Lille’s business community benefits from unique centers for excellence. Each center focuses on a specific area and contributes to the Lille economy in its own way. Lille’s agency met with Etienne Vervaecke, the Director of Eurasanté, and Raouti Chehih, the Director of EuraTechnologies, to learn about their vision for new technologies and health care.
Industry specialists and start-up believers
“Targeting the health care industry, Eurasanté is an economic development agency for Lille and the region. It serves as a business park, an incubator, and a place for the various players active in the health care industry to work together to innovate,” explains Etienne Vervaecke. To be able to launch in this market, a start-up needs its own intellectual property, true expertise, and a unique product. Vervaecke notes that the key ingredients leading to project success are “innovation combined with the necessary financial resources and the right management team.” He also notes that “the health care sector requires large amounts of capital since products are often introduced to the marketplace after 10 to 15 years of R&D investment.”
New technologies take a different approach. “ICT is not at the same level of maturity as health care,” says Raouti Chehih. EuraTechnologies, recognized as a leading regional center of excellence, is a network of high-tech companies that focus on ubiquitous computing. EuraTechnologies seeks out proposals from companies that have attained a superior level of technological know-how. The ideal candidate proposes advanced solutions for untapped needs.
A major difference between these two industries is the legal and regulatory framework that surrounds them. Etienne Vervaecke clarifies that “competitive advantage in the ICT sector hinges on an understanding of what the future holds for users of information technology. In the health care sector, entrepreneurs are at risk if they focus only on demand and use. Rules and regulations play an important role in, and greatly affect, R&D. Since the regulatory landscape can be unfriendly to innovation, this is a challenge. If a company invests in research in a given country, its efforts can be reduced to simply wasted time if legislative barriers prevent access to the marketplace. Investment in a different country with different regulations could, conversely, lead to great success. “
International ambition key for entrepreneurs
Companies that work in biotech or with medical devices must see themselves as international. “It is too simple to think that R&D investments that cost millions of euros could be recouped from one domestic market,” insists Vervaecke.
“In contrast to the ICT sector, the health care industry’s international markets are less easily penetrated due to multiple marketing authorizations required from countries around the world. There is indeed a worldwide health care market, but the cost of accessing it with a global approach is much more than it is for the information and communication technologies sector. An additional issue is the cost inherent in accessing individual country markets. If a specific drug is covered and reimbursed in one country, it may not be commercially viable in another country due to a different insurance environment,” he says.
Chehih explains that, “Within the ICT sector, companies do not think enough about the transfer of technology from one lab to another or from one country to another. In addition, many entrepreneurs still have the mindset that selling their company is the only possible successful outcome.” He adds that, “There are not enough case studies or real world examples of start-ups getting snapped up and French entrepreneurs can be a bit naïve.”
“Entrepreneurs in our region too often forget that they can serve as a domestic outlet for international companies of various sizes. Opportunities for licensing agreements with multinationals are, unfortunately, often neglected, and moving into international markets is thought to be possible using only the entrepreneurial company’s own resources,” adds Vervaecke.
Being active in the international arena is essential, according to Vervaecke and Chehih. The born global phenomenon may lead to a new generation of entrepreneurs with business plans targeted at international markets.
“All entrepreneurs should focus on global financing. To grow in the health care sector, it is important to quickly find external sources of funding,” states Vervaecke.
“At EuraTechnologies, we are making progress toward the born global model. It will take a new generation of entrepreneurs to change the mindset where international markets are concerned. When we incubate a company, we encourage it to have the ambition of being more than just a ‘small business,'” explains Chehih.
Patience, confidence and community
Timelines and client needs vary according to whether the sector is health care or computing. Despite their differences, these two centers of excellence are joined together in their desire to create jobs in the Lille region and to create industry leaders. “We have no doubt that our current class of entrepreneurs will rise to the top, as long as they have confidence and conviction,” reflects Chehih. “I like the idea of a dynamic business cluster being created from raw entrepreneurial material. Big names are setting up shop at our centers. Their presence contributes to the excitement and sense of community felt by our member companies,” confirms Vervaecke.
“A collective approach is key to the success of our centers. Doubt is part of the ICT cycle and helps us succeed—it contributes to a mature approach and a shared community,” adds Chehih. “Our members are innovative and the centers thrive. And, when appropriate, we are able to redirect the start-ups from one center to another. The start-up Giroptic was, for example, originally at Eurasanté and active in the health sector, but switched over to EuraTechnologies when it was clear that that was the right solution providing attractive opportunities for the company. It is up to us to promote our skills and assets to attract talent from around the world. And this appears to be working. The Lille region boasts the most capital investment and seed money deals in all of France,” notes Vervaecke proudly.