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Inria & SMEs

What does Inria do for SMEs?

Eric Horlait, directeur du transfert et de l'innovation - crédit photo Gilles Scagnelli/Inria © Inria / Photo Gilles Scagnelli

In order to support technology transfers to SMEs, Inria has established strategic partnerships, particularly with OSEO, as well as a platform of tools and services. How does Inria help SMEs? Interview with Eric Horlait, innovation manager.

What role do SMEs play in Inria's strategy?

Eric Horlait:  Technology transfer at a business involves the integration of a result of public research into its product or service offering. Inria's priority in this matter is to support the growth of SMEs and medium-size companies through technology transfers, whether they stem from Inria or not.

Why this priority?

Eric Horlait: It starts with the acknowledgement of the role of SMEs in the knowledge economy: these companies are drivers of innovation in the digital industry and, because of their agility, particularly effective vehicles of technology transfers for the purposes of enriching their commercial offering and increased competitiveness.

What does Inria offer to SMEs?

Eric Horlait: Inria's offering to SMEs is two-fold: first, of course, the offering of scientific expertise and software technologies of its research teams, but also the offering of a clear process and individualized monitoring allowing them to identify then integrate, where appropriate, this know-how and these technologies. In the first place, Inria presents SMEs with an offering adapted according to their industrial sector and particularly dedicated business contacts who are technology transfer professionals specializing in these fields.

These technology transfer sector managers support companies throughout the process: making contact, joint formalization of the company's request and presentation of Inria's offering, identification of skills, and, where appropriate, establishment of a technology transfer project with its technical roadmap and its financing package. To do this, they also rely on the plans intended to facilitate and accelerate technology transfers, both the existing public plans and internal plans that Inria has established specifically for SMEs.

What are these tools to support technology transfers to SMEs?

Eric Horlait: Inria first relies heavily on two public plans that seem key to us. Competitiveness clusters supply a dynamic framework to maintain network exchanges between businesses and players in public research, with the objective of finding a better intersection between their offering and SME technology transfer demands. The research tax credit is a powerful, mastered tool offering a specific, focused framework while significantly limiting the barrier of cost for businesses.

However, Inria has also deployed its own tools to the various links of the technology transfer chain. Upstream, this involves giving businesses increased visibility adapted to their concerns about the research conducted at Inria: the CONNECT publication, a collaborative Web platform, and an abundant program of technology demonstration events, both physical and online, aim to meet this major challenge.

Then, the key is the ability to adapt the technology to the company's need and to transfer the associated skills to it, in the form of a joint technology maturation project, which generally requires dedicated technical and human resources. Inria's SME program thus provides an ad hoc framework for such partnerships, in terms of contract management as well as financing and project management; the most integrated type of partnership is the Inria Innovation Labs (ex I-Labs), a "joint laboratory" between Inria and the SME, characterized by a shared roadmap over a significant period (2-3 years), aiming for strategic technological positioning for the business.

As part of this, Inria and OSEO have entered into a partnership. What does it contribute to businesses?

Eric Horlait:  Inria and OSEO have teamed up to increase the innovation capacities of SMEs in the digital and software fields. This bridging first involves two elements already mentioned: visibility given to the SME on the offering of public research through the joint publication of CONNECT and the reinforcement of a logic for monitoring and supporting projects for technology transfers to SMEs, by covering all of the dimensions of these projects, including their financing. However, this partnership also relies on the joint definition of strategic thematic priorities: the objective is to bring a structured effort on these sectors in order to intensify innovation overall through SMEs, in an ecosystem logic, particularly those of competitiveness clusters.

In concrete terms, this takes the form of national initiatives that unite academic and industrial players and particularly offer to SMEs tools and support specific to the challenges and constraints of the sector, aiming to facilitate and accelerate the design and marketing of products and services with high added value in these sectors driven by innovation. Three sectors were identified at the start and thus gave birth to the Mobile services initiative and the HPC-SME program, while an action is being set up on the topic of the "sustainable digital city".

Keywords: OSEO SME Competitiveness clusters ETI Partnerships