Publicis 90: How big business is harnessing the power of start-ups

  • Inspiration
Michelle Johal Related reads

Is it the secret to staying competitive? Or more like stuffy parents trying to hang out with the cool kids? When big businesses enlist the help of fresh, young start-up companies it can feel like an awkward match. But it seems to be a strategy that’s working - and the relationship can be mutually beneficial.

What is Publicis 90?

This summer at Publicis marked the culmination of the Publicis 90 initiative, dedicated to helping 90 innovative digital start-ups and entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground with the equivalent of a jet pack starter kit, including mentoring, networking events and a generous cash injection.

The process was all in aid of celebrating the company’s 90th birthday, so we at Publicis decided to do something momentous. We opened up our doors in January this year to entrepreneurs across the world, and received more than 6000 applications across 140 countries, who all wanted to tap into the Publicis support network.

"I believe nobody has dared to do something like this to support 90 projects," said Publicis CEO Maurice Levy. "Nobody has dared to go after that big a number. It's complicated to select, and a huge undertaking.”

Despite the initial scale of the challenge, it turned out to be a very rewarding one. In July 2016 Publicis announced the winning 90 entrants at Viva Technology Paris - a new tech expo and conference in partnership with Groupe Les Echos.

Levy Viva Tech


What’s in it for Publicis?

Start-ups are renowned for their creative and forward-thinking ideas which set them apart from the herd and allow them to smash wide open stagnant or otherwise monopolised industries.

Take Airbnb and Snapchat, as prime examples. Airbnb has revolutionised the travel and accommodation sector while the social media arena suddenly looks very different since Snapchat changed perceptions of sharing, privacy, and quality and accessibility of content. Now, especially among the younger generation, it is slowly taking over. Most companies are still grappling with understanding and using the platform to their advantage - perhaps if more companies had partnered with Snapchat in the early years they would have grown together and learned how best to work with each other?

Ultimately, the hope is that, in helping these 90 potential digital disruptors, that in turn will support Publicis in building important partnerships, opening them up to some of the latest behaviours driven by technology trends. It should help them better serve customers by staying on the razor edge of technological innovation.

What’s in it for the start-ups?

Big businesses like Publicis are able to offer start-ups unprecedented levels of experience and resource without the start-ups themselves having to take risks and learn the hard way. In the case of Publicis 90 there are added incentives for the start-ups involved. It’s a bit like a structured programme aimed to prepare the start-up fledglings for the big bad world of business. Entrants were offered equity funding ranging from a whopping 10,000 to 500,000 euros, as well one year of mentoring with Publicis Groupe experts in marketing, communication and digital. The winners were also offered excellent networking opportunities, by joining Publicis at the Viva Technology event in Paris which brought together the world’s major players in digital transformation. The selected start-ups were given the opportunity to connect with tens of thousands of senior executives, venture capitalists, accelerators, talents, and opinion leaders from all over the world. This month the start-ups are also invited to the 'Meet the Makers' event here in London.

Pub 90 All Winners

(Credit:The Drum)

Who else is doing it?

While the challenge of supporting 90 start-ups is unique, the concept of supporting up-and-coming businesses to help inject a competitive, creative and innovative edge into established companies is not a new one - lots of other big names are doing it.

Unilever recently bought up the e-commerce site Dollar Shave Club – a shaving start-up which has revolutionised the male grooming space. Unilever apparently paid five times the amount that Dollar Shave is expected to turnover in its first year under Unilever, but it’s the impact and disruptive nature of the company that Unilever just can’t put a price on.

Another example is John Lewis, who have devised a Dragon’s Den-style approach to vetting and selecting top start-ups looking for their support. In turn John Lewis hopes to share in the creativity of these start-ups to keep pace with the likes of their more naturally entrepreneurial competitors like Asos and Amazon, who have each carved their way through humble start-up beginnings.

What’s happening next?

As part of an ongoing 'Meet the Makers' series at Publicis (part of our Publicis Drugstore activities, designed to bring future-facing marketing solutions to the forefront of our attention) we are celebrating the initiative's recent success at our offices on 82 Baker Street.

A selected top 10 of the winning start-ups have been invited to give talks about their businesses’ Publicis 90 experiences so far in order to connect them with multinational clients. There are still a few spaces left and entry is free. Click here for full details.


Michelle Johal

Account Executive, Corporate

Michelle is a member of the Corporate team and supports and implements UK media and influencer strategies across a broad range of accounts such as EY, Fujitsu and Sitel. A graduate of Kings College, London with a background in Biomedical Science, Michelle is currently training for a Black Belt in Karate and regularly participates in international tournaments.

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