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François Quemeneur, from a PhD in biophysics to entrepreneurship

Ludovic Fery

françois quemeneur

After a PhD in physics and a MBA in innovation management, François Quemeneur started a young innovative company with his partner. Freelance consulting missions gave him the project to focus his work on small structures, before deciding to create his own business.

How did you decide to pursue a PhD?

François Quemeneur: "My interest in research goes back to my first internships at the university, where I discovered a job with strong intellectual stimulation and a lot of freedom of action. I gained a better understanding of the research ecosystem and context during my doctorate and post-doctoral experience at the Curie Institute, which is an institute close to decision-making structures. At the same time, I have encountered first obstacles in academia, whether linked to financing research, or strong competition for job positions. After almost ten years in public research, I wanted to explore a new work environment, with the idea of ??moving towards more applicative research, different time and requirement constraints. I then applied to positions in large companies, which seemed to offer more career development opportunities, including abroad."

Why didn’t you consider employment in SMEs at the time?

FQ: "The advantage of large companies when you are looking for a job is that you have very well-structured job descriptions. My ambition was to start as a researcher initially, and evolve towards more managerial functions afterwards. I didn’t get a job at the time, perhaps because I wasn’t able to highlight my project management skills gained through academia."

You took part in Post-Doctoriales back in 2012. Is that how you first learned about ABG?

FQ: "My first contact with ABG dates back to the doctoral experience, when I contacted an advisor in Grenoble for questions regarding my PhD degree. I later had the opportunity to register for Post-Doctoriales, which I did at the end of 2012: my motivations were to connect with people who had gone beyond the PhD degree and were confronted with the science job market. A significant moment for me was the intervention of Hervé Bommelaer on the networking strategy. This practice didn’t appear immediately obvious to me after the training, but it helped me taking a first step. Later on, during my MBA, I learned to truly generate interest from people I wanted to meet. Thanks to Post-Doctoriales, I also discovered the pool of job opportunities existing in SMEs."

What were the other benefits from your experience at Post-doctoriales?

FQ: "Post-Doctoriales is a course that encourages you to take action (CV-writing, networking interview...), in addition to boosting moral for researchers in conversion. I met again some participants several years later during scientific events, or even recommended Post-Doctoriales to former colleagues because they needed help for their own career change!"

How did you switch projects from being employed in a large group to creating your own company?

FQ: "The Eureka moment happened after a freelance consulting mission, on behalf of a start-up whose problems required scientific expertise, essentially bibliographic work. During this mission of a few weeks, I found the articulation between R&D, marketing and the understanding of customers’ needs very interesting. Following this experience, I then followed an MBA at EM Lyon, which I chose for the life sciences coloration and Lyon’s rich ecosystem, in addition to the entrepreneurial dimension. The MBA reinforced my desire to work for small structures because it could lead to jobs with diversified responsibilities. Two months after graduating my MBA, however, I took the opportunity to create my own business with a former Curie Institute’s colleague. The decisive point for us to get on board was the succeeding of incubator Busi’s contest, in the Auvergne region."

What is your company project in a few words?

FQ: "Cytodiag aims to offer a new in vitro test for the pharmaceutical industry to support the development of new generations of drugs. This test has the particularity of focusing on a specific cell component, the cytoskeleton. It’s a component of major interest because it’s involved in many pathologies."

How’s your doctoral training useful to you in this experience?

FQ: "Doctoral training is in my opinion a good school for business creation, especially if it relates to an innovative project: scientific decision-making, team management, personal skills such as pugnacity, adaptibility... Just as doctoral training, entrepreneurial adventure isn’t linear and one must be able to change course when on a wrong path. Since the project launch, Cytodiag has already evolved a lot! I refer as much to the network acquired during my doctoral and postdoctoral experience, as the one acquired during my MBA: they are different but complementary. On the scientific side, I use my personal connections when looking for an expert, and this expertise will often help answering problems raised by my business or MBA’s connections: study of technical feasibility, economical interest for investors... "

How does a typical day look like as a business creator? What do you like the most and what is the most difficult?

FQ: "My days are those of a manager who accompanies hist project’s maturation: this implies daily administrative tasks related to the creation of a company, but also more rewarding tasks like market expectations’ study or the marketing strategy development. I go continuously from one task to another, but at the same time there are many meetings with actors from academia and the pharma industry.

The most satisfying aspect in the business creation is starting with a blank sheet, with a project that you closely relate to. What motivates us every day with my partner is the belief that basic research can be applied to industry. Perhaps the most difficult part is the uncertainty surrounding the creation of a new economic activity, even before the first contract’s signature. Resulting questions can have an impact on our loved ones. I try answering it by being rational, by analyzing each risk taking."

How would you advise PhDs with a business creation project?

FQ: "I will tell them to be aware of the decisive aspect of teamwork. It seems to me a lot more difficult to set a project like mine alone, because there will inevitably be social isolation in difficult times. With a partner, on the contrary, one can take over from the other in his periods of doubt. It is also by partnering that a PhD can find useful complementary skills for his project, for example on market analysis.

Finally, I would advise them to approach the different structures that support entrepreneurship, because today there are extensive follow-up programs available in academia, including maybe in the lab where you prepare your doctoral thesis."

ABG is a French non-profit organization. Our missions are :
  • To facilitate the transition of PhDs (whatever their field and seniority) from academia to the private sector;
  • To help companies recruit PhDs.

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