How Grenoble has mastered industry–academia science collaborations

When President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his strategic plan for France’s electronics industry on 12 July last year, he did so not in front of any of the familiar Parisian landmarks, but at a factory in the shadow of the tooth-like Dent de Crolles mountain.

Macron’s choice of backdrop wasn’t motivated by a sense of visual drama. Rather, it allowed him to bask in the reflected glory of news announced the previous day of plans to create 1,000 jobs at a new semiconductor factory at the site, already used by technology giant STMicroelectronics, near Grenoble, in southeast France — as part of a €5.7 billion (US$6.2 billion) investment programme.

With just 158,000 inhabitants, the city of Grenoble fails to make the country’s top 10 cities with the largest populations. Yet it and the surrounding metropolitan area are home to 24% of national microelectronics jobs, according to Invest in Grenoble Alpes, an economic development agency. In 2018, Grenoble was named as one of four cities to host new government-funded artificial intelligence (AI) research institutes. The city is home to a spin-out company, Siquance, which is national efforts to build the world’s first silicon-based universal quantum computer — one that can be used for a broad set of problems, much like a conventional computer: an important step in bringing quantum computing into mainstream use.

It is not just in the areas of electronics and digital technologies that Grenoble outperforms larger French cities. Grenoble Alpes University (UGA) comes fifth when French universities are ranked by the number of articles that list their researchers as authors in 82 natural-science journals in the year from October 2021 to September 2022 by Nature Index. Almost one in 13 jobs in the region are in research and development (R&D) — the highest proportion of all French metropolitan areas (see ‘Grenoble: in numbers’).