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Grenoble’s education, research, and manufacturing communities have developed strong working relationships that facilitate cooperation across disciplines and industries. Located in a deep mountain valley, Grenoble’s compact footprint brings stakeholders from all horizons closer together. The city has successfully turned this limitation into a source of competitive advantage.
The city’s history of cross-disciplinary cooperation dates back to the 1950s, when three of Grenoble’s most iconic innovators—engineer and industrialist Paul-Louis Merlin, who cofounded Merlin-Gerin (today Schneider Electric); physics professor Louis Néel, who won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Physics; and low-temperature physicist Louis Weil—effectively broke through the barriers separating education, research, and industry, laying the foundations for what is today recognized as an international model for innovation, and ultimately inspiring the French government’s national cluster policy to spur innovation and economic competitiveness.
Grenoble’s innovation model drove the creation of the MINATEC innovation campus in 2006, a project that is today evolving into the far-reaching GIANT innovation campus, a center for excellence slated to rival top international players like MIT.
Grenoble is often called the Silicon Valley of the Alps. And with good reason! The city’s innovation community has spawned groundbreaking inventions cutting across a range of technologies.
In 1952 the interdisciplinary work of Grenoble-based mathematician Jean Kuntzmann blurred the frontiers between mathematics and physics, giving rise to a totally-new field: computing. Since Kuntzmann’s groundbreaking advance, Grenoble’s scientific community has continued to leverage interdisciplinary cooperation to fuel innovation.
Research lab CEA-Leti and Ryb, an SMB specializing in polyethylene piping systems, joined forces to develop a major breakthrough in underground pipe network security, maintenance, and monitoring. The partners integrated RFID tags into piping, for easy detection—even underground. The achievement is a prime example of how Grenoble-Isère scientists work with manufacturers to leverage the latest technologies to enhance even traditional manufactured products.
In the 19th century, Grenoble was a center for glove making—a traditional industry today in decline. FST Handwear has reinvented the glove, making it a trendy fashion accessory. And, since 2012, the company has been designing and manufacturing gloves made from a material that works with touch screens, successfully bringing one of the area’s traditional manufacturing industries into the 21st century.
ARaymond originally manufactured snaps for the local glove and shoe industries. In 1886 the manufacturer invented the riveted snap. Later, ARaymond sharpened its focus on clip fasteners, opening the door to new opportunities in the automotive, home appliance, furniture, and building materials markets. Today, the company’s ARaymond Life division is addressing applications in medical systems and life sciences.
STMicroelectronics started out as a spin-off of a CEA research lab. Today, the company supplies electronic components to giants like Microsoft and is the largest private-sector employer in Isère. In less than four decades, staunch government backing helped STMicroelectronics grow from a start-up to a global market leader.
The GIANT (Grenoble Innovation For Advanced New Technologies) Innovation Campus is a prime example of how local government is helping make Grenoble’s innovation model work. The city boasts the largest number of public-private partnerships anywhere in France.