June 27, 2022

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SMEs will become large: the keys to success for growth companies



Twenty-one is a good age. It is also the number of years it takes on average for a company to become an intermediate-sized company (ETI)*, one of these companies which employs more than 250 employees and generates more than 50 million euros in turnover. Every year in France, around a hundred SMEs pass this symbolic milestone. But how to achieve it? “Growth is based first and foremost on paying attention to strategic differentiators,” says Thibaut Bechetoille, president of the association CroissancePlus. It is about identifying elements of differentiation from the competition and pushing the entire value chain in order to develop them. »

This so-called Blue Ocean strategy aims to move away from crowded markets, to invest in an untapped space, by rethinking its business model. Precisely the strategy of Audrey Louail, the co-founder with her husband of Ecritel, a host-outsourcer. She bet on the takeover via an LBO (leveraged buy-out) in 2007: “We contracted 3 million euros in debt for this company with 5 million euros in turnover. Our priority? Refocus on our core business and focus on international and e-commerce. » Today, Ecritel has a turnover of 28 million euros and has 250 employees.

The international, obligatory passage?

Growing would above all be a matter of ambition, long-term vision and risk-taking. “From the start, I had the ambition to create a group, by buying a small portfolio with a turnover of only 50,000 euros,” says Jérémy Sebag, founder of SPvie Assurances, a brokerage group with a turnover of 88 million. business for 600 employees. For five years, I did not get paid. The cash generated served our cash flow. We structured ourselves in stages: for the first five years, we invested in human capital, then in technology. “A roadmap rolled out as evidence.

Often cited, is going international a must to become an ETI? “Certain models can be satisfied with the French market, tempers Thibaut Bechetoille. Others will need to seek growth abroad. It is essential to define your relevant market. “The international is also a signal, a spur. For Ecritel, it was a click, as Audrey Louail recalls: “Without means, it is thanks to public support that we opened our subsidiary in China. This made the difference to our customers, showing our added value compared to big competitors! »

Buying out and merging is an alternative. A company can also develop through external growth. But it’s a big risk. “A merger requires having well consolidated its own model, warns Thibaut Bechetoille. If organic growth is strong, mergers and acquisitions are not necessarily necessary, as this can be disruptive. »

Ambition is also a posture

To serve a strong ambition, it is still necessary to have financial means: self-financing, business angels, bank credit, venture capital, investment funds and corporate funds… “The financing chain is doing well, considers the president of CroissancePlus. You have to give yourself the means to achieve your ambition. Too many entrepreneurs are reluctant to bring in investors! »

It is all the more unfortunate that an investment fund does not only bring money. It often gives access to a network of entrepreneurs and experts. It is a growth accelerator in the same way as support or networking structures such as CroissancePlus, Réseau Entreprendre, the ETI Accelerator or Tech in Fab.

Finally, growth is also a question of will and human relations. It is sometimes confused with the ability of the entrepreneur to leave the posture of the creator to endorse that of the developer. In a team, it can be like a collective match where disagreement and ego put everything in danger. A pitfall that SPvie Assurances avoided. “One of my keys to success is my relationship with my partner, agrees its co-founder Jérémy Sebag. We have different cultures and networks, everyone has their role. »

Similarly, an entrepreneur cannot be everywhere and must know how to recruit committed employees. “At the start, we managed a lot as a couple and it was underperforming!, confides Audrey Louail. Hence the importance of an executive committee and the development of employee skills. In this sector where computer engineers represent almost all of the workforce, the couple relies on people. “We have relocated our company to the regions
[Nantes, Lille, Bordeaux et Vannes, NDLR] to ensure a better quality of life. »

* Mapping of ETIs in France, January 2021.