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The "Maturaction" training programme: a groundbreaking course on creating deeptech start-ups

Entrepreneurship Article published on 25 November 2020 , Updated on 25 November 2020

Université Paris-Saclay has expanded its range of programmes, aligning entrepreneurship with the world of research, with the introduction of "Maturaction", a course on management of innovative projects. Proven methodology and concrete research projects are used to bring students' entrepreneurial talents to the fore. The success of this initiative has brought "Maturaction" to be adopted by Université de Versailles - Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ).

"Maturaction" is an educational project that aims to train students in the management of innovative projects and the creation of deeptech start-ups. The programme was created in 2019, brainchild by Pascal Corbel, associate professor in strategic management of technological innovation, and relying on the experiences of Nathalie Hatton-Asensi,  currently Director of the Department of Training and Success at Université Paris-Saclay. Professor Corbel put "Maturaction" together while working as vice-president for Corporate Relations and Training at Université Paris-Sud. Funded by the Regional Delegation for Research and Technology (DRRT), the programme was designed to bring the entrepreneurial world and the research world together. It is now run by Université Paris-Saclay.

"In the university world, this move is a very innovative one since it brings together so many research laboratories and students with such a diversity of profiles and study levels."

Nicolas Lecompte

Students are given the chance to learn about real-life cases, while for researchers, it presents an opportunity to turn their findings into industrial projects. "A lot of studies from Université Paris-Saclay’s various laboratories and those of its members have great entrepreneurial potential but are not exploited, due to lack of time or expertises," comments Nicolas Lecompte, who directs the programme as entrepreneurship coordinator at the Entrepreneurship division of Université Paris-Saclay's Training and Success Department. "Maturaction" thus allows students from various disciplines and all levels of study to use this vast store of projects to develop their entrepreneurial spirit. "In the university world, this move is a very innovative one since it brings together so many research laboratories and students with such a diversity of profiles and study levels," remarks Nicolas Lecompte. Now on its third year at Université Paris-Saclay, the programme has already trained 75 students involved in a total of five scientific projects.


A proven methodology

Once the research projects have been identified by the Entrepreneurship division, in collaboration with the University's research development units and those of its research partners (CNRS, CEA, etc.), the students are brought to consider how scientific results could be turned into industrial applications or products. To carry out this task, students are assisted and supervised by François Many, Deputy Managing Director of Incuballiance, the technology incubator shared by the Paris-Saclay cluster. As a highly experienced expert in the field, François Many teaches the students a proven and reliable methodology for exploiting markets and creating start-ups. The students assess a range of potential uses and determine their potential using market and feasibility studies, analysing possible business models, identifying funding methods and checking legal and regulatory obstacles. Over the course of their discussions with students, researchers often unearth other possible applications of their work, new ideas that hadn't occurred to them before, as well as promising areas in which to exploit their findings: these may qualify for funding in the pre-maturation (eg. PoC in Labs) or maturation stages.


A multi-profile and multi-project programme

The programme is unrolled over seven evenings of workshops, spread over the course of one semester. There are currently 52 students enrolled, from Masters courses such as Innovation and Development of Research, Physics and Applications, Industrial Processes, Processes, Energy, Environment, and Intellectual Property and Information Technology (IP/IT); as well as from undergraduate programmes in 1st- and 2nd-year in Maths-Economics, Biology, Pharmacy, and Mathematics, and other University courses. The students are divided into groups for three projects: a project on decontaminating molecules developed by Vincent Huc from the Orsay Institute of Molecular and Material Chemistry (ICMMO - Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS); a method for detecting ultra traces of circulating RNA fragments, patented by Jean Gamby, researcher at the Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (C2N - Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS); and a micro-mixer designed by Etienne Herth, researcher at the same laboratory.


"Maturaction" comes to Université de Versailles - Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines

"This is the first initiative set up by our University that combines research with entrepreneurship training. It brings a whole new dimension to our educational mission, which enhances our position in the field."

Virginia Branco

As part of Université Paris-Saclay's policy of pooling the course offerings and resources provided by its various bodies, and at the initiative of Tania Di Gioia, Director of Innovation and Business Relations at Université Paris-Saclay, "Maturaction" is being spread to UVSQ this year, on an experimental basis. The programme is directed jointly by Patrick Ginter, associate professor at UVSQ and at St Quentin-en-Yvelines' Institute of Business Administration (IAE), who is responsible for the management and monitoring of students on the programme; and by Virginie Branco, Director of Development and Innovation at UVSQ, who is responsible for identifying research projects. Virginie Branco highlights the innovative nature of the programme: "This is the first initiative set up by our University that combines research with entrepreneurship training. It brings a whole new dimension to our educational mission, which enhances our position in the field". For the launch of its first year at UVSQ, the programme has a total of 118 students – and is due to receive around 50 more in the second semester – from the Masters 1 MSC (Master in Strategic Management and Change), both the traditional courses and work-study programmes, and the ETOS (Evolution of Technology, Organisation and Strategy) MSC. They'll be working on three projects: "Virtual Armchair" is a 3D augmented-reality solution that facilitates accessibility for people with disabilities, involving the renovation of existing buildings, or even urban planning. This project is led by researcher Éric Monacelli from the Systems Engineering Laboratory of Versailles (LISV – Université Paris-Saclay, UVSQ). The second project is "Les surligneurs", ("Highlighters") a website and service that highlights and legally verifies the comments made publicly by important figures, to identify all legal inaccuracies. This project was developed by Jean-Paul Markus and Vincent Couronne of the Centre for Sociological Research on Law and Criminal Institutions (CESDIP - Université Paris-Saclay, UVSQ, CNRS, Ministry of Justice, Université de Cergy-Pontoise). The third project involves an electromagnetic induction-charging solution to produce urban electric charging stations for low-power vehicles (scooters, bicycles, etc.). This project, currently in the prototyping and development phase, is led by Ibrahim Bergham, doctoral student at LISV.

