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Setting up businesses : the Ecole des Mines goes from strength to strength

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The challenge for the school is two-fold : to encourage the creation of innovative startups, and to make the student engineers aware of entrepreneurship. The key element of the scheme is the business incubator at the Chantrerie, which is host to a dozen projects, with an increasing number of partners and initiatives.

Entrepreneurship has the wind in its sails, and the Ecole des Mines is putting it at the top of their agenda – making it a mainstay of their strategy. "Our ambitions are two-fold, explains Anne Beauval, Director. Firstly we want to increase the number of innovative companies. The Loire region is the third most important industrial area in France, but only the eighth most important area in terms of creation of businesses. We want to make up lost ground. We also want to involve our students with the actors of innovation, to bring them greater awareness of the issue."

In order to do this, the school has a powerful tool : its incubator. Set up in 2011, it is located on the site of the Chantrerie, in what was previously the DRIRE building. The project leaders have 1000 m2 at their disposal, in a modern well equipped building with offices, meeting rooms, access to telephone and internet, and even the campus café and sports facilities. Most importantly, they benefit from personalised assistance, having  access to the expertise of the lecturers and research scientists at the school. And the Mines Nantes opens up its address book to them.

Today there are twelve projects running within the incubator, all linked to the Mines' domaines of excellence : digital, environment, energy, subatomic engineering, and robotics. Those running the projects are postgraduates, lecturers and researchers, as well as a doctor, and designers. One of the startups housed at the incubator is Jyméo, a price comparison website comparing tyre prices, already up and running in twenty different countries including China. Another example is Dataforpeople, which offers a service for local communities, based on collecting information from local people (trees and bushes in need of attention, leaks, accidents etc). And then there is 42 Factory, which works on connected objects, such as the 'mechanical plant' which regulates air quality. As for Axelife, which raised capital of 400,000 euros, they designed a device which measures arterial rigidity, in  a noninvasive way. "Having your business housed in an incubator provides a number of benefits, according to Mickaël Kerfant, co-founder of Jyméo. It means you can limit your expenses, particularly in the startup phase. But the most important aspect is that you have access to other project leaders, and a network of lecturers and alumni. This can lead to new ideas, and it's also good for the morale...'

 

Initiatives in every direction

 

The engineering students within the school, have the chance of doing a two-week internship, in teams of four, in one of the companies housed in the incubator. This year, twelve students have already taken advantage of this opportunity, making them aware of what is involved in entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

Now clearly identified within the school, the incubator is opening up to the outside world, and working with more and more partners. An agreement has been signed with the Ecole de Design situated nearby. Similarly, other agreements have been signed with Icam, with its expertise in mechanics and prototypes, and with the  Ecole supérieure du bois, Polytech, and the Ecole d'architecture.

Another major project is Odyssée, co-driven by the Mines, Centrale and Audencia. The  project aims to bring together 13 schools in Nantes, in order to set up an incubation platform,  involving the two incubators at la Chantrerie and la Jonelière (Centrale/Audencia) in particular. A number of institutional partners (Caisse des dépôts, BPI, Atlanpole…) are involved in the project.. "This way we can broaden the range of services that are provided to those setting up projects", explains Frédéric Pallu. Four years from now, the objective is to double the number of projects housed on the two sites, ultimately reaching sixty projects in all.

Opening up towards the business world is also high on the agenda. Experienced managers, in particular members of the 'Entreprendre' network, are starting to walk the corridors of the incubator, getting involved in projects and funding them. Business angels, and venture capitalists are also getting involved.

And that's not all : the incubator in Nantes has also created links with  its counterparts at Institut Mines-Telecom – and in particular with the incubators at Telecom Bretagne situated in Rennes and Brest. A challenge dedicated to creation will be launched in all the schools in the Institut next September. Finally, the school is the candidate for Nantes, for the label of "French Tech", for which eight towns are applying.  This in turn will trigger a strengthening of the ecosystems of digital innovation.

