Mass surveillance. Uberisation. Piracy. The digital divide. Algorithm manipulation. Excessive energy use. This century is 20 years old and has concerns about its future. Disruptive technology is finding its way into every aspect of our lives, changing everything - for better or for worse. Caught between defiance and concern, there is a pressing need for ethics within society. In response, the Digital Tech Conference in Rennes has made virtuous innovation the theme of this year’s edition. The event is being jointly staged by Inria, Destination Rennes and Le Poool, a startup accelerator operating in Rennes and Saint-Malo. It will take place at the Couvent des Jacobins, Rennes Métropole’s new convention centre, and a thousand participants - including researchers, engineers, students, investors and company creators - are expected to attend.
“By choosing the theme of virtuous innovation, our aim was to recentre the discussion around the human aspect”, explains Christine Morin, head of science at the Inria Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique research centre. “You immediately think of initiatives aimed at making economic development more sustainable or more environmentally-friendly, but we also felt it was important to place an emphasis on social progress. Take privacy protection, for example. Our information systems must be secured against attacks which threaten our personal data. The development of the Internet of Things will further increase this need for protection.”
So, ‘Tech for good’, as the Americans like to say? “We weren’t entirely comfortable with the expression”, says Daniel Gergès, director of Le Poool. “The expression ‘virtuous innovation’ goes beyond the purely technological aspect. There is a lot of work to be done, particularly with regard to inclusion. The world of innovation remains very closed off, a place for engineers and graduates from the grandes écoles, people who are very well connected, basically. We need to open it up to more people. Another key aspect is citizens’ engagement with these innovations, as we have seen with the debate over 5G.”
At a company level, these concerns have now been enshrined in good practices codified by the European Union through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Another background theme is the very nature of economic development. “The aim for an organisation such as Le Poool is to help companies to emerge and to create jobs”, explains Daniel Gergès. “But if we could not limit this to jobs with little added value then that would be even better. We want to have a positive impact on the region.”
“After reflection we decided to organise the programme around three issues”, explains Christine Morin. “The first of these is skills. This relates to the world of research, teaching and entrepreneurship. Then there is the living world, focusing not just on the environment but also on health, food and transport. Finally, there are the social aspects. This includes issues linked to security, privacy protection, democracy, inclusivity, accessibility for people with disabilities, etc.”
To discuss these subjects, the programming committee has invited around thirty or so speakers. Attendees will be able to hear from Christian Guillemot, co-founder of Ubisoft; Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO of Bpifrance; or Eva Sadoun, co-founder of LITA.co, a company enabling citizens to invest directly in projects with a social or environmental impact.
A platform for startups
Accessible through different passes (M,L,XL), the conference will feature three worlds, each on their own floor.
- #Inspiration to stimulate thinking.
- #ICréation to explore subjects in greater detail and participate in working groups.
- #Accélération to spark collaborations or form networks.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to discover around thirty of so startups representing virtuous innovation trends across a wide range of fields. “These are young companies who have already got a first product on the market”, explains Christine Morin. “The event will boost the visibility of their applications.”
Meetings, networks, projects
Prior to 2019 the conference was staged at Rennes Opera House. “The layout of the space was not conducive to networking”, explains Daniel Gergès. “The Couvent des Jacobins is much better-suited as a venue. We had very positive feedback in that regard from the last edition. The success of this type of event is measured by the meetings which take place and the projects which result from those meetings. That’s the aim. Paradoxically, people working in innovation don’t meet each other that often. Startups are not regularly in contact with researchers, academics, students, local authorities, service professions, etc. These worlds are quite sealed off, and our goal is to help break these barriers down.”
“Digital Tech has carved itself a niche in the digital sector, where you have so many events. This was one of the factors which prompted us to take part as co-organiser” explains Jean-François Kerroc'h, managing director of Destination Rennes, the company responsible for running the Couvent des Jacobins venue on behalf of Rennes Métropole. “We really believe in this event, which provides a wealth of content, the opportunity to look to the future and a meeting point for different worlds, reflecting everything the region does best. One of our responsibilities was to provide the technical resources for the development of this event. This makes it really satisfying to see it growing year on year.”
There is one added bonus: as is tradition, participants with an XL pass will be given a badge allowing them to access the Festival des Transmusicales.