Industrial start-ups, still hampered in their take-off

Just look at the number of schools represented at the Global Industry show – just one – and those present at VivaTech to see where the hearts of French people seem to be beating today. The world of industry is struggling to attract new employees even though it is essential to the development of solutions for the future and contributes to the sovereignty of all countries.

An ecosystem to structure

Some entrepreneurs have embarked on industrial projects. These nuggets, which are trying to invent carbon-free mobility or the heart pumps of tomorrow, would be around 1,600 in France according to the advanced by Bpifrance. “Until now, there were no specific indicators to qualify a start-up as “industrial”. Also within the French Industrial Startups Collective we are convinced that the actual number of industrial startups is much higher than this”, considers, for his part, Eléonore Blondeau, president and co-founder of the Collectif Startups Industrielles France (ITUC France).

Still in its infancy, this ecosystem is beginning to take shape, via associations such as the Collectif Startups Industrielles France or Start Industrie, which brings together organizations (the Digital Farm, Alliance NewSpace France, orre CleanTech Open France, etc) concerned with building together a strong vision of the industry. This structuring movement has continued since the announcement of the France 2030 plan which gives pride of place to reindustrialization and innovative players in the sector.

Last January, an envelope of 2.3 billion euros and the establishment of a one-stop shop to support these companies in their installation, were also announced by the government via the Startups and Industrial SMEs Plan. Deemed « insufficient » by Eléonore Blondeau, thislast nevertheless shows that the country “goes in the right direction and gives a strong indicator sent to the market by putting industry back at the heart of its strategy” . But there is still a long way to go. These nuggets are now paying the price for 50 years of French deindustrialization policy. To give them the power to deploy their full potential, several obstacles must be removed.

Dusting off the image of the industry

An image of Epinal still sticksback to the skin of the industrial world. Eléonore Blondeau and Aurélien Gohier both recognize that today, the evocation of industry immediately brings to mind “factories, assembly line work and often uneducated employees. Clichés far from reality. He is “urgent to recreate a collective imagination on what the industry is today, on the one hand among innovation professionals and on the other hand among the general public”, launches as a call Eléonore Blondeau. Because far from being a minor subject, this image is also what will push, or not, investors and employees to take an interest in these companies.

Beyond the many advances made in the factories -reduction of noise pollution, CO2 emissions, hardship-, industrial start-ups are now offering innovative projects. Corwave develops heart pumps, Ÿnsect grows insects for animal feed and tomorrow, human, Gazelle Tech is developing a light electric car… Creators of breakthrough innovations, carrying meaning, the companies mentioned are struggling to recruit.

To break this image, Sport dans la Ville organised, last June, the “Industry Olympiads” in order to “democratize industry jobs for middle and high school students” , explains Eléonore Blondeau. And the subject must even be tackled earlier, believes Aurélien Gohier: “education must reacquaint itself with industry. We are in a generation where we talk a lot but we no longer know how to do things” . Without this pedagogy, the lack of talent in the sector will only get worse.

A new image yes, but be careful not to oversell it either, warns Aurélien Gohier. Who rebounds: “The great powers did not become industrial by decreeing it but by doing it. I’m not a fan of the idea of ​​a blind race to the stars, but when Kennedy gave his « We choose to go to the Moon » speech in Houston in 1962, he literally made it a state mission, a vision of innovation for an entire country.”, he begins. “Without trying to duplicater a model”, France must succeed in uniting around a new imaginary of industrial innovation.

Lack of funding and regulations weigh on startups

Industrial start-ups work in very diverse verticals: agriculture, space, mobility, health… However, they all face certain common obstacles that slow down their development: “equity financing in the pre-industrialization phase as well as the acquisition of land adapted to this same phase, the regulatory complexity and the lack of talent” point both experts.

The administrative complexity that affects the world of industry and each vertical addressed in particular is an enormous burden for companies which can push some to turn to other States to develop. Aurelien Gohier cites the cases of SeaBubbles and Franck Zapata’s Flyboard Air which, before the pandemic, had difficulty obtaining the necessary authorizations to test their solution on the water. More generally, Eléonore Blondeau notes that the “regulatory complexity makes it difficult to understand which approvals or certifications startups are subject to” and therefore powerr assess their real cost. However, the latter inevitably conditions the financing of which theywill need. And these are clearly high.

Industrial startups develop in three phases: innovation (R&D), pre-industrialization and industrial production. In one sentence, Aurélien Gohier summarizes the problem: “setting up a factory in France is often an obstacle course”. These projects require both a lot of time – from ideation to production – and funds to finance the R&D phase, prototypes and production, and even the construction of industrial sites. Today, business angels and banks finance certain phases of development of these startups or a well-known but “we need to change the investment model system” by making it more consistent with the needs of these entrepreneurs.

Cooperate and pool needs

Setting up an industrial startup is far from easy. Marc Simoncini recognized this himself at the time of the launch of his Angell electric bikes, confident that he had chosen the most complicated model for his last entrepreneurial experience.

Entrepreneurs in the sector need to be accompanied in the development of their company.  » The players in the startup ecosystem have a digital and service culture but little or no industrial culture and must therefore develop their skills to better understand the needs of industrial startups and support them in an appropriate way.“, analyzes Eléonore Blondeau. “More and more startups are using experienced consultants or mentors” to help them develop the best possible roadmap and thus, “saving valuable time” and avoid a few pitfalls, notes Aurélien Gohier.

Manufacturers, SMEs and ETIs also have a strong role to play in  » providing these companies with their technical, land, human and of course financial resources. This can involve the provision of advice in R&D or industrialization, the rehabilitation of their buildings to create Industry Benchmarks, create a framework of collaborations with, for example, payment facilities or even the creation of sector funds where 80% could be reserved for the transformation of SMEs/ETIs and 20% for the industrialization of industrial startups”says the president of the Collectif Startups Industrielles France.

Synergies and collaborations already exist between certain groups and these startups. Dassault Systèmes has created its own startup accelerator, the 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, which relies in particular on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform – an innovation space dedicated to industrial players – and an offer dedicated to startups. The general idea is then to provide access to certain technologies, to support the creation of technological solutions or to advise on the marketing of a product. Interstellar Lab relies on Dassault’s cloud solution. The startup XSun, which is developing a solar-powered drone, uses Dassault Systèmes’ design and simulation tools to analyze the performance of its future vehicle.

Beyond this type of partnership, Aurélien Gohier also calls for the pooling of skills between actors with similar or complementary needs. In his eyes, it is essential not to fall into the pitfall of the “war of the chapels” by creating territorial ecosystems.  » Many industrial sectors and professional groups are ‘trusted’ by this or that large industrial group, and we can sometimes go around in circles, not always in the collective interest.. The remaining objective is to prevent the only way out of these industrial start-ups being to see their technology and their intellectual and industrial property bought out by a large group.

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