• NMG Staff

Innovation leaders to make dreams come true


This article was originally published by Véronique Méot and Céline Tridon.


Regardless of criticism, doubts or pandemic, entrepreneurs rise up and continue to develop their projects, pursuing a dream in which they believe. Sometimes they even try to turn actions that serve human and environmental causes into business.


For fifteen years, Alex Caizergues has stood up kitesurfing, thought kitesurfing and laid down kitesurfing. Passionate, this champion can be proud of his record of achievements: world speed champion (in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2017), twice record holder in all categories and current kitesurfing speed record holder with an average of 107.3 km/h over 500 metres. He is now aiming for 150 km/h! But to shatter his own records, the sportsman needs a cockpit. "The feat is not without danger, so it's better to have a certain level of safety," says the man who admits that he sometimes goes to the limits of what is reasonable.


Sports director of the tech think tank The Galion Project, he sees further than the sporting performance and takes on board a few entrepreneur-friends in the project of creating a racing team. "If you have an idea that will allow the adventure to continue beyond your record, we're in", these entrepreneurs whispered in his ear. This is how the scientific and technical laboratory Syroco was created in April 2019 by five co-founders.


"The absolute speed world record is the primary achievement of Syroco, whose innovations aim to bring about the energy transformation of maritime transport and to participate in its decarbonisation," says Alex Caizergues. One of these innovations is the design of the Speed Craft, Syroco's star craft. In eighteen months, Syroco has also succeeded in bringing two products to market: a digital twin platform for simulating energy efficiency, whose first client is CMA CGM, a transport and logistics company, and a foil (profiled wing) that improves the energy performance of ships for Hynova (the first hydrogen-powered yacht). In sum, a company was born out of a crazy project.


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It must be acknowledged that the transport sector attracts entrepreneurs. New Aquitaine, for example, is passionate about the project led by Flying Whales, which has been labelled by the public authorities as one of the flagships of the future of French industry. What does it involve? Creating, building and operating steerable balloons! Equipped with a huge hold adapted to heavy loads, for direct point-to-point deliveries, these air giants will aim to connect isolated regions, to intervene when infrastructures are non-existent or in poor condition. A child's dream? Not only. Alain Rousset, the president of the region, is a fan. New Aquitaine has also become a shareholder in Flying Whales.


"Sébastien Bougon, the founder of the company, really has a vision of how the programme will work in the market and he has always been keen to have clearly identified outlets," comments Michèle Renaud, market, sales and communication director of Flying Whales. It's not just a question of engaging in an extraordinary project but of doing business. Nevertheless! Before long, the giant whales could be taking off from Laruscade, north of Bordeaux, where the Flying Whales factory is to be built.


Some start-ups are choosing to position themselves squarely in the space sector. "Take Exotrail, a start-up created by engineers who are developing a small satellite propulsion solution... Who would have imagined just ten years ago that a start-up could launch itself into space? Who could have imagined just ten years ago that a start-up could launch into space?" asks Matthieu Somekh, CEO of the Zebox incubator. Here, there is no race to conquer space. It's about rolling up your sleeves for the common good. "Entrepreneurs, and especially the youngest among them, are showing an increasingly strong desire to act and to have an impact on their environment," Matthieu Somekh continues.


Thus, the greentech, ecotech and cleantech sectors are bringing together energies. For example, several projects are working to combat marine pollution. A Norwegian start-up, Clean Sea Solutions, has developed a system to eliminate plastic waste from marinas.


In France, skipper Yvan Bourgnon is developing The Sea Cleaners, a sailing boat, the Manta, fitted with a collection ramp to collect and filter plastic waste along the coast. Another initiative was born in the Basque Country, I Clean My Sea, run by Aymeric Jouon, oceanographer. "Our mobile application allows its users to report the presence of waste; they just need to take a photo and it will geolocate them and send the information to the collection boat," he explains. It's simple, engaging and effective. "I specialise in modelling currents, so I worked on predicting trajectory drifts," he explains. Last summer, the boat sailed along the Basque coast for three months and three tonnes of waste were collected.


