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How to turn your end of studies project into a company – it can be done!

How to turn your end of studies project into a company – it can be done!
Nicolas Libeaut and Audrey Bénéteau

Audrey Bénéteau and Nicolas Libeaut, 2008 alumni and co-managers of FoxDesign, successfully brought their end of studies project to commercial development and set up a new company, Apportech Industries.

The end of studies project as central theme

Audrey and Nicolas graduated in 2008 and started out as self-employed entrepreneurs before changing their business, FoxDesign, into a limited liability company in 2010. Nicolas never quite forgot about his end of studies project, a services terminal for use at sea, inspired by the realization that there wasn’t enough space in ports for all the boats. At the time, he had worked on a platform aiming to provide all port services to mooring areas on an ad hoc basis. The platform took into account the changing habits of boaters (seasonality, simplicity, use, safety) and respect for the environment (a design that blends in well with the landscape, weather resistance). The project simply needed to be financed and developed.

In 2008, the association Apportech (4 companies from Chateaubriand: Acco, specialized in boilermaking, Glémaud, home layout, wooden structures and carpentry, Méca Atlantique, precision mechanics, and Team Plastique, experts in thermoforming) contacted Jean-Luc Barassard, Business Strategy Department Director at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique. Working as subcontractors, they had aspirations to develop their own products and to diversify their activities. So why not use an existing student project? Jean-Luc Barassard naturally put them in touch with Nicolas Libeaut and Audrey Bénéteau. The meeting was a success, work on project development began and FoxDesign incorporated Apportech.

La plateforme flottante Triportech

Studies and financing

The study began in 2009 but really took shape in 2012, once the economic crisis had ended. The project, named Triportech, is now a 70 m2 floating platform including 30 m2 of living space, made from aluminum and wood and sturdy enough to withstand winds of up to 140 km/h. Its triangular design means it can deal with varying currents, be combined with other modules and is completely customizable, collapsible, transportable and recyclable. It is also suitable for people with reduced mobility, allowing easy access to a quayside or boat. The project is not aimed at the floating habitat sector which is highly competitive, but rather the services sector, with the creation of offices on water, restaurants, sophisticated emergency stations, entertainment venue, harbor master’s office, etc.

The complementarity of these five companies, combined with their geographical proximity, has made it much easier to execute the project using their pooled skills. FoxDesign manages the design and layout and is responsible for positioning, identity and use.
In 2013-2014, they took part in an initiative called “500 projects for the territories” and received a grant from the Pays de la Loire region and the CCI to launch the study and manufacturing.

Marketing and development

In 2013, a newspaper article caught the attention of Vincent Lebrun, director of Atlantic Jet Évasion, a jet-ski rental company in Le Pouliguen. He just happened to be looking for a solution to improve logistics and increase his added value. Impressed by the project, he helped Apportech develop it and accommodated the first platform. Naturally, his own activity has been diversified as he is now receiving requests from businesses in La Baule to host seminars or other events on his platform.

In October 2015, the association became Apportech Industries SARL (a limited liability company). The group employs 170 people. They have hired a sales person, Céline Meslif, responsible for marketing the Triportech as well as finding new markets, particularly in Canada where a branch is planned within the next two years with local manufacturing. Further recruitment is also anticipated at Acco, Glémaud and FoxDesign as version 2 of the Triportech and other new products are in the pipeline.

In the past six months, nine projects are on the verge of being signed and a platform has been sold to Port Olona for the start of the Vendée Globe. It will be installed in Port Olona at the end of May 2016 for the arrival of the New York-Les Sables regatta, prior to the start of the Vendée Globe in November. Over 2 million spectators will be able to discover the Triportech.

What is the key to the success of this project? What advice do you have for young graduates?

Have a good team around you, take advantage of networks and old, well-established companies. FoxDesign first set up a network to provide support and guidance before properly developing its activity. Thanks to the backing of Nantes St-Nazaire CCI and Initiative Nantes, FoxDesign was able to benefit from the experience and skills of these organizations and their networks. We could never have raised the capital and managed the next stage by ourselves.

On 14th October Triportech won the Pays de la Loire Territory Trophy in the “creative economy” category.