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Article written by Isabelle Chéry and Gaëlle Calvary

According to the BPI’s Deeptech guidelines [1], the term “Deeptech” describes disruptive technologies, or combinations of technologies, characterised by four criteria:
1°) The link with research
2°) The ability to remove technological barriers
3°) The creation of a strongly differentiating advantage
4°) A long and complex, and therefore capital-intensive, go-to-market".
By definition, Deeptech technologies are therefore disruptive innovations. Their purpose is "to provide a direct or indirect response to societal and environmental issues".
Upstream, the innovations are differentiated by old techniques dealing either with long-standing unsatisfied needs or with future problems. The invention stands out from the field by going in the opposite direction to that generally followed; it disregards communities’ prejudices and lifts hitherto unconquered technical barriers. Downstream, the invention leads to significant technical progress and produces unexpected results.

Generally, disruptive innovations come from public laboratories that develop fundamental, exploratory, interdisciplinary research that is risky without any results guarantee. Companies, which are required to make a return on their investment in commercial products within a given timeframe, prefer incremental innovations targeted at identified market needs. These incremental innovations, such as innovations in uses or business models, do not fall within the scope of Deeptech.

Deeptech innovations are developed after several years of research during which researchers face numerous scientific and technical hurdles. The ideas and then the innovative solutions implemented to remove these barriers are protected by intellectual property (IP) titles, in particular patents, which enable them to maintain a competitive edge in order to envisage a transfer to the socio-economic environment. A patent means that the invention has been tested and is reproducible: the solution has therefore generally been the subject of an initial proof of concept (POC), then a demonstrator (M for maturation) and then pre-series before being scaled up. The industrialisation phase up to market launch is often complex (regulations, non-standard equipment, etc.) and therefore long and costly for immature or non-existent markets to be conquered, and the possible rejection of the technology by the company. Significant marketing and communication budgets for market evangelisation are also required. Risk-taking is therefore significant and requires substantial financing to generate turnover: this is known as capital-intensive.

To finance these developments, the start-up configuration is well suited. It will be able to benefit from advantageous statutes (e.g., JEI, CIR) and will be in a favourable position to raise the necessary capital (F for fund-raising). The founding team of the start-up is made up of one or more researchers who are at the origin of the invention, key people who master the know-how required for technological development. They are positioned either in the management team or as scientific advisors (L for innovation Law). Once the product is on the market, the researcher often withdraws to return to his or her original laboratory to develop a new breakthrough innovation.
Grenoble INP, as an engineering cluster, is well positioned in the Deeptech dynamic where opportunities are numerous today.