Having trained in nuclear science and chemistry, Vivien Badaut decided to make a change and start a research and consultancy business to support new startups. Eventually he moved from his hometown in Paris, France and decided to make a life for himself in Leeds. Here he tells us what attracted him to Yorkshire and why he’s happy to stay here.
Tell us about your business.
I am the founder and director of Driad, which is a research and innovation consultancy. We especially work in areas where there’s a high technical component. We understand tech and can explain it to stakeholders, and our core business is to help startups get financial support and fundraise for their ideas. We are specialists in R&D public grants from Innovate UK or the European program Horizon 2020.
Personally, I’ve only been doing this for three years but I’ve worked with over 50 companies in Paris, and a few in Leeds. I am now looking to grow our network in Leeds and Yorkshire. It’s a bit more challenging here in UK than in France, as there is much less public funding available. Most of the financial support is private, which is good, but it leaves a gap for early-stage, highly technical projects that can really struggle without access to a grant.
Most of my work here in Leeds is helping companies who are interested in this type of funding to understand its challenges. I want to help the local tech community to develop and access funding, and that means understanding its limitations as well. Not every project is eligible, and typically less than 1 out of 20 tech companies might have a shot at a grant. So it’s a very niche job.
It’s about discussing with the business owners and getting them to explain the technology behind their plans. We then explain it to stakeholders who won’t have any idea about the tech but need to understand how it will work and what the benefits are (including, pragmatically, for them). No two projects are the same. I get to learn about new technologies all the time, and to meet interesting founders and hear their story. I think that’s why I love what I do.
What inspired you to start it up?
Before I went into consultancy, I was a research scientist for a few years. I worked in France, Germany and Japan. What I liked best was to explore different parts of science and technology. I started in nuclear chemistry, moved to quantum chemistry, material sciences, and later computer modelling which brought me to software development.
When I moved back from Japan in 2012, I was looking for a new challenge with a faster pace. I was getting really excited by the emerging start-up scene in Paris and I was lucky enough to meet an old friend who just started a consultancy and told me ‘actually, we need someone with your technical knowledge to help us’.
This technical knowledge is missing from most of the companies that provide fundraising support to startups. They are experts in business but they won’t understand the technology and, more importantly, its potential. My research background allows me to gain an in-depth understanding of complex technical projects, and then build a mostly non-technical explanation for stakeholders who don’t have the scientific background to understand the technical details.
Furthermore, as a researcher, I spend a fair amount of hours preparing grant applications. So I thought helping start-ups raise money for research and development was a good way to put both of these skills to use.
There are already lots of companies offering this type of support in Paris. But I wanted to explore the entrepreneurial world so I started DRIAD in Leeds. I’m glad I did, because it’s really hard to help entrepreneurs if you’ve never been one yourself.
My first clients were in Paris. They really helped me get started and now in Leeds I’ve met some really cool startups who have motivated me to keep going.
Why does tech interest you / How did you get into tech in general?
I was interested in tech and science in general from a very early age. In primary school I already wanted to be a rocket scientist.
Innovation has driven me ever since, and I am looking for areas where I could make a difference. I think the only way our society can work is by going forward, keep on improving; stagnation doesn’t bring good prospects. I went into research make my contribution. But academic research can be very removed from the real world as it’s usually decades before it’s applied anywhere.
The startup movement offers something different. They’re mostly not as high-tech but they are very driven and want to put technology in the hands of people, rather than just using it in new fancy ways. I think finding a way to support these people was what drove me to where I’m at now.
What does Leeds have to offer, as a city, to tech businesses?
There’s a tremendous amount of support offered to small companies and startups in Leeds because everybody is very much hoping for success stories like Cocoon or AQL to happen. There are a few high-tech gems in Leeds already, and there’s also this large pool of highly educated people. At the moment, these people aren’t really looking at Leeds for jobs so we need to advertise more about the great opportunities there are here.
Also, Leeds is such a great place to be geographically. It’s perfect to go anywhere, it’s well connected to Manchester, London, Edinburgh and it’s got an international airport. I go to Paris once a month and there’s a direct flight from Leeds Bradford.
It has such potential to be a high-tech hub. It’s not one yet but there are a lot of efforts at the moment to make that happen.
What are you excited about for the tech and digital scene in Leeds?
Amy De Balsi, the mind behind HERD, has already shown that there’s an amazing amount of digital talent here, in fact vastly underestimated.
I think the future of Leeds tech rests on the creation of a lively startup ecosystem. A truly inclusive tech hub was missing, and I think FutureLabs is so important in bridging that gap. That’s why I moved in as soon as I could. There are already quite a few coworking spaces in Leeds but unfortunately they are either not tech focussed or are mostly keeping to themselves. But FutureLabs has the potential to be really open. Also it’s a non-profit, which makes a lot of difference.
I’m hoping this will encourage everyone, from experts at the University to entrepreneurs, to invest in Leeds. Given how quickly things develop in the city, I’m really not worried about its future. It’s really going to be a great place for technology in the next ten years. If FutureLabs can develop as it wants to and everyone gathers to work together, Leeds will become a major tech hub. For this to happen, we need to work with all the stakeholders in the city, from the council, from the university and from the incubators. We are stronger together and we can really raise the profile of Leeds, which will benefit everyone.
What advice would you give for people looking to start up a business in this sector?
Don’t start by yourself. You need to find co-founders as soon as possible. A lot of budding entrepreneurs have either business or tech expertise, but if you want to start a company in this field, you need both!
Network and speak to investors as soon as possible. Not to pitch them, but find out about what they’re interested in and if they’d be likely to invest in your business in the future. A lot of what you will be able to do will depend on knowing early who might be willing to get on board.
Even if you bring the right people on-board, it won’t help your business if there isn’t interest for your product out there, so you need to talk about it! Developing a MVP, a minimum viable product as soon as possible is also crucial: if you want to get people interested in your product, the best it being able to showcase it!
Favourite Yorkshire eatery/bar?
Town Hall Tavern. I think it’s a bit underrated, it doesn’t seem to be very fashionable to young people but it’s really, really good.
What tech do you use?
I use pretty basic stuff. I am still using my MacBook Pro from 2009. I think I’ve replaced just about everything inside, but it’s a very good computer and I’ll keep using it for as long as it works. I’ve also got an iPhone, but that’s about it.
Top 3 films?
That’s a difficult one but I’ll say Seven Samurai, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and The Matrix.
What do you drive?
My old faithful Peugeot 206. It’s a European car but I’m taking it back to France and will probably get a British car soon!
Perfect Sunday Breakfast?
I like an English breakfast, but I love coffee, croissants and a few things with them for more of a brunch. I’m not really fussy about that sort of thing.