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Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center

Unique French Startup Brewed at HEC Paris

Could nanotechnology represent the technology of the future? This electrode technology based on carbon nanotubes is touted by some as the way forward for battery longevity, resiliency and energy transition. In the driving seat of one of the world’s most innovative startups in the field is the cofounder of NAWA Technologies, Pascal Boulanger (H08). He shares his road to success and the future highway he aims to take with HEC Club Challenge +.

Club HEC Challlenge+ - Conf.; nanotechnologies janvier 2021

Eight years after bagging the Best Business Plan HEC Challenge+ Award for his NAWA Technology design, Pascal Boulanger returned to his old hunting ground on January 27. Over 300 online students and academics tuned in to hear the latest developments in his fast-growing company. “Challenge+ provided me with the ideal toolbox with which I was able to bring everything I had achieved beforehand together. It created an osmosis between my background as an engineer and my ambitions as an entrepreneur. Since 2013, we’ve grown into a company with 43 employees and around 20 researchers. Recently, we expanded into the United States. It just goes to prove that you can twist reality into something exciting and new by thinking out-of-the-box.”

For 12 years, Boulanger has been devoting all his professional career to designing new nanotechnology to improve energy conversion, storage, transport and efficiency through the use of “Ultra Fast Carbon Battery Technology”. As the company’s website describes it: “Minimizing the environmental impact of our manufacturing processes and improving the life cycle end of our products, by re-using, recovering and recycling is at the heart of what we do.” The hugely ambitious project centers on nano and clean technology which will have applications on batteries in cars, buildings, telephones, etc: “From the depth of the oceans right up to space…”

 

Club HEC Challlenge+ - Conf.; nanotechnologies janvier 2021

 

Yet, all this potential centers on a nano structure “10 to 50 times smaller than the circumference of a hair”. The 2008 HEC MBA graduate has fine-tuned his research thanks to a decade of research projects within the CEA (Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission) and BPI France, “at the interface of information technologies and energy.” Now, Boulanger hopes to scale up his enterprise for a market he estimates at $2 billion worldwide. “We believe we will put our products on the market around 2025, allowing an electric car to be totally autonomous for 800-1,000 kilometers.”

Based in Aix-en-Provence, this is very much a French success story, says HEC Professor Etienne Krieger. “It comes down to French research at its best. Last September, the Tesla Battery Day told the world that Tesla had more innovative material to boost battery capacity. But this French startup has done better! With its electrode technology in carbon nanotubes, NAWA Technologies promises us it will multiply the power of lithium batteries tenfold, increase its durability by five, provide three times more capacity, and all this for half the price!”

 

Pascal Boulanger, Nawa Technology
Pascal Boulanger

‘No Beni-oui-oui Workers Here’

The firm’s success has been built on a watertight team effort: “We’ve only lost two staff members in the seven years the company has existed,” explains the company’s COO and CTO. “NAWA Technologies is built on a notion of wellbeing which I learnt in my years at HEC. But that doesn’t mean we are ‘béni-oui-oui’ workers (Ed. yes men). We are demanding both of ourselves and of others.” This rigor has reached out over the Atlantic, where NAWA Technologies has invested in a laboratory in Dayton, Ohio. The U.S. division of the French startup focuses on providing the market with multifunctional ultra-strong composites while widening the range of applications of the product. “We’re capitalizing on their excellent research capacity while reinforcing their management capabilities with our own approach.”

 

Club HEC Challlenge+ - Conf.; nanotechnologies janvier 2021

 

Pascal Boulanger is hoping his technology will find its way into most of the world’s new cars within a decade. “We want to revolutionize the world, contribute to resolving the world’s environmental and social problems.” This includes a systematic analysis of the carbon footprint and product life cycle to encourage applications that “help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and resource exploitation, while controlling the impact of our waste.” The engineer, nicknamed the Superconductor Math Buff, is acutely aware that NAWA Technologies now needs to up the ante to capitalize on the huge market for nanotechnology: “The key today is to find money to develop this technology quickly. We have forged unique research. Now, it’s up to us to play our cards right.”