Grenoble Alpes sees the bigger picture

Screens are so ubiquitous these days that we tend to forget the magic that lies beneath them – thousands of microscopic lights flitting through every colour on the spectrum from the cardinal red of a bird in flight to the inky black of the letters on this webpage.

Seen together all at once, these unique points of light form the flow of images on our phones, laptops, street signs and smart watches. Zooming out even further, a company that manufactures these LEDs is itself a single point on the picturesque landscape of peaks and plains of Grenoble Alpes Metropolitan Area. “Alédia is a real success story,” says Gabriel Voisin-Fradin Project Manager for the area’s international economic relations.

We supported them at almost every stage
— Gabriel Voisin-Fradin

“It went from being a startup to employing more than 200 people, and we supported them at almost every stage,” says Voisin-Fradin, proudly. The wide system of supports for small and medium enterprises in the Grenoble Metropolitan Area have helped to foster an enormous number of local companies, an investment that has tremendous local dividends.

Fuel for flourishing

The metropolitan area collaborates with the national government to offer 20,000 public/private centres for research and development. “This is a very tech-oriented city,” says Voisin-Fradin, “and the main motor of research and development is our local tech institutes.”

In the Grenoble Alpes Metropolitan Area, companies can get support for research and development within competitive clusters, for thermal insulation, reduction of water consumption and development of low-emission vehicles. “We usually don’t finance the companies directly,” explains Voisin-Fradin.

Instead, they are offered connections with investors, help with finding talent, and setting up a headquarters for their businesses, “We also develop business parks to make land available for companies,” he adds.

Here, we have everything
— Giorgio Anania

Giorgio Anania, CEO of Alédia, is quick to agree, “Here, we have everything,” he says, highlighting the value of “the entire Grenoble research ecosystem.” The local authority provides incubators for people to develop their business ideas, as well as what they call ‘hotels’ for companies that are a bit more developed.

Then, businesses can take advantage of local industrial parks to facilitate their growing size. “If they want to expand their networks, we help them with an export strategy and information about the regulations and markets in the countries they are looking at.”

Grenoble Alpes will be sharing its extraordinary success in fostering sustainable businesses and entrepreneurship, alongside cities from across Europe and representatives from the European Commission and European investment Bank at the Eurocities Economic Development Forum, ‘Igniting Innovation,’ this 22-24 March.

The forum will provide examples of development, testing and upscaling of innovation ecosystems, highlighting local relationships with companies and universities to tackle social challenges while creating environmentally sustainable economies.

Thinking small

Why all this effort to support small companies and entrepreneurship? Voisin-Fradin explains, “With small and medium enterprises, we can have a big impact.” This means not only that smaller initial investments can have outsized results.

It also means that the metropolitan authority can encourage businesses to focus on goals that align with local ambitions, such as environmental sustainability and social inclusion. “Even when they become worldwide,” says Voisin-Fradin, “if we know the boss, if their headquarters is here, we can have a much bigger impact.”

With small and medium enterprises, we can have a big impact
— Gabriel Voisin-Fradin

Another great reason to focus on small companies, he says, is that compared to bigger businesses, they have much higher rates of employment per unit that they produce, which means that they contribute strongly to the local economy and development of local skills.

The city does also have strong ties to global companies with outposts in the area. “We work with them, and we have a local economic pact for those that are present in the area,” says Voisin-Fradin.

However, it is not very easy to influence their decision making. “We cannot impact a lot the strategy of the major companies, but we try to ensure that they work with local stakeholders,” he says.

As an example, IKEA operates in the territory and collaborates with the metropolitan authority to employ some target demographics. However, adding local suppliers to the company’s supply chain is not possible because of the scale of the IKEA’s operations.

Large companies also often have internal resources that they can deploy towards becoming environmentally sustainable, while for smaller companies, input from the local authority can be a large and necessary help.

Wide impact

For Grenoble Alpes, intensely cultivating a local economy that boosts sustainability is all part of an effort to inspire change across Europe. Through European programmes supported by Eurocities, like Commission’s Mission for 100 Climate Neutral Smart Cities by 2030, the metropolitan area is using its progress to model change that helps other cities transition towards a green economy.

“What’s interesting about Aledia is that their micro-LEDs are even more energy efficient than standard LEDs, and of course far more so than regular lights,” says Voisin-Fradin, explaining why this company is a good example for their local approach to boosting business to curb emissions.

Supporting small and medium enterprises is always on our mind
— Gabriel Voisin-Fradin

The ambition goes even beyond Europe. Through the EU programme International Urban and Regional Cooperation, which Eurocities helps the Commission to deliver, Grenoble Alpes Metropolitan Area is collaborating the Japanese cities of Toyota and Koreama to encourage sustainable entrepreneurship.

“Supporting small and medium enterprises is always on our mind,” says Voisin-Fradin, “With these cities, we’re supporting innovations in hydrogen-based technologies.”

Through international collaboration, the area can create partnerships between local startups and large companies from abroad. “We try to make connections for small local companies to find partners or market their sustainable technologies in Japan,” Voisin-Fradin confirms. This serves the dual function of promoting sustainability globally and forging stronger international partnerships for the metropolitan area.

Like one of Grenoble Alpes Metropolitan Area’s champions, LED screen manufacturer Aledia, the local authority knows well that tightly coordinated local changes can deliver rich and complex visions when you zoom out to see the bigger picture.

Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer