Alain Rousset, President of the Regional Council of New Aquitaine and Jean-François Létard, director of OliKrom, guests of the SO Éco program on Tv7bordeaux by NicolasCesar
How to take our regional economy to the next level? How to bring start-ups to become SMEs and transform SMEs into ETIs?
About Alain Rousset
Alain Rousset, born February 16, 1951 in Chazelles-sur-Lyon (Loire), is a French politician, member of the Socialist Party. President of the Aquitaine region from 1998 to 2015, he is now president of the “Region Nouvelle-Aquitaine” since 2016 and deputy of the Gironde from 2007 to 2017.
INTERVIEW Alain Rousset OliKrom TV7
Journalist: Welcome to your Eco rendez-vous. So, tonight, we are going to talk about how to take our regional economy to the next level with two visions, that of the politician Alain Rousset, president of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, and that of an entrepreneur, Jean-François Létard, who is the president of OliKrom, which is a beautiful company in Pessac, which has designed intelligent pigments that are quite revolutionary. But before that, a word from the president, since you are with us on the set, about the SNCF? This strike is going on.
What do you think about it?
Alain Rousset: Nothing about the strike. I think it is a constitutional right and the railway workers’ concern is real. I simply do not want the regions to be the adjustment variable in this conflict. The regions have resurrected the TERs, which are not working well today, the public service is not working well.
The costs, especially for renovation and regeneration of the lines, are exorbitant. So there is an organizational problem. All of this must be worked out in consultation. There must be real punctuality, real regularity. I believe in the SNCF lines, I believe in public service, but I can no longer accept the price that is given to me today for the taxpayers of Aquitaine.
Journalist: Thank you very much, President. We are entering the heart of our debate. How can we take our regional economy to the next level? We often say that Bordeaux lacks head offices and that we are not able to attract large companies, that our SMEs are not strong enough to become ETI.
What are we missing to have the critical size of an ecosystem like Lyon’s that we all want today?
Alain Rousset: I don’t think we should compare Bordeaux and Lyon and consider Lyon to be a panacea. Of course, there are more family businesses in Lyon, but the problem is the whole region.
The new economy may be in the city, but the factories are in the country. Our concern in the region is to ensure that we recover the skeleton of our economy, which is industry. That we reindustrialize what we are starting to do since the current figures of industrial jobs are four times higher in terms of increase, than France, you have seen them as I have, hence their factory of the future.
Journalist: That is precisely one of the consequences.
Alain Rousset: What is the panoply of what we have put in place? First of all, our industrial system lacks medium-sized companies. These are called ETIs, intermediate-sized companies, and SMEs with potential. And in the face of this, we have large groups that are inspired internationally, that have had their role, but
but which today will not reindustrialize France. Those who will reindustrialize France are the SMEs, the ETIs and the start-ups. What is the region doing? First of all, it is discussing with the large groups to see how to create a sort of pyramid system at the industrial level. How do I create ETIs that are capable of backing themselves up with an ecosystem of SMEs? I help SMEs with potential to become ETIs. We support the creation of companies. But what is important in the creation of a company is the UP. How do I ensure that a researcher, someone who has an idea to create a company, can follow through with this idea? Now, today, the system for collecting savings is centralized in Paris, which is a disaster. Because we need to move quickly, we need to have investment funds. We are in the process of setting up an investment fund of 250 million euros to be able to have tickets between five and 15 million euros. We know how to do the rest.
Journalist: That’s precisely what is missing from today’s bosses. You, as a business leader, Jean-François Létard, were a researcher before. You went from the research side to the business side with this company OliKrom in Pessac. What is often missing for you entrepreneurs, to help you grow, knowing that we are in a competition today that is global?
Jean-François: You said it very well and just so everyone understands, OliKrom is three years old. In three years, we came out of a laboratory, the Institute of Chemistry and Condensed Matter of Bordeaux, and we passed all the stages, that is to say that we were researchers in fundamental research. Thanks to the region, we benefited from support for our fundamental research without having the idea of creating a company. It is important to understand that today our laboratories in Aquitaine benefit from funding to play an active role in the development of new technologies.
It happened in the adventure that our pigments that we programmed to change color had applications to warn of a risk of burning from a short circuit in relation to, I would say, a spark that can be caused in an electrical circuit. All of this meant that there was an industrial need for industrial safety. And so, this fundamental project went towards the creation of a company.
We had the chance to be accompanied by different phases and tools that were created within the Aquitaine region.
Journalist: What are the phases and tools that have been created within the Aquitaine region in particular?
Jean-François: For example, the transfer cell. This allowed us, for three years, without really knowing if we were still on an offer positioning in relation to existing markets, to start meeting industrialists. Now it is taken over by Aquitaine Science Transfert. But this stage was important because when we decided to create the company, we had arguments in front of investors that made it possible to raise the first funds very quickly.
So we went through this incubation phase. Then I went to HEC to prepare for it, because that’s not how you become an entrepreneur. And then everything took off quickly. I was accompanied by Bordeaux Unitec which is very important because during the first stages, we can lose the project. We can have an excellent project idea, but we can lose it in the first years because we don’t meet the right people, because we don’t find the right funding, because we don’t have the right support and we don’t create, because we are not able to access the markets quickly enough.
