The hidden face of innovation lives in labs. Start-ups gravitate around the oldest fablab in France, Artilect, in Toulouse. Four of them explain the interest of the fablab for their development.
Toulouse, special envoy (text and pictures)
Makers explore, prototype, and sometimes innovate. From time to time, they gather together and create a start-up. A few even go so far as engraving their business cards with a laser cutter… If some labs are playing the innovation card, by turning themselves into incubators or coworking spaces, like La Machinerie in Amiens or the CRI Openlab in Paris, the oldest French fablab Artilect, in Toulouse, that counts several hundred members, has been hosting a few start-ups for several years. Makery met four of them.
The agricultural robot start-up Naïo is the most well known of the Artilect start-ups. The idea started with 4 friends in 2010. Nicolas Lassabe, founder of the fablab in Toulouse, who knows them, invites them to present the project at the traditional Monday evening event. “We received a very warm welcome, explains Gaëtan Severac, co-founder of Naïo Technologies. No judgement was passed on our idea, we only recieved advice and encouragements. The community is in fact a bigger asset than machines at Artilect.” Yet, the Toulouse lab is rather well equipped.
The team spends one year prototyping at the fablab. “We regularly benefited from a helping hand from other members of the fablab. For pleasure, showing solidarity between start-ups. Many former members and start-ups born at the lab come back from time to time, especially to attend the Monday evening events.”
“Clearly, a fablab has a far more superior social interaction level that that of an incubator.”
Gaëtan Severac, Naïo Technologies
At Artilect, the people are members of the fablab, not the projects. As a result, the founders of a start-up during their fundraising phase like Naïo pay the same subscription as any curious DIYer: 30 euro per annum. Good point for the general atmosphere, there is no hierarchy between the lab members.
Naïo has grown. In 2011, the company is created in partnership with an engineering school. Following successful participative funding in 2012, a first functional prototype sees the light of day in 2013, thanks to the participation of a local manufacturer. Early 2014, the first robot is sold. Today, Naïo Technologies has its own workshop, employs 10 people and has already sold 20 robots.
Drawall: the drawing robot for fun that becomes pro and remains fun
The idea of Drawall, the mural drawing robot, was not born at the Toulouse fablab. Nathanaël Jourdane starts off at home, for fun, with a little Arduino, motors. When the project took shape, he launched into the complete production of a drawing robot. Still for fun. He spends hours on forums and Arduino tutorials and discovers fablabs, three years ago, in the course of an umpteenth tutorial. While rummaging, he discovers the existence of the Toulouse fablab. Like many others, for his first time, he walks through the door of the fablab for one of the Monday evening events.
During these evening events, members of the lab are invited to present the progress of their projects, answer questions but also ask questions, gather advice. Anyone, member of the community or not, can get on stage and take the floor. A kind of jam session for makers, awfully effective to recruit new members and encourage start-up projects. Which is what Nathanaël Jourdane did.
“I got lots of support, encouragements, advice, techical help at these Monday evening events.”
Nathanaël Jourdane, Drawall
He therefore pursues the project at the fablab, still for fun. He meets there start-ups, and the desire to turn the robot into a professional activity starts to grow. Another start-uper from the fablab invites him to the start-up weekend in Toulouse, “just to see”. “The project was very well received. A motivated team was set up during that weekend, and some were eager to pursue, once the event was over.” Still for fun, but as pros. Today, Drawall, robot 100% made in fablab, printed in 3D and cut with a laser cutter, is offered for rental for events, workshops, decoration services.
Alg and You, R&D and good advice at the lab
Alg and You, start-up launched in 2014, creates the necessary tools for the culture of spirulina, namely, the phyto-growth tank (home culture device) and the photobioreactor (system for collecting and monitoring the culture). “One of the founders has been close to the fablab for a long time. He made us discover the place and we set up our R&D activty there since the very beginning”, explains Cyril Durand, one of the co-founders.
Since then, the start-up has won the world innovation contest (vegetable protein category), installs phyto-growth tanks at Poult, a food manufacturer, and…places prototyping orders with Atrilect Lab, the commercial branch of the Toulouse fablab. Cyril Durand makes no secret that he would like to spend more time in the lab. “It is a wonderful ecosystem, very rich.”
“A cup of coffee with Naïo is worth 10 sessions with a lawyer or a consultant, and it is much cheaper!”
Cyril Durand, Alg and You
Thingz, beta tested at the lab
Cyril Loucif-Durouge came to the Toulouse fablab for the first time to print plastic pieces in 3D for his father. “It is best to have a small idea at first to produce when you come to a fablab.” At the fablab he programs his Arduino to assemble a water pistol alarm clock. Facing the rather “trying” learning curve of the Arduino at first, he would like a simpler system, more modular.
This is how Thingz was born: its electronic bricks are plugged into a base, they are recognised and the alarm clock or thermostat program is launched. At the fablab, Cyril Loucif-Durouge carries out design tests of his packaging with laser cutting, and finally develops the project in the Camping de Toulouse incubator. “I regularly come back to the fablab on Monday evenings to present my latest progress and get feedback from potential users.” Several hundred kits have already been sold.
Artilect joined forces this year with its neighbour La Serre, incubator of responsable initiatives, to create Le Multiple, a place of residence for actors of design, social entrepreneurship and culture.