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Investing In Your Business: Alex Saber on Publicis Groupe's Mission to Find and Fund 90 Startups

Investing In Your Business: Alex Saber on Publicis Groupe's Mission to Find and Fund 90 Startups

Alex Saber, Publicis Groupe

Image credit: Publicis Groupe
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You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

In honor of Publicis Groupe’s 90th anniversary, the company has invited digital startups globally to submit business ideas for a chance to win €10,000-€500,000 in funding. Alex Saber, Chairman of Starcom Mediavest Group, which falls under the Publicis Groupe umbrella, says that the move to fund promising enterprises isn’t surprising at all, given the company’s interest in digital transformation. “This project is yet another way to augment our vision of fostering digital entrepreneurs and provide them with the support they need,” he says. “It complements the company’s core belief to always be at the forefront of innovation.”

Publicis plans to select 90 successful candidates or startups to fund, and ideation stage entries do qualify. “Last year, we started to implement this global philosophy in the MENA region by supporting startups, not only through financial means but also through mentorship– a move that is an industry first in our region,” Saber says. “In 2015, we supported the Start-Up Competition by ArabNet in Riyadh, whereby our execs played a dual role of the judges and mentors. This year, we will once again partner with ArabNet, and additionally, we will support Step Conference taking place this April in Dubai, whereby SMG will be sponsoring its mentoring corner. We plan to further beef up our partnerships with, and investments, into startups and companies that would add value to the business, and further complement our in-house capabilities.”

At the time of writing, there were over 50,000 visits to the competition’s website, and as of February 1st, nearly 2,000 individuals had registered to enter their projects of which 795 applicant entries are already complete. Two-thirds of the entries are existing business models, and Publicis’ employee entries make up 18%, while students clock in at 6% of the total tally.

Source: Publicis90

According to the regulations, the competition is open to the following countries in the MENA region until February 28, 2016: Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan. Currently, the bulk of the entries are reportedly from the U.S., U.K., India, and France. Business models already submitted for consideration include a transportation-focused app, an in-store payment solution, and a travel portal, with the group noting that mobile, content and ad-tech are the most represented segments so far.

“Given that the funds offered by this competition are substantially higher than most, one would assume that the rules for submission would be somewhat tight, however, this is clearly not the case,” Saber notes. “Whether you are a student, a new startup, a successful entrepreneur or a Publicis Groupe employee anywhere in the world, you are welcome to put forward your idea and apply for support from the Groupe. Additionally, the judging process is inclusive and transparent; projects will be pre-selected by region, with a first round of votes open to all Publicis Groupe employees. A regional jury will then draw up a shortlist from the pre-selected projects, before the final selection is made by a global jury that will pick the 90 most promising projects or startups.”  

And what does Saber consider a great contender? “The ideas that stand out are usually those that disrupt our lives. A successful business model needs to truly enhance people’s lives and consequently make it easier. We have seen successful startups shift in their local strategies to introduce new products in response to a changing security situation and customer demands.” One of the startups Saber points out as an example is Careem, noting how the car-booking service’s utility for commuters in the region, “especially in countries like Egypt where it offers women a safer alternative than public transport.”

Saber also highlights Egyptian Bey2ollak as another viable and useful transportation alternative: “As the security situation deteriorated in the country, the app introduced a new service to coordinate convoys to travel on the country’s highways, which were notorious for carjacking.” The Chairman is also enthusiastic about content models, mentioning the Beirut-based Cinemoz: “It’s slowly becoming the new Netflix of our region, offering over 1,000 premium Arab entertainment titles.”

Source: Publicis90

Q&A with Alex Saber, Chairman, Starcom Mediavest Group

As the chairman of a company that operates on such a large scale, how do you ensure that communication levels remain tight and that creativity is still part of the equation? 

The most important value companies should embrace is putting their people first. We continue to foster a culture of purpose. A healthy culture is what gets people through the bad times, and what gets people excited about the great times. Our belief is that people are our strength. We pride ourselves in creating the best place to work and championing an entrepreneurial spirit, creating strong local teams and offering a global liquid talent and individual career and leadership development. In a time of technological disruption, our industry has a responsibility to collaborate and invest in new ideas and solutions; otherwise we risk offering our clients and our business a disservice.

What is your opinion on empowering employees within large corporations to act more entrepreneurial? 

I think the increased momentum of acting more entrepreneurial is largely credited to the multi-billion-dollar ventures, like that of Facebook and Uber, which helped create a chain reaction that disrupted old business models and ushered in an era of convergence between tech, content and data. These entrepreneurs accomplished in their early-to-mid 20s what few can only hope to achieve in a lifetime, inspiring a wave young, digitally native generation to follow suit. This disruption echoes particularly true in our region where, despite little job security and political instability, entrepreneurship is on the rise.

It would be an extremely dangerous route for media conglomerates to take, where our young talent, who are the extension to our business bloodline, and who think digital, snack on content, feed on social and breathe technology, not to support and encourage them to discover ideas that can only amplify and enhance our own capabilities. They exhibit an unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit. They value innovation and creativity. They believe in brands that lead on positive change. They are driven by a knowledge-sharing economy. They thrive on collaboration and constant feedback. They take ownership of their projects, be they big or small. If we fail to foster the entrepreneurial spirit of our people, we will miss out on a wealth of opportunities to transform our business and that of our clients.