France’s launches innovation competition to find next industrial star

Dec 3, 2013
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After being appointed head of the Innovation 2030 initiative last spring, Anne Lauvergeon kicked-off the initiative’s biggest effort, the government’s global innovation competition, with its opening yesterday. President Hollande publicly threw his full weight behind the initiative with an appearance at the official launch of the competition last Friday at the 104.

In his remarks, Hollande recognized that France was strong in research, but also admitted that it had not fared well over the last ten years in several global innovation rankings (ie a recent ranking put France 11th out of the EU 28). He’s hoping that launching a global competition to seek out and reward the best innovation around will help France gain some of its lost ground. As a reminder, the Innovation 2030 initiative will focus on 7 key areas where France believes they may be well positioned to create the next big industrial star – energy storage, metal recycling / reuse, exploitation of marine resources, individualized medicine, food, the ‘silver economy’, and big data. All selected projects will focus on one (or possible more) of these seven areas.

The first stage of the competition which opened Monday, is a broad call for projects / business ideas which will run through end of February 2014. Any startup or PME from any location around the world can apply.  From the first round, 100 will be selected and will receive up to €200k to support the initial stages of their development. Of the 100, 30 will be selected in September 2014 to receive additional funds of up to €2 million each. Finally, in 2016 one or two will be chosen to receive a package of funds (up to €20 million each) to finance their expansion and industrial development. All-in-all the government is spending around €250 – 300 million to support the selected projects.

While the idea of the government, or more specifically a government appointed commission, attempting to select the next big thing may make many uneasy, at least the project is being opened to innovations around the globe. Hopefully this will help to bring France up a notch in terms of its international exposure in innovation and technology. In addition, their attempt to support companies from early/seed stage to actual scale-up and commercialisation indicates that the government is in it for the long-haul, which could be a good thing (or not depending on your perspective). One thing that’s becoming increasingly clear is that the government have recognized that they’re not the best placed to create the next industrial star, which certainly was not always their mindset in the past. Instead, they’re betting on entrepreneurs in France and beyond to take up the charge.