BIOMAE, a laboratory start-up

A scud couple © Irstea / Ecotoxicology laboratory
A scud couple © Irstea / Ecotoxicology laboratory

BIOMAE is the 5th start-up to be founded at Irstea. Straight out of the ecotoxicology laboratory at the Lyon-Villeurbanne center, the project aims to provide a new measuring tool for evaluating the quality of waterways in response to EWFD requirements: an ambitious project to say the least.

It all started in 2003. When Olivier Geffard joined the ecotoxicology team at the Irstea center in Lyon-Villeurbanne, he had the idea of adapting marine biomonitoring tools to aquatic environments. Concretely, this meant using a living organism to monitor changes in an environment's quality. As a result, he identified the scud, a small, invertebrate freshwater shrimp that lives in our rivers, as a sentinel species. Indeed, as the scud is sensitive to pollutants, it bioaccumulates them in large amounts and acts as a good indicator of the presence and effect of toxic substances in our aquatic environments.

For further information: BIOMAE, winner of the Biocleantech “coup de coeur” (jury’s favorite) prize at the Tremplin Entreprises 2015 competition

1, 2, 3: Start-up

To go from a bright idea to the creation of a start-up is a long journey with many steps.

Step 1 (important): Build a knowledge base

Long before creating a company, years of research were needed to improve our understanding of scuds. Samples and experiments have enabled the establishment of toxicity markers relating to diet, reproduction, neurotoxicity and bioaccumulation. As a result of this work, it was possible to define a range of indicators to evaluate water quality.

Step 2: Run simulations to make use of the data collected

Olivier Geffard was then joined by Arnaud Chaumot, a researcher specializing in mathematical modeling. Together, they established an in situ biotest system (applied directly in the natural environment), a real scientific achievement. Up until then in ecotoxicology, biotests were primarily carried out in a laboratory in controlled exposure conditions (constant temperatures, calibrated organisms, etc.). This had certainly helped produce repeatable results and reliably characterize the impact of pollutants, but was far removed from conditions on the ground, where factors such as variations in temperature can affect results. The modeling system based on the indicators enabled better visualization of biological variability within the environments and the determination of reliable toxicity thresholds through in situ analysis.

Step 3: Testing and developing a method

By caging specially selected scuds (according to sex, size, etc.) for 7 to 21 days in over 180 polluted or preserved sites at different times of the year, the team obtained a unique reference database and was able to define contamination and toxicity thresholds for each defined marker. They used this database to create a reliable diagnostic method for on site experiments. 

BIOMAE

Very quickly, the team began to receive requests for analysis, and in 2012, it focused on a technology transfer project with the Créalys incubator in Lyon. Guillaume Jubeaux, a young researcher on the team who was defending his thesis the same year, was very dedicated and worked very hard on the project to create BIOMAE. From February 2013, he was hired by Irstea as a full-time project leader. The institute also supplied offices, equipment and logistics support.

Things progressed well and very quickly. Through Créalys, the new company found a business developer, Laurent Viviani. His entrepreneurial experience complemented and reinforced the team of co-founders. Furthermore, helped by Irstea's development departments and by Créalys, the company was able to take all the necessary steps for successful development:

  • Patent registration and intellectual property protection
  • Study of potential customers' needs
  • Creating product offers: a “chemistry” kit to monitor polluting substances

At the same time, BIOMAE was participating in competitions and awards as an innovative company in order to make itself known. In June 2013, the project won the OSEO Emergence award and 30,000 euros in prize money. This was a real launch pad and a welcome funding boost to help complete the final stages of creating the company (policy advice, prototyping, etc.).

The company was officially created on May 27, 2014. In 2015, it will have to stand on its own two feet.

Find out more