how the CEA has become a real innovation factory

There were not only gadgets at CES in Las Vegas. For the fourth year in a row, the CEA Tech research center has also set up, in partnership with the Aura (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) delegation, the world's largest technology fair. Its stand, called CEA Tech Village and located in the Eureka Park, the area dedicated to startups, is in his image: discreet, even austere, it does not exhibit any product that catches the eye of visitors and the media. But it is not because it lacks nail polish that it does not hide any spectacular innovations.

This year, we could find Sigma Cells, a new smart battery cell technology that could revolutionize electric transport, or Pixcurve, a method of bending optical components, which reduces the number of lenses in the devices. Digital photography, smartphones, micro-screens or virtual reality glasses, and therefore to bring a major innovation in the optical market for both the general public and industrial (space, automotive, defense ...). Seven startups from the CEA also exhibited at CES. Notably the Diabeloop medtech, which changes the life of type 1 diabetics thanks to its artificial pancreas, whose marketing is finally authorized in France since last October, after years of research and development.

No less than 762 patents filed in 2017

This is the paradox of the CEA: everyone knows it by name, few really measure its impact on innovation in France. Located in nine centers throughout France, with a budget of 5 billion euros in 2017, the CEA is a scientific, technical and industrial research organization (Epic), including 15,942 engineers, researchers and Technicians work in four areas: defense and security, low-carbon and renewable-carbon energy, technological research for industry, and basic research. A true innovation factory, the CEA has filed in 2017 no less than 762 patents.

Enough to make it the largest public research organization in Europe and the second largest in the world, according to a study by Thomson-Reuters / Clarivate. In this large ecosystem, CEA Tech, armed arm of the CEA launched in 1967 and devoted to technological research, employs alone4,500 scientists, spread over four sites in Grenoble, Chambéry and Paris-Saclay: Leti (dedicated to microelectronics, Grenoble), the List (dedicated to digital intensive systems, including artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber, at ParisSaclay) and Liten (specialized in new energies, in Grenoble and Chambéry) "Our presence at CES meets both business challenges [40 contrats de recherche partenariale ont été menés au CES l'an dernier, ndlr] and notoriety, to publicize our role as catalyst of innovation for the national industry and our strategy of spin-offs of startups ", explains Jean-Michel Goiran, the director of communication and marketing of CEA Tech.

In search of an industrial or commercial application

Indeed, the role of CEA Tech is also to ensure that its patents find an industrial or commercial application rather than mold in the lab. "Manufacturers need innovations. The most advanced are either transferred directly to large groups so that they exploit our patent so that it becomes a brick of their solution, or spun in the form of a startup that creates a product and markets it, "says the leader. Pixcurve, whose optical technology can be applied to many sectors, is in the first category, while in the case of Diabeloop, it was more relevant to create a startup to make the most of innovation.

As a result, hundreds of technologies have been divested to major groups since the 1970s, and have contributed to the success of Thomson and ST Microelectronics, for example. The designer of smart cards StarChip, which includes smartphones and credit cards, has integrated CEA technology to its offer to secure data. 204 startups have also left the ranks of the CEA, contributing largely to the extraordinary economic dynamism of the Grenoble basin. Kalray, a nugget of embedded processors, recently raised 47.7 million euros when it went public on Euronext in 2018. Aryballe Technologies' "universal electronic nose", which combines biotechnologies, connected objects, nanotechnologies and sciences cognitive, could revolutionize some domestic uses - the oven will not miss any cooking - and industrial, while Avalun's LabPad technology will soon benefit from a "pocket laboratory" to perform its routine biological analyzes - cholesterol , blood coagulation ... - at home, in connection with health professionals.

Nine or ten spin-offs per year

These deep tech, that is to say breakthrough innovations developed in the laboratory, contribute to embodying French technological excellence. Their transfer into the economy is both a strategic challenge for the CEA itself, which produces innovations shovel but exploits a tiny part, but also, more generally, for France in its quest of digital sovereignty, at a time when technological innovation is accelerating around the world to meet the great challenges of the twenty-first century. The government will also launch in 2019, via its arm in the financing, Bpifrance, a vast "deep tech plan", to which Mission French Tech will provide support. Good news for CEA Tech, which has been working for years to strengthen bridges between the world of research and that of entrepreneurship. "It's very difficult to find the right team, one that will turn the lab's innovation into commercial and financial success. Often, the researcher behind the innovation wants to participate in the entrepreneurial adventure, because it is necessary to adapt the technology to the future product. It must therefore be associated with a complementary profile of entrepreneur, capable of having a financial and commercial vision because the stakes of the first two years of the startup are technical development on one side, and financial on the other, it is to find partners and funds, "explains Jean-Michel Goiran.

This long and perilous Way of the Cross to find the right team explains that CEA Tech only wants "nine or ten" startups a year. "And again, in the 1990s, we only released one or two a year because there was not yet fashion startups," he adds. But the method works: thanks to partnerships with schools of management and commerce, the "matches" between entrepreneurs and researchers are more and more frequent. CEA Tech claims a five-year survival rate of 70% of its startups, against only 20% on average in France. The fruit of both this rigor in the selection process, but also the strong technological barriers imposed by deep tech, these startups with very high technological added value, which, when they are well launched, have little or no compete and take ownership of their market. CEA Tech can look forward to the future with optimism. The new appetite of society for researchers and engineers, the popularity of entrepreneurship among young people, whose dream is no longer to work in a large group, the political will to support breakthrough innovation, position the CEA, and especially CEA Tech, as one of the key players in the French tech scene for years to come.