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The CITT, an incubator with a difference

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More than simply an incubator, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre at the Mines de Nantes is designed to promote entrepreneurial development within the school. And much more besides.

There are many incubators to be found, particularly in engineering schools, and business management schools. However, at the Ecole des Mines de Nantes, the Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (CITT) which was set up in 2012, in the offices previously occupied by the DRIRE (1), is like no other.

In the CITT, creators and their startups, are able to find the array of support resources and services generally offered by such a program : :24/7 facility access, network-based offices, computers, and library (all access free of charge). A variety of training programs is available: "open innovation" sessions (with Nantes Design school), seminars, a module on how to manage a start-up (with the Mines school in Alès). And most importantly, those involved in projects are given help for a year, possibly longer, and they are even mentored by the head of the centre, Mikaël Salaun. He himself has a wealth of experience in creating startups, having already set up ten companies.

However this program is not available to everyone. Last year, out of twenty projects submitted, only the six most promising were selected to take part. These included AI4R specialised in the design, manufacture and assembly of innovative instruments for research, Jymeo, which helps people find the products which correspond exactly to their needs, and Teralogy, which has developed a data management system for bio-medical research.


A tonic cocktail


But the CITT does a great deal more than a typical incubator. "What we want to do is support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies both in and around the school, says Mikaël Salaun. Because bringing together creators, researchers and industry makes for a particularly tonic cocktail." And of course it also helps the development of the local economy.

The CITT does this by using its extensive network. Starting with the top universities in Nantes (Audencia, of course, as well as Oniris, l'Ecole du bois, l'Ecole de design, Polytech...) and those of the Mines-Télécom. Further afield, a number of innovative bodies are involved : industry, finance, public organisations such as Oséo, not forgetting competitiveness centres..

And that's not all. The CITT tries to lead students towards the idea of creating – for example by introducing them to young entrepreneurs, or getting them to do case study or a consultancy project on a startup. The program has been a great success (27 participants this year) with a number of candidates having to be refused. Creativity training sessions are organised, for both engineering students and doctoral researchers.


A think tank


Finally, the CITT is increasing the number of initiatives. Such as the "Innovation week-end", a kind of innovation ideathon. The idea is to get together students and researchers from all sorts of backgrounds, who have a project in mind, and to work over a 48-hour period under the leadership of company directors. The first event, in November brought together 80 participants working on 11 projects, 4 of which were voted as prizewinners. Another special event was the "Open Factory", which took place in January:companies put forward projects for students, on the theme of "digital landscape". Events are held simultaneously at the Mines de Nantes and  Télécom Brest, the two schools linking up for videoconferences.

For the next few months, there is no shortage of ideas : setting up a showroom, and introducing a grant scheme for those running projects. Consequently the CITT could well become a benchmark for entrepreneurship and innovation.

(1) Direction Régionale de l'Industrie, de la Recherche et de l'Environnement.

(Regional committee for industry, research and environment)

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