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Vivien Badaut, PhD, innovation consultant

Ludovic Fery

Vivien Badaut is now working in Leeds as an independent consultant and supports R&D-intensive companies by offering them different kinds of services: searching for European funding, building a business plan, writing technical reports… Through his history, Vivien Badaut, as a PhD in nuclear chemistry, confirms that networking is of a great help when it comes to career development.

Why did you choose in the first place an academic career?

Vivien Badaut: My interest for science started when I was a child. I visited many scientific exhibitions with my parents and I couldn’t stop reading Isaac Asimov’s books. That’s probably what led me to choose science. During my studies, I was more attracted to lab work and I decided to go for a polytechnic degree (“DUT”) in chemistry. But quite soon, technique proved not to be fulfilling enough, hence the need of a more intellectual stimulation. At the time I did my Master’s in 2005, the energy transition and the nuclear part were already a hot topic. Beyond its technicity, this field was also involving strong challenges for the society and some controversial elements: that’s why I chose it. I decided to get in touch with researchers from CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) in Saclay for my first research internships in order to get a more realistic view on nuclear industry.

I was lucky to do a PhD which was a mix of lab work, theoretical chemistry and experimentation with large instruments. It may be surprising but despite my passion for technique, I fell in love with theory and more specifically with the numerical modelisation! After my thesis defense, my wife and I had the plan to go to Japan: my objective was to find a postdoctoral position in an institute where I could keep working on this theoretical research project. I contacted a Japanese researcher at RIKEN who accepted to work with me, while searching for a funding. I joined a laboratory of theoretical physics where I was the only chemist!


The link between research and consultancy is not obvious. How did you make the transition?

VB: Many different events occurred for me to think about my future in academic research. First, there was Fukushima, which led me to consider differently the economic growth of nuclear sector. Back to France in 2012, I was also wondering if the time for doing academic research was really consistent with my personality: I am indeed someone who likes focusing on a subject for a few months and then moves forward to another project. Industrial research was also appealing for me but I didn’t know back then how I could market my experiences.

In December 2012, I took part in Postdoctoriales from ABG. During this training session, I became aware of how important networking is for career development. It is not very natural for me but I learned a few techniques to be a good networker which helped me a lot. I tested them a few days after the session and listed all the contacts I had at this time. It was an opportunity to revive an old friendship: a friend of mine who had just started his own business as a finance consultant for start-ups. He told me that he was lacking a technical expertise and that’s how I got the idea of starting a freelance consultant activity.


Why were you interested in this opportunity?

VB: In the industry, most of significant innovations come from start-ups and I am very interested in this process: I needed to learn more on how to create innovation. There is often an engineer or a PhD among the founders of high-tech start-ups. As a technical consultant, you can discuss directly with them, the same way you do when you go and see a scientist to discover what he is doing in his laboratory. I started my freelance activity in 2013. Then, when I moved to England, I created my own consultancy office, DRIAD.


How did you feel during the transition from academia to consultancy?

VB: Though resulting of a personal choice, the transition from academia to industry is still difficult on a personal level. As a researcher, we are very often moved by the desire and the hope to contribute significantly to the society and it can be felt as a frustration not to be part of this peculiar world anymore. That’s why it is very important to spend time preparing the next career step, especially if it lands you outside academia.


Why did you choose to create your own business, instead of joining an already established consultancy office?

VB: For the flexibility. My current activity enables me to work from any places around the world. In the big innovation consultancy offices, as a junior consultant, you spend most of your time writing reports. It can reach up to 80% of your working time, even if it changes when you get more responsibilities. I couldn’t imagine myself working without any contacts with the founders of a company or with the clients’ techniques. Writing reports represents currently about 30% of my time.


What are the key aspects in your job as innovation consultant?

VB: Every two weeks, I get a new mission from a company and topics are various: fin-tech, big data, online advertisement, medical devices… Knowing how to write funding  proposals is essential but you need to keep in mind that the job of innovation consultant is above all social and requires very good interpersonal skills. Trust is rule number one.

For the technological watch, I use LinkedIn and Twitter, which are the tools used most frequently for start-ups to disseminate their information, and other resources like news, chambers of trade, funding bodies… The coworking place in which I work plays a big part in my job: many digital professionals are here and that’s the place to be if you want to learn about the newest information in the field or to better understand the social and economic context. I strongly recommend such places to all people interested in working as a freelancer.


What is the most fulfilling aspect in your job?

VB: I really love the fact that I keep learning in every mission I get and the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs. I love discussing with people and that’s a real enrichment for my job: you won’t find twice the same entrepreneur profile.

After 4 years, I have the chance to keep learning and exploring new topics almost every day, to have access to projects in progress, before they have an impact on society. That’s awesome for a curious mind like mine.


Why is a PhD an asset for your job of innovation consultant?

VB: Innovation consultancy is a great field for young PhDs: more and more start-ups are high-tech (energy, biotech, infrastructures also known as deep tech) and are reaching their maturity point. France is one the countries with the best resources to help them to grow: skills, modern infrastructures, public support… It means they will need a strong support for the technical part, the same goes for the consultancy offices they get advice from, specifically for funding.

The added value of PhDs is sure: understanding complex topics, analytical thinking, autonomy, writing skills… For my part, as a PhD, my confidence in learning new things quickly enables me to answer a client for which I can’t give elements immediately: “right now, I don’t know, but I come back to you within a week”.

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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