[Reportage] Agoranov, a factory for researchers and entrepreneurs

by bold-lichterman

The portal at 96 bis boulevard Raspail, in Paris, does not look like much. Let us say rather that it does not let anything show through. However, behind, it is a completely renovated building of 2,300 square meters, strewn with colored bands on the ground to indicate the visitors, that one finds. This is where the Agoranov incubator and 37 of its 45 incubated start-ups have been operating since 2012. “Before, we were spread over three different Parisian sites, it was really complicated. Then we recovered this former scientific laboratory for which the City of Paris partially funded the rehabilitation ”, we explain. Moreover, the premises still belong to Pierre and Marie Curie University, which is one of the founding members of the project alongside Paris-Dauphine University, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris Tech and INRIA.

A meeting place at Agoranov's
A meeting place at Agoranov’s

However, it was in 2000 that the incubator was born. Since then, 263 projects have been integrated for more than 2,400 jobs created according to the figures provided. Funded by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the City of Paris, the Ile de France region and the European Social Fund, its mission is to “promote the creation of innovative companies from the results of public research “.

A young shoot named Criteo …

“All research organizations have internal research development structures. Once developed, a technology can either be licensed to an industrialist, resold, or lead to the creation of a business. In the latter case, we take over. It is up to us to raise the level of researchers in entrepreneurial skills ”explains David Argellies, account manager at Agoranov.

“Researchers are very different from entrepreneurs: they don’t have the same language or the same culture… We help them convert their technologies, which came out of a research laboratory, to boost them and make them into something marketable. Researcher-entrepreneurs represent at least half of the projects for an average age of 30-35 years, because they have more background before starting ”. What about the other half? “We accept all kinds of projects and all kinds of profiles. We are not confined to public research or to a particular sector ”, however. In all, 250 people work in the building where open space, private offices, meeting room, living room with fluorescent sofas and a conference room where modern furniture and design crosses at vintage of an old library.

No equity participation

Researchers on one side, start-upers on the other… This plate tectonics gave birth to a mountain: Criteo. The French advertising retargeting, who raised $ 250 million at the Nasdaq in October 2013, was born from the meeting of Franck Le Ouay and Romain Niccoli, both engineers, and Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, who had already embarked on entrepreneurship. “The founders met at Agoranov. Originally, they did not set out to do RTB, but a film recommendation engine ”. The French nugget bought in April AdQuantic, another company resulting from Agoranov founded by researchers in quantum physics.

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Agoranov’s cafeteria overlooks a garden

The incubator has also seen Multiposting, RunMyProcess, the latter acquired in November by Fujitsu, and Anevia, a company founded by two former VLC alumni which publishes video stream optimization software and which has raised 6.8 million dollars. euros on Euronext’s Alternext last May. It also hosts Phonotonic, which develops interactive musical games, co-incubated at CentQuatre with which a partnership has been established. At the moment also, Dataiku, specialized in Big data. According to a draft deliberation by the city of Paris, all the companies incubated in 2013 would have raised 5.7 million euros.

“The strength of a public incubator is independence from projects, because our model is based on separating our funding from our selection of projects. We do not take any participation in companies ”.

But the structure still lacks visibility. “What is interesting in an incubator is to obtain a critical size by bringing together a lot of companies to communicate better. Potentially, Agoranov would have everything to gain by expanding and merging, while retaining the same model which is the right one ”explains one entrepreneur. “For a start-up, there is a plethora of offers in Paris. We need fewer players, but more incubators with a critical size, ”he adds.

A product that can be marketed in 24 months

Start-ups have to pay rent, well below the market we are assured, for a 24-month program including an all-inclusive hosting service with the required infrastructure (Internet, telephone, etc.), individualized support by a business manager specializing in the sector, and an acceleration with, as a result, training courses, conferences, and rather academic training cycles on the basics of entrepreneurship (business plan, fundraising, etc.).

“Entrepreneurs gain skills and must come out with a marketable product in 24 months.” For this, the alumni network also plays to find relays and share their knowledge. “We have an appetite for more technological projects, but as we are open to all sectors, this creates synergies between web start-ups and those which are more tech” explains Mr. Argellies. “Agoranov is also a good place to find its first clients, among the other incubated projects” according to an entrepreneur. And complementarities are often found in the cafeteria, quite simply. “Coffee is free. It plays a lot ”.

Olivier HARMANT

On the ground floor, an open space alongside several private meeting rooms
On the ground floor, an open space alongside several private meeting rooms
The old library of the building has been restored as a meeting and conference room
The old library of the building has been restored as a meeting and conference room
Photos of former incubator entrepreneurs are pinned to a wall
Photos of former incubator entrepreneurs are pinned to a wall
Photo credit: Olivier Harmant for Frenchweb