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Lille is French Tech!

On November 12, Axelle Lemaire, the Secretary of State for digital content announced that the French Tech label would be awarded to nine cities, including Lille. David Simplot-Ryl, Director of Inria Lille – Nord Europe, reflects on this announcement, which is a symbol of French digital vitality.

Is it important for Lille to have the French Tech label today?

David Simplot-Ryl, head of Inria Lille - Nord Europe centre

The French Tech label is primarily interested in recognising the digital industry for its creation of wealth and jobs. It is a relatively new vision in our country, with a few more tradition success stories like aerospace and transportation. But here in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, with the collapse of historic industries, digital transition has taken the lead. In the past ten years, nearly 30,000 jobs have been created and investment in innovation in the software industry is more important than anywhere else, except in Paris and its region*. Moreover, the report by the Caisse des Depots et Consignations, following their visit as part of the labelling procedure, showed that our ecosystem is a good example to follow. So of course Lille would be French Tech "for good". Now we need to build on our success.

What are the main challenges?

Our first challenge is to successfully coordinate various local ecosystems. It would have been easy to limit the project to EuraTechnologies, our symbolic development centre in Lille, but we did not want to deprive ourselves of any potential from Plaine Images, Blanchemaille in Roubaix-Tourcoing, the Digital Cultural Sector in the Louvre Lens Valley, Rives Créatives in Valenciennes or the Tektos initiative in Calais.

More importantly, we want to instil a start-up culture. We dream of Silicon Valley, Google and Facebook but we forget that in the digital world, it takes 100 pioneers to make a champion. Moreover, the vast majority of our graduates still prefer the comfort of large groups. By bringing together all those who are tempted by the adventure of start-ups and by creating a mentoring system where more experienced workers, who have sometimes failed and bounced back, can advise young entrepreneurs. We will change attitudes.

What is Inria’s role in the French Tech dynamic?

As Antoine Petit (our CEO) recalls, Inria “genetically” creates innovative companies. Firstly, we must make entrepreneurs hungry for innovation. Next week in Lille, our Inria-Industry meetings will inform them of the opportunities available thanks to technology and innovative applications around the Internet. These entrepreneurs can also continue to discover the quality and breadth of our work on our Inria platform at EuraTechnologies.

But this is just one step to stimulate private research and development, which suffers from real deficit in France. We want more companies to sign research contracts with us, and transfer technology, create jobs for researchers and welcome our PhD students. It is a cultural obstacle. Often, the start-ups we meet tell us that “research periods are too long, it’s like a PhD thesis, it’s not for us”. Yet we can sign contracts designed for 1 month, 3 months or 6 months.

Can Inria play a direct role in creating start-ups?

Yes, through their scientists and engineers who one day decide to jump the fence. We have some great examples, like Axellience, a young software company designed to make development teams more productive, relying on the latest technology for modelling and automatic code generation. They already have eight employees. I could also mention Vekia or Synectics... I have set myself a goal: to bring at least one start-up out of Inria every year.

How would you summarise the Lille is French Tech project?

Given the quality of their commitment and the number of associated partners, this is a great collective adventure. Each stakeholder has a personal vision of the digital world and diversity is our strong point. These past eleven months, we have been working hard alongside their innovative entrepreneurs to give them, and the region, the national and international visibility they deserve.

* Nord-Pas de Calais was OSEO’s second region for funding in the “software, IT services and web services” domain in 2011

Keywords: French Tech Start-up Transfer and innovation Lille