Although European researchers are among the best in the world, moving forward to the product stage often proves difficult. With this in mind, the Hello Tomorrow Challenge is looking to provide support and mentoring to the originators of technology projects.
Interview with Xavier Duportet, founding President of the Hello Tomorrow Challenge. L’Atelier met up with him at the launch of the contest, which will reward 25 European startups in five specific categories – telecommunications, Big Data, energy, IT & robotics, and medicine & biotech – by offering them a five-month accelerator programme.
L’Atelier: Why did you choose to focus your project on technologies? Is Europe really lagging behind here, or is there just a lack of support structures in these sectors?
Xavier Duportet: It was obvious to us that we should focus on the technology dimension. We started out from the observation that very few young engineers are actually making the most of their technical knowledge. They usually prefer to take jobs in management or consulting. Moreover, when people today talk about startups, most are basically thinking about the web. However we need to remember that this is only one side of industry. And if France and Europe wish to avoid lagging behind in all the other industries – biotechnology, Big Data, etc. – it’s vital to develop usable products from these industries. But although research work in France and Europe is very good, we still don’t transform enough research into products which respond to real needs and problems. We therefore need to spread the kind of entrepreneurship that transforms innovative technology into products – both for B2B and B2C. Entrepreneurs should not have to fear entry barriers that are higher than those in the web field.
Why create a setup at European level when there are already initiatives in place at national level? Is it your precise intention to go beyond the national dimension?
What we’re trying to set up is different from what already exists and, yes, in fact we are aiming to take a global view. We’re just a team of young people, all volunteers and non-political, who want to promote interdisciplinary activity. Through our ambassadors, we’re trying to create in each country an ecosystem where all innovation players can meet up. This means researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs and investors, from all generations, backgrounds and professional experience. It‘s essential that all these people can get together and interact, within a country, and also between countries. Every country and community has its needs, its advantages, its talented people, and so on and we’re much stronger together than on our own. Moreover, networking is an essential component of entrepreneurship. Our goal is therefore to connect up all the young ‘changemakers’ with the right people to drive their projects forward, whether they’re in their home country or in another country or indeed another community.
I notice that your programme is mainly funded by private investors. Does this have any implications for the aims of your call for projects?
No, it has absolutely no implications. We really wanted to involve major French firms in this adventure, because we feel it’s vital for them to gain a better understanding of the startup ecosystem. Startups offer a good way of meeting the needs of large firms – developing products and services that are likely to be of interest to the bigger companies. It’s essential that these two types of company talk together and help each other. In addition, it’s very interesting to see that some people at major firms are really beginning to understand just how important startups are and how useful a win-win dialogue this can be. This is why we want to involve all these business players in the science/tech/business ecosystem that we’re trying to foster.