It is therefore essential that the Group continues to encourage new in-house projects and create conditions for them to thrive.
With over 15,000 patents in its portfolio, this strategy is clearly paying off. The creation of in-house start-ups - less formal entities that allow for greater risk-taking - has enabled Thales to launch a number of projects. However, the Group cannot rely solely on its own strengths to make progress. Despite substantial investment in R&D i.e. in the region of 2.5 billion Euros (20% of its annual turnover), and over 20,000 engineers (including 3,000 directly involved in research), Thales has joined forces with other companies and researchers, capitalising on the "world of entrepreneurs" offered up by globalisation, to increase and improve innovation.
Start-ups and incubators
As extraordinary founts of innovation, identifying start-ups is one of the Group's main objectives. As such, Thales keeps a close eye on various incubators including Starburst, the accelerator for start-ups in the aerospace industry. Across France and other countries, several hundred fledgling businesses are analysed each year. Some will become future partners of Thales, others, tomorrow's competitors. Ten percent are approached with a view to testing their technology, exploring opportunities for cooperation, taking them on as suppliers, entering into partnerships or, in some 'small is beautiful' cases, the aim is to acquire them. The collaborations between Thales and many of these businesses frequently allows for the development of projects, materials and components which would not have otherwise been possible without the synergies generated.
SMEs and Mid-Size Businesses: a valuable relationship
Start-ups are not the Group’s only key partners. Thales is equally committed to fostering relations with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Mid-Size Businesses, without which many projects would not have materialised. A perfect example of this is the Stratobus airship's transparent hull. For this project, Thales joined forces with a company that makes plastic that does not yellow in light or leach - a real technological feat. And for some resolutely innovative new projects, Thales occasionally surrounds itself with a veritable cluster to support its work. For three years, the AUSS project was developed in this way in cooperation with 19 SMEs and Mid-size businesses in the Paris, Anjou and Brest areas; a "Team" that has now succeeded in achieving a capacity and technological breakthrough soon to be rolled out to domestic and export markets.
A long-standing fruitful relationship with the academic world
Finally, innovation cannot occur without close partnerships with the academic community. In addition to the InnovDays, Thales organises Research Days; a forum bringing together hundreds of researchers, students and engineers. Thales now has over fifty framework agreements with universities in five continents. The Group has also set up around twenty joint laboratories with various entities worldwide (mainly companies and public institutions), bringing together complementary figures from a range of backgrounds around a common objective.
In France, where Thales has long collaborated with the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the Pierre and Marie Curie University, the Group has just celebrated the thirtieth year of its framework agreement with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which is perhaps the best example of what collaboration between a research institute and high-tech companies can achieve. Over the past thirty years, more than 1,000 doctoral students have completed their theses in the framework of the Thales-CNRS partnership. More than 150 patents have been registered and 200 projects initiated, with a Nobel Prize in Physics awarded in 2007 to Albert Fert, the Scientific Director of the CNRS/Thales Joint Physics Unit.
The need to establish true centres of excellence, capable of achieving technological breakthroughs that will allow French companies to generate new growth drivers, is regularly reaffirmed. And as its partnerships show, Thales is fully committed to this approach.
Centre Européen d’Analyses Stratégiques
Photo: left, Emmanuel Guerriero, President of EMISSIVE, righte, Richard Caetano, CEO Stratumn.