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Compiegne’s local innovation and creativity eco-system is ‘cleared for launch’

The eco-system is one of the major ambitions UTC Compiegne: to be at the heart of a system that enhances innovation and creativity in the Compiegne city and environment. The inaugural meeting of the Advisory Board was held May 29, 2013; the role of the Board is to advise, to guide and otherwise encourage this flag-ship project.

Compiegne’s local innovation and creativity eco-system is ‘cleared for launch’

This Board counts some twenty members, all strong ‘believers’ in the new partnership, getting readied for launch – starting with Ronan STEPHAN, former President and Vice-Chancellor of UTC Compiegne and today Director of Innovation, with Alstom group. He offered a brilliant demonstration of how necessary it is to have the mediation of “those that know” when it comes to rethinking any innovation policy. “Faced with stiff international competition, intellectual property law rights are not enough to protecting companies today. We must now move rapidly and build strategic partnerships with the academic world, not forgetting to consult ‘civvy street’ to test various uses of any given, proposed solution before it is deployed and developed. In essence, an eco-system can provide relevant answers to these challenges, and it can create the conditions propitious for comprehending and answering the demands of the future – and this, believe me, is no easy task!”

‘Open innovation’ versus intellectual property rights

Ronan STEPHAN knows what he is talking about: at Alstom, there is a Group Innovation Committee and a specific, in-house, social network used to build “bridges” between scientists, the R&D division and customers. “We shall also be using mediation of academic actors to create discussion, research and experimental forums. The risk if we don’t proceed in this manner is that we might miss out on some breakthrough discoveries; hence it is essential to build and maintain long term relationships with research laboratories, with the experts in both science and technologies”.

Ronan Stephan (Alstom, Paris, France)

Ronan STEPHAN spoke of several cases in point that had rapidly become vital for Alstom, among which big data mining and management. “A contract was signed with UTC Compiegne in connection with operating systems, to work with data bases and data packet transmission that was becoming both denser and denser and more and more stratified. Today, what we have to admit is that it is the speed with which a company can get its products to the market-place that counts in terms of competitivity, far more indeed than any intellectual property rights. In China, for example, our network solutions have been largely copied and there was nothing we could do about it. The local ecosystem for innovation should seek to strike a balance among the logic followed by the various actors in the field, in a context of mutual trust and co-operation around joint projects. Mediation between enterprise and Society at large necessarily transits via the scientists and engineers ‘who know’. This function is primordial.”

Long term, flexibility and pragmatism

UTC Compiegne is perfectly happy to fulfil this function: in France, UTC is the first French University to launch such an ambitious territorial project. It will not be a new formal entity, but rather a mechanism that brings together the economic, academic and public actors. “A viable ecosystem must be able to rely on local strong points. In the Netherlands, the equivalent project is carried by the Philips Corporation, in Switzerland by EPFL (the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) who has organised it on the engineering school campus. In the case of UTC Compiegne”, notes President Alain STORCK, “the most important point was to build up a regional ecosystem and to share governance with the partner enterprises and local authorities. UTC-Compiegne is just one cog in the wheel, the overall richness of which lies in the degree of collaboration and the enthusiasm of all concerned”.

Ronan Stephan (Alstom, Paris, France) , Alain Storck, président de l’UTC, Allen Scott (Professeur émérite, UCLA, USA) et René Anger (Directeur de Cabinet Conseil Régional Picardie)

This diagnosis of the situation is shared by René ANGER, Executive Director at the Picardie Regional Council. “Ever since the 1980s, the Picardie Region has been setting its priority R&D policies and thematics as a function of industrial crises and urgencies; There is an almost natural convergence between the 4-year Contract between the Government and the Picardie region and UTC’s objectives, notably in regard to new forms of mobility and plant chemistry which we support and encourage via the company called Capital-risqué Picardie Investissement (Picardie venture capital investment).
he Picardie Region has always played an incentive role – the question is, can we (and how precisely) push matters even further? Certain ancillary tools, certain operational schemes are now outdated and need to be revitalised if we want to induce a new spirit into regional innovation. Let me add that we shall not succeed here if we do not first achieve a convergence of interests and aims between the Region’s public authorities, its academics and industrialists. The eco-system we are discussing must be part of a long term strategy, both flexible and pragmatic as we implement it. It definitely must not be reserved for “the happy few” – which leads us to a vital question: how will the eco-system cover and irrigate the Region?”

“Culture seen as an integrating factor”

How indeed can we best organise the eco-network to bring, for example, the techno-park called Rives de l’Oise closer to, or in contact with, Méaulte and its predominant aeronautical activities? How are we to mobilise scientists and artists round joint projects?
As Véronique MISSERI sees it, there are 4 major axes to be privileged. Valérie is a UTC research scientist and lecturer, who has accepted the mission to pilot this project to success. The first axis concerns the UTC Innovation Centre. Student-engineers, enterprise representatives, research scientists will be able to meet and exchange in this 5 000 m² building currently under construction; it has been designed to encourage and enhance innovation intensive initiatives and intellectual brainstorming on all floors, so to speak. Cultural activities will also have a key role to play, in order to make the Centre open up to the public at large. “ Culture is an integrating factor”, underlines President STORCK. UTC Compiegne is already building bridges between arts and technology, a good example being the Composite(s) Festival which brings together visual artists, manual workers and digital proponents. One of the first projects of the UTC Innovation Centre relates to a sector where art and high technology go hand in hand: luxury brand flacons.
There are UTC teams working on innovations projects for the benefit of the 65 SMEs of Glass Valley (a world class pole for luxury brand bottling in the Bresles valley (they are studying anti-counterfeit marking, thermal properties of the flacons, etc.). Innovation and gains in competitivity of these small companies should help ensure that their know-how and expertise in glass stays in France. The local ecosystem for innovation will contribute to making other initiatives more visible. A good example is the event: SME Ambitions (SME-student-engineer encounters), or the 24h Innovation Challenge (see p. 17), in which activities UTC would like to associate the regional enterprises desirous to do so.

