Innovation, a lever for business success

Pragma Industries, leader dans la conception et la production de piles à hydrogène © DR

A key factor in increasing turnover, innovation demonstrates the dynamism of businesses. Some in the Pays Basque have it in their DNA. The Agence de Développement et de l’Innovation (Development and Innovation Agency) of Nouvelle-Aquitaine offers funding and services specifically for innovative practice, in partnership with the BPI, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region and the Technopole Pays Basque. 

Mikel Curutcharry, CEO of Olaberria, considers it to be ‘vital’. Innovation has indeed altered the destiny of Scop of Ustaritz, which specialises in the design and production of moulds for plastic or silicone injection for the automotive, medical and energy industries. “When the 2008-2009 crisis happened,” remembers the CEO, “our traditional market was based on thermoplastics. So we had to find a sector to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, another material or another technology that would allow us to stand out and suffer less from the effects of the crisis. In 2012, we went into liquid silicone technology, and for this we had do a lot of research and innovate from the beginning because that sector was really closed to outsiders: the German and Austrian tool-makers didn’t communicate or patent anything. Everything was hidden and kept confidential. It has since transpired that thermoplastics are not so wonderful after all, and have become the enemy in food packaging. In 2012, if we hadn’t made that effort to innovate, we would have gone under!” Liquid silicone now accounts for over half the turnover of Olaberria. But that’s not all, Scop is also innovating in terms of the services it offers its customers. “We co-design parts with them,” continues Mikel Curutcharry, “but the main thing is that we offer them the mould and all the peripheral equipment, for example the press. We tend to offer a turnkey service.” Olaberria was rewarded at the end of 2018 by the Communauté d’Agglomération Pays Basque as one of its Atelier de l’innovation (Innovation Workshops). 

Innovation ‘changing the rules’

Innovation is also the pet subject of Paul Millier, Professor of Marketing and Innovation Management at the prestigious EM Lyon Business School. He regularly promotes its benefits to businesses seeking his advice: “A recent study by the European Commission, highlighted by BPI France, a public investment bank, shows that businesses that innovate have stronger growth than others. It doesn’t have to be a ground-breaking innovation (1), but simply something new for the business, at a rate of one ‘innovation’ every three years. This modest effort enables businesses that innovate to achieve growth in the order of 10% of their turnover, compared with a decrease of 3% for those which do not.” But according to this economist, “true innovation is the kind that changes rules, that enables you to take on the strongest”.

Pierre Forté, President of Pragma Industries, made this his philosophy some fifteen years ago. An aeronautics engineer, and the holder of a Masters in Innovative Projects from Estia, he co-founded this leading business in the design and production of hydrogen batteries on the Izarbel science and technology park. “Innovation is part of the DNA of Pragma Industries,” he explains. “I always push my team to look for unconventional solutions for a lower cost. We work within a rationale of frugal innovation, we have very few resources compared to other players in the sector, such as Michelin, Engie, Air Liquide, and so on. So we always try to find a crafty way around an issue. That process leads to innovation.” Now located in Biarritz, this business is known for its pioneering role in the design of the very first hydrogen bike, and has just won a promising export contract for one million euros. In association with the Lyon company, Apollon Solar, it will supply Japanese civilian emergency services with stand-alone emergency power systems!

Funding up to 10,000 euros

Innovation is now widely recognised as a key factor in business competiveness, especially in very competitive market sectors. In response to a survey undertaken in January 2020 by the Direction régionale des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l’emploi (Regional directorate of businesses, competition, consumption, work and employment) (Direccte), 400 out of the 500 SMEs in Nouvelle-Aquitaine said they were active in innovation in two main areas, the acquisition of new machines and Research & Development. 

Yet the implementation of innovation is still unknown in many businesses. SMEs can, however, turn to a dedicated regional contact: the Agence de Développement et de l’Innovation de Nouvelle-Aquitaine (ADI N-A). “Our role is to build up the skills of businesses in matters of innovation,” explains its leader in the Pays Basque, Pierre-Gilles Point. “We also support businesses in structuring their R&D projects. And we help businesses that are struggling, when there is still a bit of room for manoeuver, to use innovation.” ADI-NA works in close collaboration with the whole ecosystem of innovation, such as the Technopole Pays Basque, a leading contact for innovation in the Pays Basque.

Via the Prestation Tremplin Innovation (Innovation Springboard Service), ADI-NA and the Technopole Pays Basque offer funding from the Region and from BPI France of up to 10,000 euros, enabling first-time innovative businesses, that is, those which have not had any innovation subsidies in the past two years, to secure funding for an external service: prototyping, modelling, market research, feasibility studies, patenting, and so on. 

Those interested should consult the Direction Développement économique (Economic Development Directorate) of the Communauté Pays Basque at:

(1) Paul Millier defines ground-breaking (or radical) innovations as those appearing for the first time.

Innovation, the cutting edge of the Technopole Pays Basque 

The Technopole Pays Basque has innovation in its DNA. By linking players in synergies of research, training and business, it helps innovative businesses to emerge. 

Supported by the Communauté Pays Basque, which has opted for a productive economy, the Technopole Pays Basque is organised around 4 Strategic Areas of Activity (DAS in its French acronym), on a multi-site model 

  • Izarbel at Bidart, digital services and industries
  • Technocité in Bayonne, aerospace, robotics and advanced materials
  • Arkinova in Anglet, sustainable construction and design
  • ID Ocean, sustainable innovation for the Ocean, with two hubs, Créaluz in Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Biomim, currently being organised.

A 5th DAS is currently being organised around agriculture. 

The support of the Technopole Pays Basque provides bespoke monitoring from a dedicated officer in each DAS, associated with an innovation cell. Also on offer is access to training programmes and to individual or collective services through shared feedback, themed workshops, professional meetings and business opportunities, as well as conferences, calls for projects, and investment forums.

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