Silicon Valley Innovation Center for the past 3 years. Since its inception, the Center has evolved significantly and deepened its ties in the Bay Area. We checked in with Serge to learn more about their current initiatives and Open Innovation activities.

What have been the major evolutions of the Renault Silicon Valley Innovation Center in the past year or two?  

There have been two main evolutions. First of all, we have increased our headcount and set up a cross-functional team. Two years ago there were 3 or 4 of us, now we are 16 and plan to expand to 20 or 25 by the end of the year. We have built a truly diverse team with many skill-sets, hiring not only technical people but also researchers, modelers, designers and business-oriented people. Beyond technology scouting and research, we are really applying design thinking principles and working in an open innovation approach.

Thanks to these new skills and competencies, another evolution is that we can now answer requests from our headquarters. Inside the company, requests are coming from all different business units and functions. We are now in a push and pull dynamic with HQ. We are pulled by HQ in one direction and have to answer requests from engineering and contributing to some corporate projects (for example autonomous driving). But on the other side we are also pushing some opportunities that no one is asking for based on what we see out here. 

You are a founding member of the Open Innovation Club. What benefits have you gained from being an active member and how has it influenced your open innovation activities? 

Since the beginning we have had an open innovation spirit. Our team manages projects, but the technology and ideas come from the startups we work with.

The approach of the Open Innovation Club fits well with our strategy. The TechMeetings we attend, where startups pitch to us, are very useful and allows us to constantly discover new ideas and technology.

The opportunity to exchange with other large corporations and cross-innovate is the specificity of the Open Innovation Club and I find this very valuable. Innovation is currently stemming at the boundary of companies so we need to see where those borders are with other industries (insurance, banking, energy, cities, etc…) and how we can work together. The opportunity to collaborate and push a common expectation to the startup ecosystem is fantastic.

How has your strategy for collaborating with startups evolved? 

This was the main challenge when the lab opened. The idea is not just about innovating in Silicon Valley but how to hand over innovation to the core business in France and Japan.

We cannot stick to doing proof of concepts or pilot studies with startups in California. At some point we need to be able to reconnect with mainstream processes inside the company.

We have already deployed some services and features but we need to make the process more sustainable and efficient. For example, in 2015 we worked with Sensoria, a Seattle-based smart garment company, to track racecar pilot’s heart rate with a smart shirt and get real-time information.

What kind of startups are you looking for at the moment and in what areas of innovation?

We are focusing on:

  • Autonomous Driving – artificial intelligence, decision making, control, perception, sensors
  • Connected services around:
    • digital car (self-learning, configurations)
    • user experience while driving, UX driving experience
  • New mobility – mobile apps, P2P car sharing, fractional ownership

We are trying to understand how Renault, a car manufacturer, can develop new products and services to be a part of these new opportunities. How should we adapt the car itself to these new services and make it more relevant for these new businesses.

For an opportunity to meet with Renault, join us for the Smart Mobility TechMeeting in San Francisco on Tuesday September 6th.

French Tech Hub and Prime are founding members of the Open Innovation Club.

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