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Inria Awards 2017

Anne-Marie Kermarrec : Inria - French Académie des sciences - Dassault Systèmes Innovation Award

© Inria / Photo G. Scagnelli

After thirteen years heading up the ASAP project team at the Inria Centre in Rennes, Anne-Marie Kermarrec recently spread her wings to create her own start-up, Mediego. It is the economic outcome of two decades of research on large-scale distributed systems.

Anne-Marie Kermarrec is the first to admit that she did not get into computers at a young age. She discovered them at university in the early nineties, when she had to choose between mathematics, economics, or computer science for her specialty after her first two years of study. “At the time, my brother was working on a PhD in computer science so I chose the same path with all the apprehensions of a twenty-year-old, but the feeling that it was going to be important in the future. ” A few years later, the young woman completed her PhD on fault tolerance in collaborative storage systems. “I liked computers and the academic world so I simply decided to keep going! I found a postdoc abroad and that’s how I ended up in Amsterdam in 1997, working under the leadership of the renowned Professor Andy Tanenbaum, at Vrije Universiteit. It was while working with him that I became interested in large-scale distributed systems, a subject that was starting to develop. ” When she returned to France, she became a lecturer at the University of Rennes. In 2000, she left Brittany for the United Kingdom where she had been offered a job with Microsoft Research. “It was the golden age. We were free to do what we wanted, we had the resources we needed and the place was full of brilliant people! ” 

Peer-to-peer systems in her sights 

Anne-Marie Kermarrec stayed with the computer software giant for four years, long enough to develop a passion for epidemic algorithms and peer-to-peer systems “that have much better scaling capacities than centralised systems since each machine can act both as client and server. However, the fact that no entity has global knowledge of the system is an algorithmic challenge ” she adds. In 2004, she returned to Rennes, but continued her focus on the problems she had been working on at Microsoftat the head of a new Inria project team called ASAP, for As Scalable As Possible, which is dedicated to large-scale distributed dynamic systems.

Internet users in search of a personalised Internet

While at Inria, her research gradually began to focus on an emerging theme in the Internet world in the mid-2000s, which was the personalised user experience. A few years later, the subject became the heart of the GOSSPLE project, which earned two grants from the European Research Council (a Starting Grant during the first campaign in 2007 and a Proof of Concept grant in 2013). “Our idea was to enable each Internet user to have their own Internet using the collaborative filtering concept, a personalisation technique that makes recommendations to Internet users by comparing their preferences with those of other users with similar profiles. What made the project unique was the fact that these principles were applied to peer-to-peer systems in order to obtain efficient, robust, scalable decentralised content solutions that respect privacy. ” In the meantime, Anne-Marie Kermarrec began thinking seriously about commercialising her research and approached IT-Translation, a start-up investor and partner of Inria which helps set up businesses spun off from public research.

Well-supported industrial transfer

Mediego became a reality in 2015 to develop a solution for highly personalised recommendations, based once again on the principle of collaborative filtering, for content and media publishers. Until then, Anne-Marie Kermarrec had been a successful researcher[1], and now she was stepping out of her comfort zone to become a start-up entrepreneur at the age of 44. “In France, there is still little crossover between the research and business worlds, which isn’t the case in most other countries ,” she says. “Thankfully, Mediego received active support from Inria for several long months! ” After winning the i-Lab competition in 2015, being integrated into the Western France incubator and then Rennes-based Pépinière Numérique, raising funds with IT-Translation and reorienting its business model to e-commerce, Mediego is actively continuing its journey. With seven employees, including a Ph.D. researcher from the DiverSE project team (Inria Rennes - Bretagne Atlantique), the young start-up is launching a new solution centred on user data analysis this autumn. As for its founder, she is getting a real taste for the joys of entrepreneurship.“For a researcher like me, the opportunity to commercialise the fruit of years of research is a real privilege. Attracting clients, obtaining funds and hiring new recruits are all new challenges for me, but they’re so rewarding!

Testimonies

Maarten Van Steen, scientific director of the CTIT (Institute for ICT Research in context), University of Twente (Netherlands)

“I met Anne-Marie for the first time in 1998 when she was a postdoc at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. From this first contact onwards I was struck by her attitude: a very open-minded person, she knows how to both share her ideas and champion those of others. This is an essential attitude in the world of science, but it is far from being widespread...especially when, at the same time, she demonstrates the ability to help others to adopt a creative way of thinking. When taken together and combined with undeniable human qualities, these characteristics make working with Anne-Marie Kermarrec a particularly enjoyable experience!”

Peter Druschel, founder of the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems and research director on distributed systems

 “I got to know Anne-Marie in 2000, during a sabbatical at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. We began a very fruitful collaboration on peer-to-peer systems and we have remained in touch ever since. Today, I am very impressed by Anne-Marie's contributions with regard to P2P, epidemic information dissemination and personalisation, which combine mathematical precision and scalability. Moreover, she brings energy, positivity and warmth to all of her collaborations. I am delighted to see that her qualities and creativity are now benefiting the economic sphere.”

[1] 10-year Best Paper Award ACM/IEEE/IFIP Middleware conference, 2014, Best Paper Award at WISE 2014, ICDCS 2010 and OPODIS 2009, ACM Fellow 2016, etc.

Keywords: Mediego Inria Innovation Award Inria Awards Start-up

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