The coming digital community

“The 2nd priority thematic will be to develop an innovating, digitally meshed community, with inter-connecting social networks” explains Valérie MISSERI. “Some 80 are already connected to the network we have been operating now for 4 months; the 3rd and 4th axes will be to issue invitations to innovate and create develop regional scale network meshing, building bridges and cross-overs and locations that are conducive to innovation-intensive activities”.

Gilles Zuberbuhler (UIC, France), Guillaume Lucas (Faiveley), Hugues Arnaud-Mayer (Président Commission Innovation MEDEF, Paris, France), Véronique Misséri (UTC) et Christian Deblois (UTEAM)

About 50 enterprises are now partners to the ecosystem. Some structuring regional entities have also been approached for contributions, among which the Region’s industrial poles of competitivity and i-Trans. “These poles will gradually induce positive effects throughout the Region. The existence of i-Trans and the partnerships we have signed with the major Picardie sites in the field of transportation technologies and engineering have helped enhance - I am personally convinced - the retaining of sites and reinforcement of their activities and in our Region”, underlines René ANGER. This provides an encouraging outlook for the ecosystem per se, the objective of which is to create wealth, added value and innovations in many shapes and forms.
President STORCK reminds his colleagues that “it is not enough to build premises; we must also give meaning to our endeavour”. This indeed is the challenge of 6 priority actions defined thus far: specific research programmes, offer to accompany partners and provide services for start-ups and regionally based enterprises, which constitute meaningful targets for the UTC Innovation Centre, creation of a ‘living lab’ and a defining of a regional marketing strategy.

A European ambition

“If we can succeed in enhancing the attractiveness of our Region, then the ecosystem will naturally serve to bring in new enterprises, engineering school outposts and research establishments to set up shop here” stresses President STORCK. “Even if the ecosystem is anchored in Picardie, its ambition must be international in scope. This is one of the corner stones of our overall strategy – to see the University of Technology of Compiegne (UTC-Compiegne become a European University of Technology (EUT)”. The new ambition would embody 6 thematics: plant chemistry, mobility/transportation, the environment and sustainable city concept, health, design and entrepreneurship.”
Professor Thomas FROEHLICHER, Dean and Director General of HEC Liege, Belgium also is convinced that UTC Compiegne will assume its full influence and meaning in a European context; he is also a member of the steering committee for Creative Wallonia, a framework programme that places creativity at the heart of a Wallonia development strategy. Wallonia indeed was elected ‘European Creative District’ in January 2013 for its fine and noteworthy support of a creative economy. “There would, I feel, be a strong geographic and strategic coherency were we to envision building a large area running from Picardie to Wallonia with innovation as the centre-piece of future development schemes”, he suggests. To move forward on the European front, ‘rendez-vous’, as we say, at the Innovation Summit 2013 which will take place in Liege, Belgium, mid-November 2013.

Indicators, the ‘one-stop’ shop and mediation

The first meeting of the Advisory Board did not choose to ignore the difficulties that lie ahead. The ecosystem – carried as it is by actors with differing logics and time-scales – must attempts to conciliate their various expectations. “This is the very reason for having an advisory board!” explains Alain STORCK. Two members of the Board, Gilles ZUBERHULER (CEO of Clariant and President of UIC Picardie Champagne-Ardenne) and Hugues ARNAUD-MAYER (chairman of the Innovation Standing Committee at the MEDEF (the French employers’ union)), reasserted their commitment to the project. “The Picardie Region is ranked 4th in France in the chemical sector, with 100 enterprises and more than 12 000 salaried employees. Clariant is a partner to both IAR and PIVERT actions. In the framework of the ecosystem”, proposes Gilles ZUBERHULER, “it is important to consider vertical integration, whereby chemists can be involved in research activities in varying sites and we can provide space for this in our industrial platforms to accommodate innovating start-ups. What we need here is an open dialogue in relation to intellectual property rights where the academic milieu can play the role of mediator.” 
As Hugues ARANAUD-MAYER sees the future, the UTC ecosystem, at some stage, will need quantity indicators. “We shall need to prove the added value and return on investment (ROI) to the region. This is the only way we can attract innovation financiers, and integrate ecosystem work upstream. When all is said and done, could prove attractive to new local investors”. Guillaume LUCAS (Vice-President for the Monitoring Committee for i-Trans and Executive Director General with Faively) sees the ecosystem as a source of opportunities for innovation and creativity and for better co-ordination with local entrepreneurs who wish to start innovative projects and approach the academics interested.
“What we have to set up is a one-stop shop approach to replace and coordinate offers that sometimes are in completion and rarely understood. The role of the ecosystem is not yet fully clear on this score, but I shall personally see to it that the ecosystem is not just a new addition bolted on to existing structures”. With these provisos and nuances on the table, Stephan RONAN concludes, adding the final touch “We have all the trump cards in our hands: we really must succeed!”