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Mediathena - VP (*) - 10/07/2019

Inria Sophia Antipolis Méditerranée innovates in supporting its start-ups

At the Inria centre in Sophia Antipolis Méditerranée, the development team, of which Guillène Ribière is a member, is responsible for supporting staff who could commercialize a new technology, resulting from Inria research work, and become entrepreneurs.

Better than "doing everything for them ", the support process used here gives them time and an iterative method to see things clearly before they start.

Within the 35 Inria research teams based in Sophia Antipolis Méditerranée, engineers and researchers carry out work with innovative results that it is sometimes tempting to want to promote through the creation of a start-up.

But to take this decisive step, an innovation is not enough. It is necessary to have a clear vision of both the use that can be made of it and the market segment that it is likely to interest.

Supporting potential start-up entrepreneurs on this path is the art of the Inria Sophia Antipolis - Méditerranée development team, of which Guillène Ribière is a member. And this project manager knows the meanders that mark the birth and life of a company: a trained engineer, she worked in Silicon Valley, experienced the closure of her company's site on the Côte d'Azur and then co-founded a computer start-up with four former colleagues, while taking the MBA (Master of Business Administration) courses "Leadership and Innovation" at the IAE in Aix-en-Provence.

The beginnings of her start-up, as challenging as they are exciting, Guillène Ribière shared them in a book that deciphers the internal life of a young company (see box). And it's the same message she's been sharing ever since as Inria's head of partnerships and innovation projects: creating a company based on innovative technology is not a gamble; you have to explore your potential markets before you start.

« When someone thinks they can bring an innovation to market, it takes time to identify one or more use cases for which companies would be willing to pay to use a solution, » explains Guillène Ribière. « It is essential that the proposed innovation fits into a real market. It is a guarantee of excellence and a sine qua non condition for the viability of a company. But this cannot be improvised: we give time via a fixed-term contract of one or two years within Inria Sophia Antipolis - Méditerranée, and a methodology adapted to the results that come out of our laboratories. »

An original iterative methodology

During this period of maturation, project leaders use lean start-up , a methodology that consists of advancing by iteration, over short cycles. The idea is to adopt, both in technological prototyping and market exploration, a "hypothesis - test - validation or invalidation" approach. At the end of each iterative cycle, the initial hypothesis is validated or invalidated, allowing a new hypothesis and a new test phase followed by validation or invalidation.

For a given product, an assumption may be, for example, that the target market is that of adolescents. The test can then be an advertising campaign targeting this age group and the test validation measure a click rate of 1%. If the objective is not achieved, the hypothesis is not validated: adolescents are in fact not a good target for this product.

Thus, from one iteration to the next, the project progresses by iteration until it converges, at a meeting point between the institute's know-how and one or more markets. « The advantage of using this approach is that it is adapted to start-up projects that are naturally born in Inria because they are based on technologies that are ahead of their time compared to the state of the art, necessarily disruptive and rarely directly marketable ,» emphasizes Guillène Ribière.

Ups and downs without damage for a flight at the right time

In the case of the GraphDeco team, a mature technology has a potential for business creation since it is software capable of transforming a set of photographs from an environment into a 3D scene where one can evolve into virtual reality. The software also allowed objects in the scene to be deleted and the space they occupied to be rebuilt.

A first natural target seemed to be the video game market: the software can build a 3D game environment based on real scenes in a few hours. The team therefore explored the relevance of this idea by meeting with companies in this sector. She learned that, beyond a lack of financial resources, video game companies did not see in it an immediate commercial interest via the automatic creation of game environments, but that they saw in it the interest of being able to create multiple scenes to propose to their scriptwriter, much more quickly than by calling on a designer who takes several days to achieve a similar result.

The team then explored the new construction market, potentially interested in creating in 3D the environment in which the future buildings would be built to walk virtually. This use having not been validated either, the team got a little discouraged... until a meeting, during a conference, with a major car manufacturer who was looking for a way to create scenes of realistic road environments to train his autonomous vehicle.

« Being supported in prototyping and market research is, for future entrepreneurs, a precious opportunity to take stock, sharpen their entrepreneurial know-how and sometimes even give up," says Guillène Ribière. "It is thanks to this period of personal evaluation that start-ups that are actually taking off are likely to go a long way!  ».


« Start-ups explained to my daughter »

« Wouldn't all these millions of euros spent on projects be better invested to make up for the lack of doctors and hospital equipment? Wouldn't we be doing a little too much for start-ups? » It is thus challenged by her medical student daughter that Guillène Ribière decided to write a manual of start-ups, seen from the inside, to explain the process of creating value for our entrepreneurial economy and the steps necessary to "start a business". In this book, the author also describes the impact on his family and entourage of his desire to become an entrepreneur. A useful reading for everyone: creators of technological start-ups or not, and for anyone curious about this world always a little mysterious about the creation of a company.

« Les start-up expliquées à ma fille », Pearson editions , November 2018.