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< Contents ERCIM News No. 63, October 2005

Born of INRIA - Twenty Years Creating Spin-Off Companies

by Laurent Kott

The foundation of a company is an opportunity to make the most of the enthusiasm, experience and dynamism of a research team. Naturally, the creation of a company with solid growth potential requires that a complete team be assembled, highly competent in many other areas than science and technology.

INRIA thus had to set up a whole process. This process begins with the conviction that certain research results are very likely to spawn innovations on the market. The right person or persons to head up the project must then be found, a motivated and enthusiastic team must be built and the initial setting up and transition problems must be resolved. In addition, a business model capable of convincing and bringing in investors must be developed, along with a good understanding of the market.

The main reason behind the birth of INRIA-Transfert was a realization of the urgent need to help finance the creation of innovative companies. We decided to start by setting up a subsidiary with the aim of establishing a clear boundary between the public subsidies allocated to INRIA and the funds dedicated to creating start-ups. Hence, a concern for clarity and transparency was paramount in the creation of INRIA-Transfert. Once it had been set up, we realized it could also play another role: providing guidance to project leaders to help them build their companies better and faster.

The only dedicated structure in the French ICST sector, INRIA-Transfert benefits from the experience accumulated by INRIA. The institute had already contributed to creation of start-ups over the years, as and when opportunities arose. The name INRIA-Transfert was a way to capitalize on this past experience and the institute’s renown. Indeed, thanks to the positive image associated with INRIA’s reputation as a centre of scientific and technological competencies and the fact that it is well known to financiers and investors, its subsidiary is able to offer this function of guidance not only to its own research scientists but also to people associated with other research institutes, both public and private. This is a deliberate and conscious choice: from our point of view, encouraging company creation is a concrete way of ensuring that research carried out in public (and private) research centres is brought to a successful conclusion and transformed into products and services through the creation of start-ups.

We believe that having a network of innovative companies in this very important sector is in the interests of both France and INRIA. It is a way of transferring our approach and being attentive to what is happening in the real world. My enthusiasm and conviction does not stop me from being realistic: I’d like to stress the fact that turning an idea into a successful new company depends 80% on prevailing economic conditions. However, since the creation of INRIA-Transfert, this opportunity is clearly one of the career paths offered to INRIA researchers. We have proved our capacity to foster the creation of start-ups, directly or indirectly, through the funds managed by I-Source Gestion. INRIA-Transfert is a challenge that we are in the process of winning.

INRIA-Transfert Assessment: A Sign of Recognition
After a year or more of guidance and evaluation carried out in collaboration with the entrepreneurs involved, the best company creation or development projects are awarded one of two special certifications. They are a concrete representation of our evaluation as of the date on which they are awarded, depending on the company’s state of development. They reflect a decision and a commitment, associated with a certain acceptance of risk. It’s also a way of giving these start-ups greater credibility.

Pertinence IT® certification confirms the usefulness of the technology and the economic viability of the start-up based on a number of evaluation criteria. It is awarded by INRIA-Transfert in consultation with its team of experts and the company’s pilot customers, and illustrates their opinion of the company’s economic value and its ability to survive in the marketplace.

Croissance IT® (Growth in English) certification is awarded to companies that have already obtained Pertinence IT® certification. It indicates that the start-up’s products, team, technology and sales strategy put it in a favourable position in a market with high growth potential. This certification is awarded by INRIA-Transfert, its experts, and institutional investors that already hold part of the company’s capital or are likely to invest in it.

Start-Ups Bearing the INRIA Trademark
As of 19 April 2005, companies stemming from INRIA have the right to use the slogan ‘Born of INRIA’. Brought together under the same slogan, modelled on the well-known ‘guaranteed vintage’ label, ‘Born of INRIA’ start-ups will be able to capitalize on the institute’s name and renown. It is also a way of highlighting the strong relationship between each of these companies and the institute, either through the people responsible for their creation or through the technology they apply which was originally developed by INRIA.
More than ever, INRIA remains convinced that company creation in the field of ICST is one of the most efficient and long-lasting means of technology transfer. INRIA wishes to express its admiration and gratitude to the research scientists, the engineers and their collaborators who embark on such ventures. Success or failure partly depends on the project proponents, and on general conditions. Let us hope that confidence returns to economic and financial circles, because it has never deserted scientists and technology experts.


Please contact:
Laurent Kott, INRIA-Transfert, France