Is the start-up the only economic model when one invents in a fablab? According to Olivier Blondeau, one of the artisans of the “Citoyens capteurs” project, it is time to find other solutions for disruptive innovation. Especially as these solutions already exist in the social and solidarity economy.
A magic word inevitably resonates when one talks about, let’s be modern, the “latest technologies”, those of mobiles, data or objects: the start-up. We brood them, incubate them, accelerate them or fast-track them. We can even become a serial start-uper. In schools, universities, even companies, we no longer count patents, we count the number of start-ups created. Cities themselves compare one another. It’s the famous city branding that proudly announces the number of start-ups set up on their territory.
It is true that the funding of technological innovation is today a complex matter. A fortiori when they are innovations we call disruptive, breakthrough technologies for which we do not yet know precisely the potential and the future. However, the projects we are supporting all need funding. Time, machines. And once the prototype is finished, the concept revealed, you need to move on to the next step.
Banks occupied elsewhere
To whom to turn? Banks? The model is exhausted. Banks were able to finance industry but do not know how to finance innovation. Too risky. And above all, they are too busy trading their investors’ money, carrying out optimization in Panama or investing in real projects with high returns: shale gas for example.
So, we have the startups with their flock of business angels that haunt our fablabs, observe, over-occupy our discussion lists by trying to identify high potential projects. But creating a start-up is not only choosing an economic model against another. It is above all, for most of us, escaping the monolithic, centralized, pyramidal and bureaucratic company that one perceives rightly or wrongly as restraining, constricting the creativity potential that seeks to express itself. That is the aspiration, I think, that applies above all in the craze around this word.
Non profitable but very livable
Yet the start-up is not the only desirable horizon, especially since it doesn’t have just advantages. How many start-ups failed? Other models, other horizons are possible. Number of us are working on free, collaborative projects, serving environment, social justice, humanitarian or cultural causes. They do not intend to become commercial objects. Among all the models, I would like to insist on one of them, that of social and solidarity economy (SSE). This model attempts to reconcile an economic activity and social equity. Its principles are the search for collective effectiveness, non-profitability or limited profitability. This notion of non-profitability as a founding principle of the associative movement or of the SSE is sometimes difficult to grasp. It isn’t about not being paid for one’s work. On the contrary! It just corresponds to the “principle that profits and reserves cannot be divided”.
The encounter between the world of innovation, a fortiori that of the makers, and of the social and solidarity economy is still today an uncultivated project. It is however an encounter that stands to reason. In the field of free software, organizations have been attempting to make these two worlds meet for a long time. I am thinking in particular of the French-Quebec free software association (AI2L), founded in 2008 by the Crédit-Coopératif, the Up group, Macif, la Caisse d’économie solidaire, Filaction and Fondaction. The AI2L organizes a contest that we had the pleasure of winning this year with Citizen Watt It not only brought us substantial funding but more importantly visibility with the SSE companies that are able to support an innovative entrepreneurial approach.
Likewise, certain organizations offering help in business creations favor the SSE. Among them, l’Avise or France Active regularly issue calls for projects in fields that are of great interest to us (ecological transition, climate change, circular economy, etc.). There are even some companies, the model of which cannot be said to be non-profitable, that are starting to take an interest in this model. They are financing social economy innovative projects such as La Fabrique Aviva that recently organized a contest, or think tanks such as le Labo de l’économie sociale et solidaire (Social and solidarity economy lab).
So it is up to us to invest in these economic forms that can fulfil social, environmental and responsible aspirations. And it may also be up to this social and solidarity economy, as it is sometimes at the antipodes of technological innovation, to know how to welcome young entrepreneurs who do not wish to “do business” but transform the world.
Find here the previous column for Makery from Olivier Blondeau, co-author of “Libres enfants du savoir numérique” – Free children of digital knowledge – (éd. de l’Eclat, 2000)