NUMA’s international strategy revealed

In a little bit more than one year, NUMA, the leading player in the French entrepreneurial ecosystem, extended its operations on four continents and five countries: Russia, India, Morocco, Spain and Mexico.
Are they playing darts over a giant world map?

The French are famous for being analytical, right? Since we made the decision to go global, we analyzed 80 countries, interviewed 200+ people, crunched thousands of data and traveled 760 000 kilometers (twice the distance to the moon), to find the right spots and the right people to build joint ventures. Here’s the story behind NUMA’s international strategy…

There is method behind the madness

Let’s explain the method with our most recent case study: Mexico.

In 2010 we launched the first-ever acceleration program in France, thus planting a seed for the subsequent exponential growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. If we could find a country at the same level of development as France six years ago, could we once again spur this exponential? 

NUMA Mexico is the result of this quest in the Latin American region. First, we did some desktop research and graded each country in this region using four indicators:

Chart NUMA International 1

  • Economic attractiveness: Economic Indicators (GDP per capita, business environment), Market Indicators (population, education, tertiary education), Infrastructure Indicators (general infrastructure, ICTs), Institutional Indicators (political environment, regulatory environment).
  • Entrepreneurial spirit: Entrepreneurial Attitude (opportunity perception, startup skills, risk acceptance, networking, cultural support), Entrepreneurial Ability (technology absorption, human capital, competition), Entrepreneurial Aspiration (product innovation, process innovation, high growth, internationalisation, risk capital), Entrepreneurial Activity (early stage entrepreneurial activity rates).
  • Level of innovation: Research & Development, Knowledge Workers, Innovation Linkages, Knowledge Creation, Knowledge Impact and Knowledge Diffusion.
  • Level of investment: VC investments (amount of equity invested), Size of market capital, Liquidity of market capital, M&A activity, IPO activity.

We backed up these theoretical analyses with 40+ remote interviews with local players. Eventually, analyzing the dynamic of these indicators over 4 years, we determined that Mexico was showing every aspect of an ecosystem on a tipping point, like France had been six years ago.

Chart NUMA International 2

We do joint ventures with like minded partners

Partenrships 1

Throughout our long history, we have helped many people start their innovation programs, and one thing we’ve learned is that your concept, successful as it may be in your territory, cannot be simply pasted in another. Innovation services are not like Starbucks coffee recipes. An understanding of the ecosystem, the people and the culture is crucial. There is no credible way to implement these services well if you’re not a native.

For us, opening a new location is thus first and foremost about identifying a great local partner who, like us, has been working for years on the ground with entrepreneurs and deeply understands the needs of the ecosystem. A partner who is running a coworking site, or an accelerator, or a venture fund, and is eager to develop the full systemic concept of NUMA.

We usually shortlist three potential partners that stand out as leaders of the ecosystem, and cross-check their reputation with local entrepreneurs, investors, journalists and public institutions and grade them according to four criteria:

  • Working operations (are they running Coworking, Events, Acceleration, Open Innovation?)
  • Network (are they connected to Startups, Mentors, Corporates, Public, International?)
  • Facilities (is their place suitable for NUMA activities and well situated in the city?)
  • Cultural Fit (do we share the same values and vision?)


In Mexico, Venture Institute was the perfect match: they had been running an accelerator and a fund for five years with an excellent track record, had successfully delivered open innovation programs with corporates, and were actively seeking ways to further strengthen their community. And above all: the founders and team are passionate about making an impact on the ecosystem across all of Latin America.

However, it’s common knowledge that even when two partners like each other a lot, compatibility is not always guaranteed. To mitigate this, our way to engage with partners follows a test & learn approach: before signing a joint venture, we run a due diligence process for 3 to 6 months, with training sessions and experimentations, where we carefully check that our partner has the capability to adapt and deploy NUMA concepts, and conversely that we bring real value to the ecosystem.

The result in Mexico speaks for itself: NUMA Mexico has settled in a gorgeous mansion in the centre of Mexico City where we organised numerous events, featuring people like Michael Seibel (YCombinator) or Dave Mc Clure (500 Startups). We successfully launched a crowdfunding campaign to convert a part of the mansion into the first free coworking space in Mexico City, mirroring what NUMA Paris did three years ago. The application period for the 14th acceleration batch recently closed and we’ve just signed the first open innovation program with a corporate (to be revealed later). What else?

The last step in our process is signing the Joint Venture. At NUMA we strongly believe in the phrase: “do as you are”. We nurture diversity in the way people think and work in our teams, giving autonomy and freedom of initiative, trusting them a priori. The same approach is applied to our joint ventures, where our partner is the major shareholder. We want to be involved in the management, but they deserve the driving seat. The result of the vetting process outlined above is that we know our partners share our values and mission, both dreaming big and delivering fast. They therefore have our full trust and support, and we look forward to learning from them.

