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In Lille, Inria cultivates the start-up spirit !

The Inria Lille - Nord Europe centre's Technology Transfer, Innovation and Partnerships department (STIP) encourages the creation of start-ups by raising awareness among, and providing support to, scientists wishing to venture into entrepreneurship. Laurie Barbarin has been exclusively in charge of this mission since October 2017. Lille is the first Inria centre to have set up a post dedicated to this support.

No fewer than six start-ups have come out of the Inria Lille centre since 2008. One of these, Vekia - specialising in predictive tools for e-commerce - celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. “It is a great success story. Today, they have around 50 employees and have just succeeded in raising a capital of 12 million Euros ”, Sylvain Karpf, head of the STIP, proudly says.  We can also mention a younger start-up, Go Touch VR, which is developing a solution for touching objects in virtual reality. A PhD student from the Mint team is behind this project. These achievements are proof that entrepreneurship represents a genuine career opportunity for an Inria scientist. This is exactly the message that the Lille STIP wishes to get across - and in particular Laurie Barbarin, the partnerships officer dedicated to start-ups. Lille is the only centre to have set up such a post.

Raising awareness to inspire vocations!

Laurie Barbarin

Since October 2017, Laurie Barbarin has been organising awareness-raising operations and business creation discovery sessions aimed at non-permanent staff at the centre: PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and engineers. Several times a month they are invited to meetings, in the form of creativity workshops or after-work events, for example. These are fun and convivial get-togethers aiming to arouse the curiosity of the researchers and instil within them the start-up culture. “In particular, we do game-storming in order to boost their business creativity and enable them to discover different types of economic model. We also invite the participants to exchange views, express what they think of the start-ups...We have debates to try to remove some of the barriers. ” The STIP also often invites 'start-uppers' to share their experiences and organises half-day discovery sessions of the region's incubators.

These Lille initiatives complement the national Inria Horizon start-up scheme. Every year, two sessions are organised in each centre in order to raise in-house awareness about business creation. In Lille, the last session took place on 15 May, bringing together 19 participants (PhD students, engineers, researchers, etc.). On the programme: a round table and discussions, a game to think up a business model based on a technology and testimonial-meetings with Eric Vezzoli, founder of Go Touch VR, and a representative of IT2, the Inria fund aimed at providing seed money for start-ups.   “All of these initiatives aim to show the scientists, in particular the non-permanent ones at the centre, that the technologies they are working on can be used to create products and develop into innovations. We emphasise that business creation is a career opportunity and that, if they want to take the plunge, they will receive Inria's help ”, Sylvain Karpf points out.

Every year, two sessions are organised in each centre in order to raise in-house awareness about business creation.

Supporting the birth of the project 

Another key point is the support for project leaders. Researchers showing an interest in becoming entrepreneurs are invited to benchmark, i.e. to go and see what is being done in the ecosystem and to reflect on the application that could be 'commercialised' based on their technology. “This stage is often difficult for researchers, who think more in terms of technology than in terms of a product that will reach a public”,the partnerships officer recognises. “We help them so that they can move away from the academic approach and enter into the world of business.

Inria can assist with financing this necessary stage of 'project maturation'. The institute has the possibility of funding, for a year, a project leader so that s/he can take the time to work on their future business. On the national level, IT2, the Inria fund, organises three-dayBarCampsso that the future start-uppers can meet investors and talk with other creators. All of the Lille project leaders have taken part in these. A year ago, Inria also created a training course in partnership with the Lyon management school (EM Lyon): digital start-up. There the project leaders discover the world of entrepreneurship: marketing, business plans, etc. “The objective is for the start-uppers to submit the best possible dossier to the French Ministry of Research's I-Lab competition for the creation of innovative businesses ”, Sylvain Karpf points out.

Once the project is perfectly 'mature', the start-up moves to the creation phase. For this, they are guided towards the various incubators in the region (EuraTechnologies, Plaine Images, etc.). Three start-ups are currently in incubation in Lille.

Entrepreneurship - pixabay

Inria, firmly rooted in French Tech

The institute is forging close links with the innovation ecosystem. It is a partner of French Tech, a movement for the growth of start-ups. And so, on 19 February, French Tech Central was inaugurated, on the site of Station F, whose goal is to further links between the world of research and start-ups. The Lille centre - a certified French Tech metropolitan area -  is also a part of this movement. Inria has also been present on EuraTechnologies, the Lille-based development cluster, for several years. Moreover it was here that, in 2015, InriaTech was launched - a platform that aims to facilitate the transfer of technologies towards businesses. Subsequently, a pool of engineers and project managers is made available to SMEs or start-ups in order to assist them with their innovation project.

Keywords: Start-up Partenership Technology transfer Entrepreneurship