The micro-mixer project led by Etienne Herth, research engineer at C2N

Etienne Herth, research engineer at Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (C2N - Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS), entered two research projects to the "Maturaction" programme. One in the first half of 2019: an interferometric sensor for which two patent applications have been submitted. The purpose of this sensor is to identify and/or characterise volumes of materials, liquids, semi-liquids or solids. For this project, students on the programme identified several markets and highlighted the sensor's strengths: its versatility, added to a vast number of potential practical uses. "Their work has been a great help; I can now move on to the next step, which is to enlist this prototype – which is capable of identifying small volumes of samples – in an industrialisation process."

The other project Étienne Herth has entered for this year's Maturaction programme is patented and won the "Poc in Labs" pre-maturation call for projects: μDROPMIXER. "I've have already identified an application in the field of health. This involves building a demonstrator that improves the pre-analytical processing, diagnosis and analysis of samples furnished by an industrial partner in the health sector. "There are other applications to discover, of course, since the micromixer could also be of interest to the biological, chemical and genomic sectors, not to mention agriculture and food. Bringing a fresh outlook to the project, students also sparked a new idea for the potential uses of the micro-mixer in industry. "Thanks to their questions, I realised that there was a market segment I hadn't thought of, which might also need an innovative device for making micromixes. This segment involves all those who provide solutions to the medical and cosmetics sector. "This is a sector that's very actively involved in research and development and that regularly handles microparticles. A micro-mixer would allow researchers in the field to improve the way they synthesise molecules, in order to carry out studies at the microscopic scale.

Students are currently working on the market study using a tool to describe the economic model: the "Canvas" business model. Once their work is completed, Etienne Herth intends to apply for funding so that the project can move on to its maturation phase. "It's important for me not to restrict myself to doing academic research, but also to try to transfer my inventions to the industrial world, thereby contributing to the process of innovation." In the medium term, the researcher wishes to develop his entire patent portfolio (currently numbering three) at Université Paris-Saclay by creating a start-up. This project may also become a subject of research for future Maturaction students.

A testimonial by Nora Dedegbe

Nora Dedegbe, now in her second year of undergraduate Science and Technology studies at Villebon Institute - Georges Charpak, has been participating in the "Maturaction" programme over the 2nd semester of 2020. Because of her interest in entrepreneurship, she kept a lookout on the various projects offered by Université Paris-Saclay's Entrepreneurship division and decided to join "Maturaction". "I was attracted by one of the projects that had been put forward concerning renewable and photovoltaic energies, led by Daniel Lincot, researcher from the Photovoltaic Institute of Île-de-France (IPVF) and Jean-Michel Lourtioz from C2N. This is one of the fields I want to specialise in." Following theoretical lessons and under continuous assistance, the young woman and her group have decided to focus on the transport sector. "What happened was that we proceeded by trial and error: after evaluating a number of highly different market sub-segments, we eventually decided to home in on the transport of heavy loads by airships." The students therefore pinpointed a company in the aeronautics sector that expressed an interest in the development of a light, flexible and efficient material. Nora Dedegbe and her group – three other students from the fields of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics, Innovation, Market and Data Science at Université Paris-Saclay, and Methodology and Statistics in Biomedical Research from Université Paris-Saclay's Faculty of Medicine – have figured out how to adapt a new, more efficient photovoltaic cell to future modes of transport in Île-de-France. "If there hadn't been such a variety of profiles within our group, we'd never have been able to be so imaginative and come up with such an innovative idea." The two researchers leading the project are continuing the group's work, in cooperation with the company. And they told Nora they would like to keep working with her in the future. "For now, I intend to go on with my undergraduate studies in third year; and since I really enjoyed this first experience of entrepreneurship with "Maturaction", I've also decided to follow Université Paris-Saclay evening courses in the creation and development of innovative start-ups. At the end of the year, I'm thinking of taking the entrance exams to enter engineering school through the university pathway. And after that, I'll be delighted to meet the researchers again and work on this fascinating project!"