France is increasingly becoming a leading innovation hub. The country has declared itself a “start-up nation” and the state backed such statements in 2019 by dedicating a EUR 5 billion public-private investment fund towards supporting start-ups and scale-ups. In 2018, France pushed through a five year plan worth EUR 1.5 billion in investment towards research and development around artificial intelligence, which is central to numerous energy innovations. An aid package worth EUR 4 billion was recently set up to assist French start-ups in surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout France, there is a strong support system in place for energy related start-ups, namely SET network partner ADEME. Additionally, government supported initiatives like the superhub Station F, the French Tech visa, Viva Tech and École 42 are all a part the countries ambitions to lead the way in innovation with greentech playing a central role. France’s efforts have without a doubt helped accelerate Paris’ exponential growth as a tech hub in recent years.
In order to have a glimpse into the French energy start-up ecosystem, we had the pleasure of interviewing entrepreneur Sandra Rey, who touched on France’s development in the start-up world. She is the CEO and founder of cleantech start-up Glowee, a SET’17 Award finalist that was launched in 2014. Glowee develops a sophisticated biological lighting system using bioluminescence. In addition, Sandra Rey received the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 France 2016 awards.
Bioluminescence is certainly something worth keeping your eye on!
Salut Sandra! Tell us about yourself, your company and your recent projects.
Sandra Rey (SR): Light is what powers the world and makes our cities live. Light is identified as civilization’s first marker of development. In our lives, light is everywhere: produced by the Sun or artificially created by human ingenuity. However, today’s lighting technologies contribute to global warming, threatening our planet from natural resources to biodiversity. Ironically, Nature has done 3.8 billion years of research and development through evolution to find the most efficient lighting solution: it is called bioluminescence. Fireflies, glow-worms, and more than 80% of marine organisms (jellyfish, plankton, fish, squids, krill) are able to produce this biological light without needing the sun. Glowee has decided to imitate what nature does best and use these superpowers to develop biological lighting and thus jump-start the bio-economy. For 5 years, Glowee’s multidisciplinary team (biologist, designer, business and finance) have been working to create a living system producing continuous bioluminescence in order to integrate in urban lighting a better product-usage fit, reduce environmental impact, improve well-being and offer new creative possibilities. Glowee has acquired unparalleled and world-leading expertise in the field of bioluminescence, recognized globally by more than 20 innovation awards, and 3 patents filed, one of which already granted.
Today, Glowee offers democratisation experiences for events and bioluminescent relaxation rooms for the well-being industry, called the Glowzen Room. In parallel, in order to achieve our mission, we work with municipalities in implementing bioluminescent street furniture.
What infrastructure helped you in starting your project/business?
SR: BPIFrance (French Public Bank of Investment), 50partners (incubator and angel investors network), Genopole (Biocluster), ADEME, French citizens (we did 3 crowd-funding campaigns), InnoEnergy (one of the KIC from EIT)
What do you think makes France attractive for launching a start-up?
SR: France is very supportive of innovative start-ups, many subsidies and loans exist to create a company. Tax credit mechanisms are also very supportive of R&D start-ups. The start-up ecosystem is very dynamic but also small enough to create strong relationships and leverage on them.
Within the energy related start-up ecosystem in France, what developments excite you the most?
SR: I see more and more energy start-ups working with biomimicry, which is always a pleasure.
How did your participation with SET help your start-up?
SR: International visibility! Thanks to SET I met with the Green Challenge team and won 100k€ a year later 🙂
What memories from attending SET Tech Festival and award would you share with start-ups looking to apply?
SR: An event full of good energy and hope for the world we are building together. And very nice entry into the European market!