"By involving our fellow citizens in the collection, we hope to raise their awareness and change their behaviour," says Aymeric Jouon. This family man, crazy about the ocean, is acting to put an end to the desolate spectacle of a sea littered with plastic and to be able to reconnect with the dream! "We are seeing a stronger commitment to social, environmental and societal entrepreneurship, with project leaders trying to change the world," confirms Didier Chabaud, professor at IAE Paris.


Is there indeed a typical profile of slightly crazy project leaders? "They are knowledgeable people, scientists, who know their sector and have a real vision," answers Gilles Schang, deputy director of the Bpifrance ecotechnology fund. The creators of start-ups come from engineering schools, especially from the tech sector. Today, Didier Chabaud notes, "people commit themselves more easily and are not as worried about failure as they were twenty years ago, and entrepreneurship is sometimes just a stage in a career, so energy is released more easily.


The pioneers would not be bolder than their peers, but society as a whole appears bolder. This makes entrepreneurship more valuable. "Moreover, in the event of failure, they will be able to use their skills with companies that have entered an innovation cycle or are engaged in their digital transformation," Matthieu Somekh reassures us.


Moreover, the French ecosystem is generous. Among other things, Bpifrance supports projects via its future investment programme dedicated to financing innovative technologies in the fields of the environment and agriculture. Investors are not reluctant to follow well-prepared projects. The money is flowing. "Producing a proof of concept (POC) has become accessible. In a few months and with relatively little money, it is possible to test an idea and communicate around it," says Thomas Houy, lecturer at Telecom Paris.


The risk-taking, measured, does not dissuade them. Those who succeed are very comfortable in their relationships. "It's no coincidence that carrying out a project that will have a strong impact or exceptional success requires exchanges and a good understanding of one's environment," says Matthieu Somekh. Nevertheless, they dare. For example, the founders of Insect had the audacity to think that it was wise to use insects in animal feed. "They are proposing a paradigm shift and are really involved, and Insect is a company with a mission," says Gilles Schang.


Similarly, the younger generation is taking charge. "They want to act, they don't ask permission and they have mastered the technological tools. The distance between the birth of an idea and its execution has never been shorter," says Thomas Houy.

Hooking up with reality

The challenge is to connect an idea to the reality of the market. "No one can sell a crazy idea on their own; business creators have to start with a need, then build a solution. The materialisation of the offer gives investors the means to project themselves", summarises Didier Chabaud. And here, the ecosystem plays its role thoroughly. The concept is not enough. "The best ideas are born of a real need," says Matthieu Somekh.


In medtech, the playing field seems endless. Maryne Cotty-Eslous founded Lucine in 2017 and tackled pain management through digital therapies. A scientific and determined entrepreneur, she does not hesitate to challenge the myth of the superhero entrepreneur: "The success of the project has nothing to do with the personality of its founder, it is not a question of having an extra soul, but of bringing together three ingredients: a strong will, enough humility to surround yourself with people better than you are, and ensuring a market".


His market, that of chronic pain, covers 25% of the world's population! Lucine has therefore attracted partners. "The most ambitious projects have been able to tie up with industrialists and find a subtle balance between money, fund-raising and skills through the value of partnerships," comments Gilles Schang.


On the one hand, start-ups gain legitimacy and extra visibility thanks to big names in the industry. On the other hand, the big companies feed off the creativity of the start-ups. "The tandem works well if each is aware of the other's size, if the objectives are clearly defined and the operating methods adapted," warns Didier Chabaud. "Raising funds and obtaining subsidies is good, because it allows you to accelerate, but what makes a company is its turnover and therefore its sales", insists Maryne Cotty-Eslous.


In early March, Lucine celebrated its fourth anniversary. The company employs about forty people and works with about ten pharmaceutical companies, either in co-development or with a view to distribution contracts. The most fantastic projects do not escape the law of the market. But in order to conciliate the collective good with performance, you need to have a bit of energy. And these entrepreneurs resemble the antifragile so well defined by the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb... They have the ability not only to take advantage of disorder, but to require it to become better.

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