e-béton is now showing a solid growth dynamic. Its success owes nothing to chance. It is rooted in the crossed destinies of two entrepreneurs, whose convictions and creative spirit have led to the emergence of a winning solution, at the end of a path that is anything but linear. Let’s take a look at the birth of e-béton with its two inspirers: Charles Dassonville (now Head of Data at AOS) and Bruno Paul-Dauphin (who is also leading VINCI Construction’s Exegy initiative).
Entrepreneurs are often defined as inventors of solutions. Which problem, the project that became e-béton, provided a solution to?
Charles Dassonville: The story began in 2018, at the end of my studies at ESTP, during an internship as a site manager at Eurovia. I had to order and track concrete deliveries, ensure financial reporting and manage delivery orders related to concrete activities. This management was manual and tedious. It was obvious that it should have been possible to dematerialize and optimize concrete management. So, this was the first problem that had to be solved! It then became clear that digitizing the management of concrete would also bring solutions to other challenges, such as the quality, and the traceability of concrete.
As part of an entrepreneurial master’s degree, I built a business project with an associate. I met with Pierrick Bouffaron, then Head of Acceleration at Leonard, Nathalie Martin-Sorvillo, Director of Innovative Programs at Leonard, and Julien Villalongue, Director of Leonard. They were interested in the project! By September 2018, Pierrick Bouffaron suggested that we come, and formalize our project at Leonard, as an independent start-up.
Initially, e-béton should have been a simple platform to interconnect plants and construction sites. We learned a lot, traveled a lot, met different types of producers, but without any real commercial success: quite difficult when you are a small emerging start-up.
I then chose to pursue the adventure differently, this time on my own, by focusing the platform on the financial follow-up and the archiving of delivery notes – a first dematerialization of deliveries. With this in mind, I wanted to join a VINCI team. Not only exchanges were fruitful, but it also allowed the project to be included in Leonard’s Intrapreneurs program. At the same time, I had the opportunity to meet with the AOS team, which I ended up joining. Today, I am in charge of the data and development theme at AOS.
Charles’ project, pointed to a real business need. Foundations for a relevant solution were present, though the opportunity remained to be realized. How did the project bounce back?
Bruno Paul-Dauphin: I joined VINCI Construction to take charge of low-carbon concrete. In this perspective, in 2019, I asked myself a key question, to build and develop low-carbon solutions efficiently: how to measure and monitor the volumes and carbon footprint of the various concretes? I asked the question to VINCI Construction’s purchasing director who spontaneously replied that Charles Dassonville was the right person to discuss with. So we started discussing our respective approaches and roadmaps. At first, I imagined that our projects would merge. But the necessary alignment of planets didn’t happen, for Charles. And the project took a different path!
How did the initial project turn into e-béton, a Business Unit integrated into VINCI Construction’s Exegy approach?
Bruno Paul-Dauphin: Charles’ intuition and the evidence of the market interest that he showed to concrete producers while presenting his approach were correct: the dematerialization of delivery notes and concrete orders is a powerful lever. In the case of carbon footprinting, more particularly, it is invaluable, as it ensures the indispensable traceability of emissions from different types of concrete.
The Exegy approach, which I am leading today, aims to promote low-carbon concrete with technical standards, optimize the development of competitive low-carbon solutions, and rely on a network of partner producers to make these low-carbon concretes accessible to all our worksites. This approach is based on the design stage of the e-concrete platform, where concretes near a construction site are referenced with economic and environmental indications.
Charles’ initial solution was to digitize and simplify the management of concrete. We relied on VINCI Construction sites to understand their needs, and the expectations of their customers. Some sites had initiated similar approaches, from which we drew inspiration to develop a simple application, intended for operational teams with a focus on the monitoring of the quality of concrete, and improving its traceability. The e-béton application was tested on a few sites during the summer of 2020 and confirmed its usefulness. In a few months, it became a commercial solution deployed in France and internationally, on more than 25 sites, with hundreds of users to date!
Innovations often take unexpected paths, and some end up in dead ends. What makes an entrepreneurial project succeed despite changes in strategic direction, format, and governance?
Charles Dassonville: My experience as a project leader is that the freedom that small structures give – the start-up format – is an undeniable asset for moving quickly, pivoting easily, daring… But it has its limits. It can be difficult to convince or reassure, especially in markets where the players are large, moreover, when they rely on long and complex processes. There comes a time when support and mentoring are essential. Above all, connection to key accounts and decision-makers is indispensable. This is particularly what intrapreneurship programs provide.
Bruno Paul-Dauphin: It is indeed one of the great assets of intrapreneurship programs: bringing together the agility of projects and the “strike force” of large groups, like VINCI. Intrapreneurs can benefit from the support of an internal sponsor, which is decisive for accessing projects, allocating resources, and obtaining financing for IT developments… I think that supporting start-ups is a great responsibility, especially when entrepreneurs cohabit with entrepreneurs. It is the case at Leonard, with the SEED and Intrapreneurs programs. You have to know how to adjust the rhythms and governance of both light structures, such as start-ups and large groups like VINCI. That’s is how great stories, like the ones we shared are born, and I think that these great stories will multiply!