How the Vulkam team’s energy releases the power of amorphous metals
From researcher to entrepreneur, there is just one step! But this step covers a lot of ground. Sébastien Gravier covered that ground when he co-founded Vulkam, a deep tech startup to industrialise new metals with unusual properties.
Some success stories start in a garage, but this one originated in a university laboratory! And not just any laboratory: the SIMAP (science and engineering of materials and processes), one of France’s top laboratories* for research on new materials and related processes. It was here that Sébastien Gravier and Alexis Lenain founded Vulkam, a startup to industrialise a new technology based on more than thirty years of research.
Taking the entrepreneurial plunge
“After my thesis, I worked on a research project whose promising perspectives naturally brought us to consider value generation,” recalled the former researcher. The project gradually led him towards more application-based fields, resulting in R&D collaboration partnerships with industrial operators... the transition was logical. “For a researcher, entrepreneurialism is something of a taboo subject, although attitudes are starting to change. There comes a point when you begin to ask yourself questions... which is why I got in contact with SATT Linksium.” This is not an easy decision, as the director of the Incubation division at Linksium, Christine Vaca, pointed out: “When a researcher becomes an entrepreneur, everything changes: the attitudes of former colleagues and friends, career prospects, etc. You have to ask yourself, is this what I really want for myself?” Sébastien Gravier added: “The training courses and discussions that Linksium still provide today helped me to get a better understanding of what entrepreneurialism actually is, to grasp the basics and to visualise a whole range of possibilities.” Stepping away from the academic world, benefiting from more freedom, he founded Vulkam in December 2017. “We develop new materials (“amorphous” metals), whose original atomic structure is modified to provide them with unusual properties, such as a two-fold increase in mechanical strength, enhanced miniaturisation, malleability similar to that of plastic.”
It is not the administrative aspects that people fear most in entrepreneurialism, but the fact that “you have to do so many things, acquire different skills for legal contracts, for marketing, for industrial property, etc.” And this is where the team comes in. “It is essential to delegate responsibilities. There is nothing difficult about founding a business. The only difficulty is the choices you have to make. To be able to delegate effectively, you must know your subject, or at least the basics. This means you can understand everything quickly but without having to manage every last detail.” Finding the right resources is essential to save time and gain efficiency. “Linksium has a network of partners which helped us to delegate what could be delegated: the administrative management and even some of the financial monitoring.” Sébastien Gravier, a firm believer in the importance of human relations, shares his vision with his team. “Without them, Vulkam would not exist. The well-being of my employees is very important and team cohesion is essential to create the drive to achieve a shared goal.”
… for new perspectives
This shared vision has helped Vulkam to overcome obstacles, to gain strength and to grow. Just two years after its launch, the startup raised €4.5 million from four investment funds, including €3.5 million from Supernova Invest, Sofimac Innovation, BNP Paribas Développement and Crédit Agricole Sud Rhône Alpes Capital (CASRA), and rest from a Bpifrance deep tech development grant. This operation enabled Vulkam to industrialise its unique range of Vulkalloys®, while demonstrating its capacity to manufacture miniature parts with high added value. The company works with diverse sectors, including the medical, clock and watch-making and aerospace industries. “We expect to break even in two years and start making a profit with an estimated turnover of €20 million.” In the meantime, and for the moment, Sébastien Gravier has left his work as a research professor behind him, to devote his efforts to his company and his employees.
“This year, we aim to strengthen our R&D to optimise and protect our Vulkalloy® families, while ramping up production. Our flagship production machine, the result of 18 months of design and development efforts, will soon be up and running. At the same time, we are implementing a materials and processes quality approach to obtain ISO 13 485 QMS certification.”
- Activity: Manufacturing of miniature parts made from amorphous metals
- Head office: Saint-Martin-d'Hères / Gières - (38- Grenoble/Alps metropolitan area)
- Turnover: Several hundred thousand euro this year, an estimated €20 million by 2024
- Headcount: 20 employees in 2020 (including 10 new hires last year), around 30 by the end of 2021.
- A range of 8 Vulkalloy® families optimised for high added value industrial sectors
- 3 new production machines in 2020
- Thousands of parts produced in 2020
* SIMaP contributes to the good ranking of Grenoble INP and Université-Grenoble Alpes in the international classification systems (35th and 21st in Metallurgical Engineering in the Shanghai 2018 ranking).