i-Lab, i-PhD, i-Nov, the BPIFrance innovation prizes and Inria
Ecosystem 6 minutes

i-Lab, i-PhD, i-Nov, the BPIFrance innovation prizes and Inria

At Inria Startup Studio, we focus on the i-PhD prizes which are perfectly suited to project leaders in the program: “i-PhD aims to reward young researchers with entrepreneurial projects mobilizing breakthrough technologies.”

Everyone knows that money and fame are critical for success when an innovation is to be launched. In the early stages of a project, winning awards can kill two birds with one stone. There are a multitude of such awards, either locally, regionally, nationally or internationally and they are all useful if not essential.

At the national level, BPIFrance has undoubtedly a certain leadership with the i-PhD awards launched in 2019, i-Lab, which had its 25th edition this year, and i-Nov (in partnership with Ademe) since 2017. This year, the French government named 236 laureates, rewarded during an impressive ceremony of more than two and a half hours at the Théâtre du Châtelet. You can (re)watch it in full below.

The 2023 award ceremony for i-Phd, i-Lab, i-Nov

Awards adapted to all project stages

“Upstream, the i-PhD and i-Lab competitions aim to encourage the emergence and creation of deeptech start-ups born of advances in cutting-edge French research. Downstream, the i-Nov competition supports the accelerated emergence of start-ups and SMEs with the potential to become world-class leaders in their field.”

The 2023 award ceremony in Paris.

At Inria Startup Studio, we focus on the i-PhD prizes which are perfectly suited to project leaders in the program: “i-PhD aims to reward young researchers with entrepreneurial projects mobilizing breakthrough technologies.” The winners benefit from professional support, a communication kit and the possibility of a grant of up to €30k. More information can be found at https://www.bpifrance.fr/nos-appels-a-projets-concours/concours-dinnovation-i-phd (in French).

The i-Lab price can also be adapted to Inria Startup Studio project entrepreneurs, but rather at the end of or after finishing the program. The project may benefit from a grant covering 60% of eligible expenses up to a limit of €600k. More on https://www.bpifrance.fr/catalogue-offres/soutien-a-linnovation/concours-dinnovation-i-lab.

The i-Nov prize concerns existing companies having projects with a budget between 1M€ and 5M€. It comes well after the ISS journey… More on https://www.bpifrance.fr/catalogue-offres/soutien-a-linnovation/concours-dinnovation-i-nov.

Inria and i-PhD

We are not going to hide our pride, and whatever the way of identifying the projects (we know that babies have many fairies around their crib), in 2023 9 projects had a link with ISS, including two grand prizes (even if BPIFrance only counted 7). A tenth should integrate the program in September.

SATT include  AST (3), TTT (3), Sayens (3), C-Valo (2), Axlr (2), Sud Est (2) Erganeo, Conectus, Lutech, Paris Saclay (exc. Pulsalys and Linksium)

Since the creation of the Startup Studio since 2019, here are the figures and the winning projects:

  • in 2021, 4 winners including 2 Grand Prix: AnaestASSIST, Axiome, Pulse Audition, Qairnel (aka Switch),
  • in 2022, 5 winners including 1 Grand Prix: Anax Video 360, Co-Idea, Nijta, Optimo, Realspawn,
  • in 2023, 9 winners including 2 Grand Prix:  AlphaBrain, CellEmax, Compliance Robotics, DareWin, DecorAR, Neuropin, Poucet, Vidibio, Voyance Systems. (Sequoia Analytics will integrate the program at the end of the year in partnership with the University of Côte d’Azur).
Four Inria laureates on the Châtelet stage.

The Inria press release “Numerous Inria start-up projects rewarded in national i-PhD and i-Lab competitions” describes the 2023 winners in detail. It is also interesting to classify them by domain and geography:

Ile de France5
Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur5
Hauts de France4
Nouvelle Aquitaine3
i-PhD winners by region.
Internet applications2
i-PhD winners by domain.

Note that ISS also provides support – see The “Co-Design”, the Support by Inria Startup Studio – funding (2 salaries during 1 year and 10k€ budget on eligible expenses) and a multitude of training, network and communication tools.

The i-PhD award is naturally well positioned for our entrepreneurs, some obtaining the award before entering the program, a majority during the program, and to our knowledge none after finishing it!

Inria and i-Lab

As we mentioned above, i-Lab projects are more mature and some of them are older than the ISS program. Here is the list:

  • 3 laureates in 2021, Alias (aka Code is Law), Atoptima, Rebrain,
  • 2 laureates in 2022, Tessael, Twinical,
  • 4 laureates in 2023, Deephawk, Malizen, Nijta, Pulse Audition.

It should be noted that two of them were i-Phd laureates one or two years before and as regards their origins and fields:

Grand Est2
Nouvelle Aquitaine2
Ile de France1
Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur1
Hauts de France1
i-Lab winners by region.
Energie – Environnement1
Applications internet1
i-Lab winners by domain.

As we have indicated it, i-Lab is aimed at more mature projects, a large majority have obtained this award after leaving the program, Twinical being the only exception to this rule. We deliberately omit i-Nov which is aimed at startups that have already been created and we do not know the Inria winners.

To apply in pratice

BPIFRance’s iPhd page indicates that “the competition is reserved for young researchers or PhD students who wish to create or co-create a deeptech startup from their research results, from the second year of their thesis or who have defended their thesis for less than five years, supported in the entrepreneurial structure of their project” via the business and/or financial support, by a specialized structure such as OTT (Technology Transfer Organization) or public research incubator.”

Inria Startup Studio and the Inria transfer structures (the “STIPs”) are such OTT structures. Both the innovation managers of the centers and the ISS team can help put together the file and will provide the letters of support necessary for the application file.

Regarding i-Lab, “can participate in this competition any person who has created her or his company for less than two years or who has the project of creating it, on the French territory, as an innovative technology company, regardless of her or his nationality, her or his status or professional situation, provided that they fulfill the legal and regulatory conditions required for the creation of a business.” Support from an OTT is not necessary, but Inria usually provides a letter of support for projects originating from the institute.

As a conclusion

There are, as we have said, a multitude of other prizes, the most attractive being those which give financial aid without dilution for projects. They are very numerous and you can spend your life chasing prizes and subsidies, having the feeling that their startup project is progressing through these recognitions… without having really approached their market. So our friendly advice: running after these mechanisms in the early stages of a project makes a lot of sense. Using it too long can become a diversion. It is better to devote yourself to your product and customers and forget if possible this necessary search for initial fame.

Publication date: 11/09/2023

Tags: BPIFrance Ecosystem

Hervé Lebret

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