Inria celebrates 30 years of business creation
1984: Inria becomes a shareholder in a first company, SIMULOG. It was the start of a history of company creation which is still going strong today! Today, and over the coming months, Inria is turning the spotlight on 30 years of exciting entrepreneurial ventures. It is an opportunity to remind ourselves that the creation of businesses is one of the areas Inria decided to focus on in its search for economic and societal impact. Interview with Antoine Petit, managing director of Inria and Eric Horlait, Inria’s deputy managing director responsible for transfer and industrial partnerships
What is the role of business creation in Inria’s activities?
Antoine Petit : Inria’s task is to have an economic and societal impact based on its scientific successes. This is one of Inria’s core missions, and it is translated on an institute, center and individual project team level. In order to make this transfer a reality in the field of digital technology, we decided to focus on creating companies. In 30 years, more than 120 innovative technology companies have stemmed from research work led by Inria.
Eric Horlait : Digital technology provides a tremendous opportunity for innovation. We are helping our scientists to seize the opportunities for creating companies which are emerging around new services, new tools or the renewed relationship to information and knowledge... The companies created are based on research covering the entire spectrum of Inria’s activities: image processing and analysis (intelligent video surveillance, special effects), digital security, robotics, software engineering (programming languages, tools for the writing, verification and maintenance of code), man-machine communication interfaces, networks, high-performance calculus. They are marketing products and services in a wide variety of fields: health, leisure, defense, security, housing, transport, energy, telecom, commerce, education…
What are the success stories or milestones from 30 years of experience in company creation that you think should be highlighted?
Antoine Petit : Inria has been a forerunner in supporting the creation of businesses from the field of public research. In 1998 Inria created a spin-off, Inria transfert (which became IT-translation in 2011) to provide support to researcher entrepreneurs. It uses Inria funding for its investments, which comes from the sale of holdings in start-up companies. Also in 1998, together with AXA Private Equity and CDC Entreprises, the Institute created I-Source Gestion, the first French venture capital facility, specialized in providing seed capital for innovative companies in the field of information and communication sciences and technologies. We have been able to create methods, processes and new support procedures adapted to the specificities of the digital field, notably with regards to managing intellectual property. Today, more than 70% of the companies created are still in operation or have been bought out, and the majority of them have succeeded in evolving towards a global market.
Eric Horlait : Here is another striking illustration of the impact of the companies created by Inria: 10% of our start-ups which are over four years old have been bought by companies considered to be world leaders in their particular fields. This is notably the case of Chorus, bought by Sun Microsystems (which was then bought by Oracle) in 1997, Kelkoo bought by Yahoo! in 2004, Medience bought by Business Objects (which was then bought by SAP) in 2005, Ilog bought by IBM in 2009 and Trusted Logic bought by Gemalto in 2009. Of the more recently created companies, we can also mention great success stories such as Golaem , a Rennes-based start-up creating special effects software, used notably in the Game of Thrones series and The Walking Dead. There is also Lyatiss , which sells network and application analysis and performance optimization services for the Cloud, which set up its headquarters in Silicon Valley whilst still keeping its R&D activity in France, and Therapixel who is making an impressive entry into the world of operating theatres: its software enables the surgeon to control screens without touching them in order to search and display the images required at different stages of a surgical procedure.
What is your strategy today? And for the future?
Antoine Petit : Inria is one of the actors contributing to the French campaign for innovation in the field of digital technology, and has been doing so for over 30 years. We are working in synergy with all of the other actors (investors, local authorities, business incubators, competitiveness clusters, SATT [French group of companies for the acceleration of technological transfer], etc.). By maintaining these special relationships, we are making the most of the complementarity of the different types of expertise in order to succeed in our mission to create businesses. Our action is part of the French Tech dynamic, as I recently underlined at the time of the first certifications of French Tech metropolitan centers.
Eric Horlait :
We are mobilizing our skills and talents to go even further. We are continuing to develop an entrepreneurial culture amongst our researchers in order to increase the opportunities for business creation.
We are also supporting the development of created companies by proposing a partnership with a shared medium-term R&D roadmap: Inria Innovation Labs. We want to develop this type of cooperation even further. For us, supporting the development of start-ups and continuing to provide them with privileged access to the technological advances coming from research is a priority and a major strategic focus.