Why did we decide to go abroad in the first place?


We constantly tell our entrepreneurs that their markets are too small, that competition is global and that they should go international from day one. They appear to take our words at face value: according to the 2015 Compass Study the number of startups that either opened second offices elsewhere or moved their headquarters from one ecosystem to another region was multiplied by 8.4 between 2012 and 2014.

In the first 12 months after following our acceleration program, 20% of startups cross the ocean and thrive in the USA with the support of fellow accelerators like YCombinator or Techstars. This is good, but going West, is not the only option: Blablacar developed in 22 countries, but preferred Russia and India to the USA. Why? F. Mazella (CEO) correctly reasoned that in the USA their value proposition might not work (long distances between towns, not enough incentives for the driver), while in the emerging markets they would solve a real pain point. And they did well: according to Nicolas Brusson (COO), at least 50 percent of their growth was from emerging markets.

With this in mind, we set out to identify an efficient way to support our entrepreneurs to spread their operations anywhere in the world.

During the last three years, we engaged with the best networks of fellows like Google for Entrepreneurs, Global Accelerator Network and ATALANTA which gave us a solid understanding of the ecosystems worldwide. We organised an accelerator summit and gathered 100+ ecosystem leaders, enabling them to share about their challenges and envision future trends, the findings of which were published in a white paper. We confirmed that struggling to find a sustainable business model and eagerness to learn from more experienced organisations is a global phenomenon. And most importantly, we heard that NUMA’s balanced and systemic model, resulting from 15 years of bottom-up innovation, was consistently appealing, particularly in growing ecosystems.

NUMA began as a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in France as a way to improve our economy and our society. In early 2015 the organisation became for profit, and successfully raised funds with a broader mission in mind: creating a global innovation network.

NUMA’s international strategy

We established a three-fold international strategy depending on the maturity of the ecosystem in question and its individual context, trying to answer two questions: what are the challenges of these ecosystems and what is our added value?

1. Early stage ecosystems: few entrepreneurs, lack of public or private support

These markets are too nascent or too small to allow fruitful fields of cooperation between startups, communities and corporates to emerge, which is the core value of our approach. At this stage, education is the key to inciting change. Our strategy is to work with public institutions like the World Bank or private companies willing to support entrepreneurship locally. We train incubator managers, advise public authorities, and promote modern digital policies with the objective of bringing the ecosystem to the next level of maturity.

2. Growing ecosystems: many entrepreneurs, insufficient support to early stage

In these countries, the startup community is quickly growing but there is a missing piece in their support: not enough mentors, unexperienced accelerators, lack of interest from the corporates, lack of seed investment … This is typically the situation in Mexico, Bangalore, Moscow, Casablanca, and this is where our experience as an ecosystem catalyst can make the biggest difference.

Our strategy is to set up NUMA operations in the fastest growing ecosystems, and help them pass the tipping point to exponential growth. In these situations, we rely on experienced local partners, providing them with knowledge and active support, but letting them lead the local operations.

3. Mature ecosystem: high competition, insufficient support to scale-up

In the USA, we have many trusted partners who help our entrepreneurs enter various markets across the country. In Europe, our established partnerships work very well for early stage startups, but market fragmentation across countries makes the situation far more difficult for entrepreneurs in the later stages of growth.

This led us to open our first growth-focused acceleration program in Barcelona, building on our assets as an experienced accelerator, the active involvement of the city hall of Barcelona and the Mobile World Congress organizers in Spain.

We will annually select at least 10 startups in mobile technologies and help them scale their businesses worldwide. This is a model we hope to replicate in other cities; we’re currently discussing opportunities in Europe and other regions of the world.

What’s next for NUMA’s international development?

The team : Aviva, Raphaëlle, Clarisse, Olivier and Fred

We are now present in 6 countries and plan to be in 15 countries by 2019. One of the biggest challenges that lays ahead of us is to strengthen this network and encourage synergies between all of our offices.

Building a global innovation network is truly the next big thing for our team.

  • We strongly encourage internal staff mobility. In 2016, at least 2 NUMA Paris staff will join one of our international offices in order to diffuse NUMA methods and culture.
  • We encourage startup mobility. Some startups will benefit from a mobility grant to help them test their value proposition in countries where NUMA operates. If there is a proven opportunity, our local team can assist in recruitment, business introductions and media exposure.
  • We organize mentor exchanges between all of our locations in order for a mentor from one country to meet on a regular basis with a startup from another.
  • We scale our open innovation programs globally. For the second edition, we want to operate the datacity program simultaneously in France, Morocco, India and Mexico.

Such a big journey over the past year, but it’s just the beginning… Stay tuned for more announcements by the International Team in 2016! Our International Strategy has just begun…

Fred fait l'avion

Article written by:

Frédéric Oru, International Director