So that, I would say, the first stages is when we can lose control of the project and therefore lose that momentum.
After that the transition after the SME, which is how we accelerate even more. Just to tell you, last year we signed more than 50 contracts with large groups in one year. Just the legal side alone is something that is very difficult. Because when you’re a small company, it’s hard to get all your contracts reviewed. We have hired someone every three months since the creation, we are fourteen. You have to see that every time someone comes in, the employee is worrying.
There’s someone new. Is he going to take his place? Are we getting people up to speed because of course the first people who were hired today are mentoring the new team. So we can lose control of the company at any time. We have just acquired a building. An investment of more than 5 million euros. The banker followed us.
But trusting a company that is less than three years old, that will decide to invest. We managed to stay in Pessac and we are proud of it because in Pessac there is a richness between the university, between everything that moves and around Pessac. But all this means that at any moment, if we don’t go fast enough, we can lose control. When you hear all this Alain Rousset, what can you do to help it grow even faster, especially in export or that is one of the keys to have the company that creates the most jobs possible.
I believe that the objective we have co-constructed with the business world is to de-isolate the entrepreneur, to de-isolate the creator. The paradox in our society is that what is the last centralized, democratic society is that centralization creates isolation.
What we need to do is to work through clusters, groups of companies that we decompartmentalize in relation to the training system and in relation to the research system as well. After that, we have four mechanisms that we are gradually putting in place.
First of all, the UP start-up program. How I accelerate with equity, with training, with advice. No, it’s the other devices that exist. This is what Unitec is becoming, with the possibility of taking on fifteen or so SMEs per year to help them become SMEs more quickly and, above all, to ensure that these companies are not cannibalized either by a large group or by a vulture fund. Because the problem of equity capital is a crucial problem in France. I can’t get Paris to understand this because it is a considerable power to concentrate 80% of French savings.
As you know, French savings are statistically the largest in the world, along with those of Germany. So it’s a considerable power. That’s why I wanted the BPI to be regionalized like in Germany. Then we set up three other devices. 1 device for export, which we presented this morning to companies. How, based on 4 targets – Japan, China, Germany and the United States – we have companies that have benchmarks. How they will be accompanied on site. Because going alone to the United States, to New York, to Frankfurt or elsewhere, makes no sense if you haven’t prepared your trip. There is a preparation to be done upstream that we do with the chambers of commerce, that’s the first point and the region financially supports these 1.6 million euros. Second point, how we are going to accompany the business leaders not only at the beginning but on their growth path, so there are three programs 1 that we buy from the bpi which initiated it at the national level which is called the premium programs, how a business leader is going to commit to a year and a half, This will concern 70 companies and then there is another gas pedal project which will concern 500 companies which will accompany the company managers over a shorter period of time so that they can see what their strengths and weaknesses are. Is it innovation, is it human resources management, is it export, is it the organization of the company and then there is, since we have created in the region, the program of the factory of the future that the great loan pays, the program of the investments of the future comes to accompany today and which is going to allow us there to aim at 600 new factories in Aquitaine, I hope that we will be able to reach a more important figure because concretely I hold much me the national name it is the industry of the future. I like the word “factory” because it is a Community. Mr. Jean-Francois Létard, in all this device, what interests you and what will serve you the most in the years to come? To this gas pedal, it is this notion of gas pedal. We are trained, somewhere we meet an ecosystem that helps us to create, but after talking about a second round of funding, to go and find new financing, to manage the growth of the company, I would say of the team which is growing rapidly, to go international, all this is a new vocabulary. OliKrom was an individual adventure, today we are already a team, it’s a collective adventure but the challenge now is to succeed. We are in the deep tech era, which is to say, these disruptive technologies that are changing the universe. Imagine the colors that change around us, all that we can do with them. We have contracts with the Eiffage group, but also in aeronautics with the Airbus group. We have, I would say, a large number of players all over the world, we have to succeed in this growth and it is true that we will have to speak to our vocabulary, for example today we are following a training course because we are one of the 30 companies selected on a French scale to prepare a possible introduction on the stock exchange. Because there too, you have to know how to anticipate and prepare beforehand, and so joining gas pedals like this, being shared with other company managers, allows you to capitalize on experience and therefore to go faster and avoid pitfalls such as a colleague you might meet, so as to be able to go better.
Do you support Alain Rousset? Do these companies enter the stock market promising, do they necessarily need to go through the stock market when they have this potential? First of all, I would not advise Jean-François Létard, I have many company managers who have gone through the stock market and well, it’s a bit complicated. The most important thing for us, but that’s up to him and his board of directors, is that the team that created the company, Jean-François Létard himself, keeps the steering of this company because he is the one who has everything in his head, he and his team. Because, what makes Germany strong today, what makes other regions in France strong, I observe in the Vendée region family businesses that have a considerable growth potential.
But we have to put in place the tools, it’s called the training of the head of the company or part of his team, it’s called equity capital, it’s called innovation support, it’s called coming from research and then it keeps its sensors to be always connected to the labs because it’s this cooperation that is important, so I think we’re on the right track.
Journalist: Thank you both very much and we will obviously meet again next week at the same time on tv7 of course.