When scientists get started

Awards go down on Xavier Duportet. Appointed this year by the magazine Forbes As one of the 30 most promising Europeans under 30 in the field of health, he received the Hope for Leadership Award last year and in 2015 was named French Innovator of the Year by MIT Technology Review. Why is this 29-year-old biologist focusing on him?

Together with his partner David Bikard, also a researcher at the Pasteur Institute, they undertook to “change the world for our children” with intelligent antibiotics capable of sorting out bacteria and killing only the bad ones. Their product, if successful, will be revolutionary. Meanwhile, Eligo Bioscience, the startup they launched to support this project, has already raised 2 million euros and is preparing to raise 12 more this year.

High-tech gold nuggets

The two young men are part of a new generation of scientists. No more PhD students in white coats lurking in the back of their lab. Today, researchers dream of leading their business. Since the 1999 Allègre Act, which authorized them to set up businesses, about a hundred of them take the plunge each year. A figure considered “disappointing” by Jean-Luc Beylat (president of Nokia Bell Labs France) and Pierre Tambourin (general manager of Genopole), authors of a report on the issue.

Nevertheless, the scientists who come out of the closet in this way create real gold nuggets because they take risks and explore areas where industrialists do not go. And above all, they introduce real technological advances when classic start-ups often settle for recycling obsolete activities in a dematerialized form.

>> Also read: 10 French companies tackling major diseases (and also minor ones)

Patents galore

A physicist working in an environment teeming with gray matter, at the Langevin Institute of ESPCI ParisTech, of which he is deputy director, Mickael Tanter, has filed more than 40 patents during his career. Several have given rise to companies that are responsible for exploiting them.

Among them Supersonic Imagine, which markets Aixplorer, an ultra-fast ultrasound scanner that enables a much more reliable diagnosis of cancer, or Cardiawave, which is developing a medical device for the treatment of aortic stenosis, a heart disease. “To develop such products,” he emphasizes, “one must build a bridge between the skills of my discipline, physics and those of other players working in medicine, mathematics, etc. Real innovations are born of the confrontation between these different fields. . “

>> Also read: Biotech and medtech, the most promising French players


However, being surrounded by brilliant brains and developing a product at the forefront of innovation is not enough to ensure the success of a start-up. “It’s just the beginning of the story. Going from technology to end product is the hardest step. For two or three months, we support creators and help them imagine marketable solutions by confronting them with potential users,” says Sophie Pellat, CEO for co-foundations at IT Translation, an investment fund created by Inria and Bpifrance (EUR 30 million under management).

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Among the thirty start-ups she follows, all of which are the result of research, is Niland (420,000 euros raised). The company was launched in 2013 by three IRCAM researchers and develops music search and discovery engines based on an artificial intelligence system. Damien Tardieu, one of the co-founders, measures the progress made thanks to this support. “My job has been transformed: I learned to understand customer expectations, to adapt the product and its price accordingly, but also to create a corporate culture.”

>> Also read: How our brains and engineers win over global companies

business plan

To take on his new leadership, Pascal Viel, a researcher at CEA and co-founder of Ajelis (Innovative Wastewater Treatment Methods), takes the HEC Challenge + training course designed for high-tech companies. “I have discovered how to make a business plan,” he testifies. And my attitude has also evolved: While at first I was talkative and quick to talk about my work, I no longer publish my results and remain discreet so as not to push the competition or betray secrets.

Last assets that researchers can count on: public support and complementarity between public and private. In 2015, the state spent 226 million euros to increase the economic benefits of public research.

>> Also read: These 21 innovations that will shake up the medicine of the future

The start-up GLOphotonics (lasers and fiber optics) could take advantage of this. Founded by two researchers from XLim, a CNRS laboratory and the University of Limoges, it won 900,000 euros in funding last year, part of which is linked to a project affiliated with Thales Avionics. “The company took advantage of the connections that the university has created with industrialists to respond to numerous tenders and win some of them,” confides Frédéric Gérôme, one of the co-founders. Opportunities that will also allow her to receive a barrage of awards.

Xavier Duportet, physician in biology, founder of Eligo Bioscience

Xavier Duportet (3rd from the left). – Patrick ALLARD / REA

Originally, his start-up was a company from Rockefeller University in New York, where he met his colleague. As a graduate of MIT and Inria, he also launched the Hello Tomorrow Challenge, a series of conferences that give scientists, engineers and programmers the opportunity to meet: an incentive to create start-ups!

Emmanuelle Charpentier, microbiologist, co-founder of CRISPR Therapeutics

© Peter Steffen / DPA / AFP

“Co-discoverer”, with Jennifer Doudna, of DNA scissors to cut defective DNA sequences, she could one day receive the Nobel Prize. Meanwhile, CRISPR Therapeutics, the company she co-founded with four other researchers, has raised $ 127 million on the US Nasdaq.


start-ups created by CNRS researchers since 1999.

1,426 th most common
companies created by researchers between 2000 and 2015, an average of 90 per year.

of the 1,810 companies awarded in the Bpifrance i-Lab competition since 1999 are linked to public research.

of the 1,810 companies awarded in the Bpifrance i-Lab competition since 1999 are linked to public research.

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