Advertising company Publicis Groupe is launching a fund that will invest tens of millions of dollars in 90 startups (PUB)

Publicis Groupe, the French advertising agency holding group, is celebrating its 90th anniversary with the launch of a fund and mentorship program that is expected to raise tens of millions of dollars for 90 startups.

Publicis is setting aside €10 million ($10.9 million) for its Publicis90 project and will invest between €10,000 and €500,000 in each of the 90 startups it selects as part of the program. That might not sound like a lot compared to big venture capital funds, but Publicis is calling upon clients, partners, and media companies to match each investment — so €500,000 could easily turn into the single-digit millions.

To take part, startups from any industry — from ad tech to fintech — need to submit their idea to a dedicated website. Publicis employees will then vote for the startups they think best-deserve the awards through a Facebook-esque “like” system. The projects submitted will be presented anonymously, in-part due to the fact that Publicis employees will also be encouraged to enter.

The startups with the most likes will then be assessed by a regional jury of Publicis executives and partners, who will draw up a shortlist, before the final selection is made by a global jury.

In addition to funding, the 90 winning startups will receive a year of mentorship from Publicis senior management in the areas of marketing, communications, management, and technology. Also participating is Iris Capital a VC joint-partnership between Publicis Groupe and telecommunications company Orange, which will provide business advice. Publicis is launching an internal division to support the project, led by Maxime Baffert, CEO at Publicis digital agency Proximedia Europe.

Speaking to Business Insider, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy, said: “When we were looking to see what kind of celebration we would be doing [for the 90th anniversary of the company,] you have all the cliche, typical, coffee table book, a film, some big event with all the stories, looking back to the Groupe in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s … the celebrating part is nice but the best way to celebrate a company like ours, which has always been confronted with innovation, and reinvention, and trying to be ahead of the curve should be something for the future rather than the past.”

A “first”

publicis90Publicis Groupe

Lévy said he believes the Publicis90 platform represents a business first.

“I believe nobody has dared to do something like this to support 90 projects,” he said. “Nobody has dared to go after that big a number. It’s complicated to select and a huge undertaking … we want to do something quite massive in order that it will be noticed both from inside the group and outside all people who have a project see we are really committed to the tech and digital space and that this is something important.”

We asked why startups will be persuaded to enter their projects into Publicis90, rather than chasing money from VCs, with bigger funds.

maxime baffertLinkedInMaxime Baffert will lead the Publicis90 project.

Lévy said: “What we are giving is an acceleration in their development, because they are receiving money, and what we are asking for is less complex than what VCs are asking for. Two, recognition of their idea, they can claim they were selected — like people who have been a laureate, or won a contest, or recognized through an MBA. They went through a process, were tested, and selected against other ideas … and three, our executives and team will support in terms of management, tech, and have support from the Groupe for a full-year — intellectual capital for their own development.”

The number 90 is significant for Publicis as it looks back on its history, but we asked whether the ambitious number could lead to some projects being arbitrarily funded just in order for it to reach the landmark.

Lévy responded: “We are extremely open in the way we are operating because we don’t want to have our hands tied and award something we don’t like, or not award enough €500,000 investments because we have bigger numbers. We prefer to be open and if we have instances of not what we planned, that’s not a problem. If we have for example, only 72 good enough [startups,] then we will decide to award the 72 and complete down the round. But if we have 120, we will award only 90.”

A new “landmark” technology expo and conference to be held in Paris

The 90 startups will be invited to participate in a new tech expo and conference Publicis is launching in partnership with Groupe Les Echos called Viva Technology Paris, which will take place from June 30 to July 2, 2016.

Lévy believes that despite the plethora of other technology conferences and expos in Europe and beyond, Viva Technology Paris will become a “landmark event,” standing out from the likes of CES, Web Summit, Le Web, and TechCrunch Disrupt.

He describes Viva Technology Paris as a “combination of a micro-CES and forums.” There will be an exhibition, “top notch speakers,” it will be open to the public, and its platinum sponsors will stage labs at the event. There, startups will work on a project and will be awarded by the sponsor with investment if they build something new and desirable.

Lévy has long been talking about how Publicis Groupe is evolving its business model from being an advertising company to one that aids clients towards the “digital transformation” of their companies In 2014, Publicis Groupe accelerated its own move towards “digital transformation” with the $3.7 billion acquisition of US-based digital marketing services company Sapient.

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