A mentoring programme aimed at eco-innovation entrepreneurs in the western French départements of Loire Atlantique and Vendée is moving into its second year. During July, the Eco Innovation Factory will select up to eight projects for a six-month programme of expert advice and tuition. The ultimate aim is to prepare the entrepreneurs to make a “pitch” for venture financing, which will enable their projects to scale up and, over time, to reach their full potential.
Eco Innovation Factory is aimed at projects in their earliest stages. Candidates will be project creators, start-up companies under two years old or researchers based in Loire Atlantique or Vendée. The innovation at the heart of each project could be in energy or environment technology or services, from green information technology to reduction of noise pollution to automatic sorting of waste.
Selected entrepreneurs receive coaching in a number of modules including developing their business plans, mastering legal aspects and intellectual property, financing options and preparing the pitch to attract investment.
For the current season, applications had to be made by June, with selection of the successful projects in July. The mentoring programme will start in September and run until February 2015. Assistance to entrepreneurs is provided in the form of training and expert advice, rather than money, making the programme cost-effective to run. During the first year of the programme - 2013 - six projects were selected for mentoring. The selected projects dealt with lighting systems, bio-composite materials, sustainable cities, production of gas from biomass, plastic recycling and wave energy.
Eco Innovation Factory is managed by Atlanpole, an incubator for innovative projects and companies in the Pays de la Loire region, which includes the Loire Atlantique and Vendée départements. Support for the initiative is provided by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), investment fund managers GO Capital and the Urban Community of Nantes (Nantes Métropole).
The success of such a programme in developing eco-innovation as a key business activity in the region can only be judged in the long term. One of the 2013 laureates, Les Plastiques Recyclés de l’Ouest, specialises in the recycling of extruded polymers, such as polystyrene, which are typically difficult to treat. The small company recycles the material into granular form, which can be reused by the plastics industry. The company's founder, Tristan Lomenech, said the Eco Innovation Factory helped him with “the definition of my business plan and my strategy, so that I could pass from the good technical idea to a strategic vision, and a clearer idea of what the added value is that I can offer to my clients.”