Helping Company Founders: INRIAs Technological Outreach Strategy
by Bernard Larrouturou and Laurent Kott
The founding of companies stemming from INRIA started in 1984. Over fifteen years, thirty-seven companies have been created by researchers, engineers or young PhDs coming from INRIAs research teams. Twenty-six of them are still in activity today under their own name and gather a total of over one thousand highly qualified jobs.
INRIAs commitment to foster the creation of technology companies has been reinforced in the last two years. In addition to various incentives and encouragement, INRIA now supports company founders through post-doctoral fellowships and due to the incubator role played by its new subsidiary INRIA-Transfert. INRIA also played an essential role in setting up the I-Source-Gestion company that manages the first start-up fund in France consecrated to the sector of Information and Communication Science and Technology (ICST). This commitment led to very satisfying results in 1998 and the beginning of 1999. Seven technology companies stemming from INRIA were created in just twelve months: Gene-IT, Liquid Market, Novadis Services, Polyspace Technologies, Realviz, Saphir-Control and Trusted Logic. These companies intervene in such diverse fields as video digital special effects, software certification for smart cards, catalogue set up for electronic commerce and genome sequence processing, to name a few. The skills and technological basis for several of these companies come from highly theoretical research. Two years ago, it was not always evident that such research had the potential required to enter the markets concerned today. Such company creations thus are very good examples of the breathtaking speed at which technological breakthroughs occur in ICST.
INRIA-Transfert is a company with a capital of13,2 Million Euros created in 1998 that is a 100% subsidiary of INRIA. Its purpose is twofold: to play a major role in the setting up of a start-up fund in ICST, and to provide the reference structure for the incubation of innovative company projects in software dominated information technology. On the start-up side, INRIA-Transfert is the reference stockholder in the newly established
I-Source Gestion company (see below), but has no direct responsibility in the management of its start-up fund. Concerning incubation, the essential task is networking, that is to say setting up a network of professionals that INRIA-Transfert can call upon to detect, appraise and consolidate creation projects. The objective is to bring them to fruition in less than a year.
INRIA-Transfert is thus a structure that the project authors during the phase prior to the creation of the company itself. INRIA-Transfert provides help in the following steps:
- scientific appraisal of the project
- exchange of ideas to refine the project and narrow down the objectives
- search for financing
- market research
- verification that the final program proceeds as expected.
The goal of this company is to finance the seed phase of technology start-ups stemming from public or private research, operating in the ICT markets. The first financing tool is a venture capital mutual fund for an amount of 15,2 Million Euros and a duration of 10 years. Funds come from the public sector (like the main stockholder INRIA-Transfert and the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations) and private sector subscriptions (institutional investors, in particular the assurance company AXA, and venture capital companies).
I-Source Gestion develops a genuine co-business approach with the project authors it selects. Starting from a draft of the product, team and business plan, I-Source Gestion works with them on the formalisation of their business strategy, on the definition of the first objectives and on the finalisation of the financing plan. The goal is to make sure that the start-up takes off successfully so that the start-up fund can disengage itself when strong growth phases are reached. An active follow-up of the start-up is made possible through a participation in the board of directors or the supervisory board. The planned average amount of I-Source Gestion intervention is on the order of 450,000 Euros in two instalments separated by 12 to 18 months. Project selection is extremely demanding on the marketing as well as technical level and I-Source Gestion does not hesitate to ask the advice of various experts, including INRIA scientists.
The first accomplished project that benefited from the help of I-Source Gestion financing is the Polyspace Technologies start-up, which specialises in the development and marketing of verification and validation environments for on-board real-time software. The company was founded at the initiative of Daniel Pilaud formerly at Verilog and Alain Deutsch, an INRIA-Rocquencourt researcher. Approximately twenty projects are currently under study. The objective of I-Source Gestion is to help starting up some eight technology companies per year over the next five years.
For more information, see:
- I-Source Gestion: http://www.isourcegestion.fr/
- Industrial relations at INRIA: http://www.inria.fr/Partenariats/dev-rel-industrie-eng.html
Laurent Kott - INRIA
Tel: +33 1 39 63 56 02