In short, the school is developing initiatives in entrepreneurship, taking part in the emergence of a veritable ecosystem for creation and innovation. An approach which will contribute positively to the economic dynamism of Nantes and which will also help to increase the influence of the school, and its appeal in France. An investment in the future.

 

 

Frédéric Pallu, director of corporate relations at Mines Nantes:

 « Double, or even triple the number of startups »

 

Why have a business incubator at the school ?

 

While it may be quite rare in engineering schools, a business incubator is a basic tool for for a school belonging to the Ministry of Industry. Our ambition is to bring together project leaders,  managers of established companies, financiers, lecturers, PhD students and engineering students. We want  students to realise that creation is within their reach. Our incubator is now clearly defined.

 

What are the objectives in terms of setting up businesses ?

 

Our ambition is to scale up. With increased resources, we could double, or even  triple the number of startups housed in the incubator. By the end of the year, or at the start of 2015, we will be launching an expansion plan, in collaboration with local communities.

After that, there is the question about how to keep the innovative startups. The recent case of  Tactads, a promising young company which was bought up by American investors, gives us food for thought. For Nantes, and for the region, it is very frustrating. The network that is built up around these seedling companies is considerable.

When the director of a startup has a powerful network support, he or she becomes part of an ecosystem, from which it is not easy to separate.

 

Are the students interested in starting a business ?

 

About 58 % of our graduates go on to work for large groups. The others turn to SMEs, micro- businesses, administration... or startups. However we must not lose sight of the fact that we train students for their entire career. Their professional career path is not one single entity. They may go from major companies to SMEs, or to creating a startup. Our follow up questionnaires do not give us an exact picture of what happens to our graduates. What we do know is that 10 years after graduation, 70 are entrepreneurs. It is important to remember that we also train them to be innovative in the companies where they work. That is what is known as 'intrapreneurship'.

 

Can students really be trained in entrepreneurship, and if so, how ?

 

Entrepreneurship is a complicated concept. At the Ecole des Mines, it centres on in-company experience - for example dealing with problems within an SME. This kind of practical experience takes place throughout the course. We try to encourage a culture of innovation, particularly in the second year. In fact, our role consists of trying to kindle a flame in certain students, to identify and support those who are interested in creating something. I think we could convert approximately half of the students to entrepreneurship. However we do not want to become a kind of 'entrepreneurship school'. That is not our job.

Having said that, we plan to put new initiatives in place. I am thinking in particular of a specialised course – for example in the last six months – for those who have an idea for a particular project. We could also introduce a specification – perhaps through a supplement to the diploma. Entrepreneurship training would also be useful for our alumni - particularly if the seeds were already sown during their initial training.

 

  • Business incubators in three stages

 

What are the different stages in a business incubator ? There are three, depending on the  maturity of the  project :

 

- the initial stage is the  "sandbox": The project leader does not have a very precise idea for the project . Another possibility : the company, in the start up phase, has a try out period for a limited time. This phase  concerns student projects, in their early stages.

- the next stage is the "pre-incubation" stage : the company has not been officially set up, but the idea is taking shape. The project leader has a place to work and meet people, enabling the project to move forward. What skills do they have ? What innovative ideas do they have ? How can they make headway ? What are the next steps ? They can focus on building a team, and on the skills that they require. This period of pre-incubation lasts around six months.

- A jury (made up of heads of department, local community representatives, lecturers, and financiers..) decides which projects to accept, according to how far advanced the projects are, what they are about, how innovative they are, and how they fit in with the areas of expertise within the school.

- the third stage, is the actual incubation. The company being set up is accompanied until the first contracts with clients have been signed. The incubation period lasts for a year, and can be extended. The cost of housing is supported by the school, then after a few months the startup pays a small amount of rent, and charges.

 

Incubated startups  : AI4R, Atelier Iceberg, Axelife, Dataforpeople, EasyVirt, Flyoverhotel, Jyméo

Pre-incubated startups : Priceo, QuaiDesApp et 42 Factory

 

If you would like to submit a project, receive further information, or contact the  Ecole des Mines about the conditions required for your startup project …

Telephone  02 51 85 81 11 or send an email to incubateur@mines-nantes.fr

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