This sponsored post is produced in association with BPIFrance.

Investing in companies these days can be pretty easy. You do some research into firms with a good potential for revenue and profit — maybe get a hot tip from a friend or relative — then find a broker and give them a few bucks to stake your investment. From there, you can just sit back and hope for a good return.

France has decided it wants to invest some major money into its future, but it’s taking a much more pro-active approach with its investment method. So, it’s created its own version of a startup jam to seek out and incubate entrepreneurial thinking, then turn those projects into actual companies that are doing business in the country.

In 2013, France President François Hollande called for the creation of the Innovation 2030 Committee, with plans “to confront the major challenges of the world of 2030.” The committee was tasked to find sources of innovation and entrepreneurship that could spark the country’s economy and employment over the next few decades.

In turn, the Innovation 2030 Committee created the Worldwide Innovation Challenge to take pitches from companies with great ideas, determine the best out of the bunch, and then, through the government’s “public investment bank” BPIFrance, seed those companies with funds to get their ideas off the ground. France pledged 300 million Euros in funding to back the Worldwide Innovation Challenge, and companies can either be French or foreign countries willing “to set up shop in France.” In addition, the challenge enables companies to get higher visibility for their work and helps them connect to other business entrepreneurs and innovators.

According to Catherine Borg-Capra, director of innovation at BPIFrance, the committee is currently running two Challenge campaigns concurrently. The First Challenge (which began in 2014 with 110 project proposals each receiving 200,000 Euros) is in the third phase, called the “industrialisation” phase, where five to ten “winning projects” will be funded 10–20 million Euros each to build their businesses.

Meanwhile, the Second Challenge has gone into its second phase, called the “risk reduction” stage, where companies are funded with 1–3 million Euros each for “wider-ranging development work” to better formulate their business ideas, undertake further research and development efforts, and hire initial staff that’s limited to researchers, engineers, and technicians.

It’s important to note, however, that BPIFrance is still willing to consider new project proposals that hadn’t previously been submitted during the challenge’s initial start-up period (at the end of 2015) and move them into the second phase. Borg-Capra has seen some great project ideas already, but she’s hoping that putting out a fresh call for proposals will bring more geographic diversity.

“The ambition of the challenge was to get international projects. I have to admit that we didn’t get a lot of projects from other countries; it was more of a French challenge, because all of the ‘lauréats’ were French companies,” Borg-Capra said. “I’m kind of frustrated, because we were hoping to attract nice international projects and companies that will be willing to come and develop their projects in France. We’re still open to new candidates.”

Business focus for applicants

Companies applying for the challenge need to have their businesses focused in one of eight different strategic areas:

  1. Energy storage
  2. Collecting, sorting, and recycling materials
  3. Development of marine resources — metals and seawater desalination
  4. Development of plant protein-based food products and plant chemistry projects aiming to develop new materials
  5. Personalized medicine — individualized targeted therapeutic interventions, based, for example, on genomics, medical devices, and/or high-resolution imagery
  6. Silver economy — answering the elderly’s needs
  7. Big Data — improved use of big data and definition of new usages, analytical models, and promotion
  8. Innovative projects on public security and protection against threats

The First Challenge only had the initial seven areas of focus, while the Second Challenge added the eighth based on the growing terrorism threat worldwide and the two devastating attacks that took place in Paris in 2015.

“We added [the security] focus because we suddenly realized that there was something missing, and we want France to innovate in this area,” Borg-Capra said. “It’s really important for France, and we believe this will be a major focus right now and in coming years.”

Examples of success

Borg-Capra gave us some examples of project ideas that have made it into the First Challenge’s third phase, which show the range of ideas that have been pitched and subsequently funded. With BPIFrance’s financial help, these projects are preparing to begin offering actual products for sale:

  • Robosoft is working on a “silver economy” project that’s setting out to create the Kompaï-2, a KEPA (knowledge, e-health, people, and assistance) robotic aid that can help dependent seniors with their physical and cognitive needs on a 24-hour basis at their homes or in care facilities. This help can come in the form of monitoring the person’s status, generating alerts, and even summoning caregivers to intervene as needed.
  • Enerbee is seeking to do away with the “button cell” batteries that power small devices, such as hearing aids and watches, and replace them with microgenerators that work off the user’s movement. The system will not only generate the power the device needs from small amounts of motion, but also offer some storage that’ll keep the device running through intermittent breaks in power generation.
  • OsseoMatrix is a “personalized medicine” company that aims to offer patients who’ve experienced bone loss—ranging from “moderate to severe” — with implants that require less invasive and less painful surgery than the current bone-grafting process. The patient’s bone loss is scanned and imaged, so the process can precisely determine the exact shape of the replacement that’s needed, and then a 3D printer is used to generate a synthetic “bioceramic” implant. Patients spend less time recovering in a hospital, so costs are lowered while optimal effectiveness is maintained.

As you can see, the First Challenge has brought some stunning developments, but Borg-Capra said she’s even more excited by the prospects that are coming from the Second Challenge, which has inspired over 300 project proposals so far.

“With this challenge, we were really surprised about the number of candidates, but very surprised about the quality of the candidates that have answered to this challenge. We have seen some very innovative projects and companies,” she stated. “It’s why we launched the Second Challenge, and I believe we will be able to continue with a Third and Fourth Challenge.”

Clearly, France is going above and beyond with its Innovation 2030 investments. But the country knows there’s a lot at stake, so it’s doing more than just sitting back and hoping for a good return on its economic future. It’s spearheading entrepreneurial activity at a scale rarely seen at a governmental level.

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