Two years of InriaTech: technology transfer serving regional businesses
Inria / Photo H. Raguet
In its two years of existence, the InriaTech scheme that began in the Inria Lille - Nord Europe centre has already clocked up numerous successes. Its goal: to facilitate the balance between the results of the research carried out by the Inria project teams and the needs of the businesses. Contracts with SMEs, start-ups but also key accounts in the region - the approach is attracting an increasing number of companies.
At the origin of InriaTech was an observation; "We had a lot of opportunities to collaborate with private businesses that we were unable to successfully carry out, due to a lack of people - and engineers in particular " recalls Sylvain Karpf, head of the Innovation and Partnerships Transfer department at the Inria centre in Lille. The recruitment of engineers over a relatively short term (6 months to a year) was difficult to put in place. The idea of having a pool of engineers in-house for technology transfer was therefore gaining ground, strongly supported by David Simplot, the centre director at the time. And so, in April 2015, the project (the first of its kind at Inria) materialised, with strong backing from the local authorities, and in particular the Hauts-de-France Regional Council, the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and the Métropole Européenne of Lille. Echoing the tradition of scientific excellence in the service of technology transfer and society, "InriaTech is a well-adapted tool that gives us more flexibility and reactivity to best fulfil one of our missions - the transfer of knowledge and skills. This also enables us to develop relations with businesses ", Sylvain Karpf explains.
As a result 11 engineers and three business managers, who can be mobilised quickly, have been recruited over the last two years. The business managers solicit businesses in order to find out their requirements, and link this to the research organised in project teams at Inria. As for the engineers, who each have a very specific scientific speciality, they support the project teams in question. "A bilateral research contract is signed with the company having made a request. We draw up specifications, taking into account the business data of the company. The business pays for this research, which generally ends with the production of software ", Sylvain Karpf specifies. And the dynamic does not end there. During their contract at InriaTech, the engineers also learn about business creation.
InriaTech engineers at EuraTechnologies. - © Inria / Photo C. Morel
Innovation in the Hauts-de-France region
On the contract side, "around 20 have been signed with SMEs, start-ups, intermediate-sized enterprises (ETIs), but also key accounts in the region such as Oney Banque Accord or the start of a collaboration with ArcelorMittal. We are also contributing to the development of Research & Development on a regional level " the manager underlines. He continues: "We are bringing innovation to the businesses. For a start-up, for example, this gives credibility to its R&D approach ".
Issues that manifest themselves very concretely on the ground. The example of What A Nice Place, the start-up hosted at EuraTechnologies, epitomises this collaboration. After having worked on several contracts with this company, which specialises in interior design, the InriaTech engineer in charge became the start-up's technical manager. Annoying? "No, not at all! In a way, he becomes our ambassador. Communication is made much easier as he already knows our way of operating ", M. Karpf analyses. Another achievement: the start-up Utocat. It signed a first contract leading to the intervention of an InriaTech engineer, then a second, this time enabling the integration of a postdoc for two years, allowing the industry partners to increase their R&D share within their company. Moreover, the Institut Carnot* label awarded to Inria recognises the institution's will to establish direct bilateral contracts with the businesses. Sylvain Karpf has good reason to congratulate himself: "InriaTech contributes to the results of the Institut Carnot Inria, making it possible to obtain additional resources in order to better work with its industry partners. "
Subsequently, the head of InriaTech wishes to continue building on this momentum and develop the scheme: "Widening the scope to other project teams, consolidate what has already been done, sign more contracts and recruit more engineers - these are all part of our aims. " A scheme that keeps on gaining support. Indeed, the Inria sites in Rennes, Bordeaux and Sophia Antipolis want to follow in the footsteps of their big sister in Lille in the very near future.
* Inria has been certified as a Carnot Institute since April 2011. Research organisations are awarded Carnot certification in recognition of their capacity to collaborate effectively with industry partners on projects aimed at improving performance.
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© Inria / Photo C. Morel