Focus on three immersions in entrepreneurship
Celebrating thirty years of creating start-ups, Inria invites you to meet some of those who have built these businesses, and to discover the stories of their adventures as entrepreneurs, and the colleagues and partners who have helped them along the way. Follow their stories of success as they unfold across the coming months. Today, three chief executives of Inria start-ups, all originally researchers or engineers, tell the stories of their leap into the unknown world of entrepreneurship.
Chahab Nastar, co-founder and former president of LTU Technologies (1999)
I did my final work placement as a student engineer in 1991 before studying for a PhD at Inria as part of the Épidaure team (later known as Asclepios). The team, led by Nicholas Ayache, was working on the analysis of medical images. Not only was the subject area of great interest for me, it also had the underlying aim of improving medical treatment, a real public service mission to serve society as a whole.
I completed my PhD in 1994 and joined MIT as a postdoctoral researcher. Moving away from medical research, I worked on facial recognition, a technology that is now found in all sorts of applications from cameras to smartphones. I returned to Inria as a researcher in 1995 to work on image analysis in web-based applications. Before long, I was invited to set up my own project team which went on to become Imedia.
A real public service mission to serve society as a whole
I have always been a practical person. We used the results of our research to build a demonstrator with a graphical interface – almost a finished product in its own right. At international conferences, I was able to see how well we were doing compared with other teams throughout the world. This gave me confidence and, as I met more people, the idea of setting up a business began to grow. This was where Inria-Transfert came in. I was able to take advantage of the Allègre scheme that allows Inria researchers to remain a member of their team while, at the same time, becoming a minority shareholder in a company. Finally, Jean-Marie Hullot, an ex-Inria researcher who had also worked with Steve Jobs, persuaded me to become a full-time entrepreneur and leave Inria in order to devote myself to leading the company.
Stéphane Donikian, chief executive of Golaem (2008)
When I finished my PhD, I was sure that I would follow a traditional scientific career. Since 1994, I had been carrying out research into the modelling and simulation of human behaviour. Initially, the target application was a simulation of the behaviour of drivers on the road. The scope of the research was then widened to include the simulation of any type of human activity, and we began a series of collaborative projects with a number of commercial companies, including the French railways, SNCF.
I wanted to take the fruits of our research out of the laboratory so that they could be used for the benefit of society at large
A number of commercial companies were interested in the technology that we had developed. At first, I considered going into partnership with software publisher as a means of technology transfer. However, the conditions that they wished to impose were not acceptable. The members of the laboratory would no longer be permitted to carry on working in the field concerned. We then began to think about setting up our own business to exploit the results of our research. This led us to go down the road of creating our own start-up. For me, becoming an entrepreneur was the logical conclusion to a technological project. I wanted to take the fruits of our research out of the laboratory so that they could be used for the benefit of society at large.
David Loureiro, chief executive of Sysfera (2010)
At the end of my degree course in applied mathematics I obtained a work placement as a member of the GRAAL team, established at Inria-Lyon in 2007 under the leadership of Frédéric Desprez and others. We were working on the development of a software tool to help researchers carry out experiments into task sequencing algorithms for distributed computer science applications and calculations over networks or the Internet. I worked for two years on the DIET software package, and in particular on web interfaces and other powerful interfaces aimed at making it easier to use.
It all began with a meeting
In 2007, the team began work in collaboration with the French Téléthon TV charity event on a computer science project, Décrypthon, supported by the AFM, the CNRS and IBM. The team responded to the call for a software package and were selected with the aim of using DIET to give geneticists access to a distributed simulation infrastructure for comparing genes, sequencing, and analysing data. Seeing the software used in this way to provide a useful service gave us the idea of setting up a business.
I had always been a scientific researcher; I had never thought of becoming an entrepreneur. However, in 2008 my contract came to an end and I had just returned from an interview at Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand when Frédéric Desprez and Eddy Caron suggested that the three of us should set up a Sysfera together. I was only twenty-five years old at the time, and I had little idea of what this would involve, but it all began with this meeting with the two prime movers behind the development of DIET.