Atlantic France’s thriving digital sector: an overview

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© Arnaud Dréan / Technocampus Smart Factory

In Atlantic France, technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, IoT, and cybersecurity are developing rapidly. With its network of innovation support players and its dynamic business ecosystem, the region is home to many growing companies in the digital sector. 

The key figures of the Atlantic France digital sector:

38,000 employees

1,820 establishments

5 research laboratories

bringing together 330 teachers and researchers

Recognised nationally for its dynamism in the digital sector, Atlantic France benefits from the presence of 1,820 establishments, and counts nearly 38,000 employees. Over the period of 2019-2021, the number of establishments increased by 11.8% and the workforce by 7%.

Driven by the vitality and attractiveness of the Greater Nantes area, the Loire-Atlantique alone represents 63% of digital establishments in the region and 79% of employees, whereas Maine-et-Loire accounts for 9.5% of jobs and 14% of companies. 

In addition to Nantes being labelled as a French Tech Capital, the 5 Atlantic France departments obtained a French Tech label for the following:

  • Blue Tech in Saint-Nazaire / La Baule
  • IOT in Angers
  • Virtual reality in Laval
  • Tomorrow’s mobility and cleantech in Le Mans 
  • Smart grids in Vendée

Compared to other sectors, Atlantic France establishments are relatively small in size: the average headcount is around 16 employees. However, the region also hosts large establishments: 288 have more than 100 employees.

Main sectors of activity in the digital sector

Digital service companies, such as Capgemini, CGI, Sopra Steria, and Accenture are well-established in Atlantic France. Specialised in systems and IT consulting, they represent nearly 48% of the total employment of the sector and strongly contribute to the digital transition of Atlantic France’s economy.

Companies focused on telecommunications, including leading national enterprises (SFR, Orange, Bouygues Telecom), are also present in all departments and include 15% of the regional workforce.

The software publishing sector accounts for 12% of employees with Atlantic France companies such as Proginov (Loire-Atlantique), an ERP software publisher, Horoquartz (Vendée), and Bodet Software (Maine-et-Loire), specialising in the development of time management software and HR information systems, and Segilog (Sarthe) which develops a community management publishing software.

Finally, several regional start-ups are part of Next40/120, the program certifying the most promising technology companies in France:

  • Akeneo designs and develops open source solutions for the management of product catalogues for brands and distributors
  • iAdvize develops a conversational platform and customer service automation
  • Attracted by the dynamism of the Nantes ecosystem, two other Next40 start-ups chose Atlantic France in 2020 as the place to set up their first regional establishment in France: the startup Alan, which specialises in online insurance, and Doctolib, European leader in the digitisation of health services and online medical appointments. In 2022, it was the company Lydia, which specialises in mobile financial services, that chose Nantes as its first location outside Paris.

Focus on new technologies and digital transformations

The Atlantic France digital sector is mainly driven by dynamic projects, programmes, and ecosystems:

  • With CLARTE (a resource and transfer centre for virtual reality), the Laval Virtual trade show, the Laval Virtual Centre and many specialised companies (Mazedia, Bloc in Bloc, Inod, etc.), Atlantic France finds itself positioned as a region of excellence in VR/AR at European level.
  • In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), the constitution of the EDIH (European Digital Innovation Hub), which was materialised by the DIVA project (Digital Innovation Value Accelerator), demonstrates regional dynamism. Initiated in 2020, DIVA aims to democratise and make companies aware of the uses and challenges of data and AI. An accompaniment programme makes it possible to identify and seize the many opportunities offered by AI. Within the Atlantic France ecosystem, there are also innovative startups such as Vectice, Verteego or AIherd.
  • Materialised by the creation of the Electronics and IoT Technocampus, a regional centre dedicated to research and innovation around these themes, Atlantic France consolidates its importance in the national IoT landscape. A rich ecosystem is located in Maine-et-Loire, bringing together the main electronic subcontractors such as Eolane or Lacroix and IoT specialists such as Qovisio and Ercogener.
  • With many potential applications in various sectors, blockchain is a disruptive technology used for the storage and transmission of information. It allows for the history of a set of transactions to be kept, in a decentralised, secure and transparent way. For example, the Vendée company O°Code has implemented a blockchain-based solution to list, trace and certify the origin of an object in order to avoid theft. The company won the EY 2022 Western France startup of the year prize.
  • Cybersecurity has become a major issue related to the development of new digital technologies and is at the heart of regional concerns.

Potential applications for all sectors

Below are various cases of usage in different areas of Atlantic France’s economy: 

  • CUMA – Agriculture: Drones and artificial intelligence helping farmers to reconcile their breeding activity with species protection (Pilgrim Technology)
  • Fleury Michon – Agrifood: production of 360° virtual reality films of factories and breeding site visits (Mazedia).
  • Nantes Métropole Habitat – Energy: energy management in  buildings thanks to artificial intelligence (Ecotropy).
  • Nantes university hospital – Health: Anonymisation of patient data through the use of artificial intelligence (Octopize).
  • Groupe Bouhyer, Naval Group, Airbus – Industry: quality control in the manufacturing of counterweights, assisted by augmented reality (Quai des apps); facilitation of ship maintenance thanks to augmented reality; predictive maintenance and anomaly detection in the operation of devices through the use of artificial intelligence.
  • Stereolux – Art and culture: use of an automated performance tracking solution using artificial intelligence (Naostage).
  • Ocearium du Croisic – Tourism: creation of a virtual sensory experience for visiting an Aquarium (Mazedia).
  • Angers Loire Habitat – Construction: use of IoT for monitoring buildings  and housing stock management (Qovisio).

Towards digital responsibility…

The digital transition has brought about profound transformations in the economy and the world of business. A source of competitiveness and innovation, the digital sector is nevertheless a high energy-intensity sector, a source of significant CO2 emissions, and it has a growing need for raw materials. Its impact on society and the environment is now stronger as technologies are rapidly developing. Faced with these challenges, several companies and regional associations are mobilising to make the digital sector more responsible, more ethical, and more respectful of the environment.

Launched in 2020 by the ADN Ouest association, the Responsible Digital Community aims to raise awareness of the challenges of digital responsibility, as well as of the implementation of concrete actions and practices which allow for a more sober use of digital technology. Within this community, some consulting companies such as Num&Res, Emprunte Digitale, Brigeek, the ISIA Group and Digital4better, support companies towards digital responsibility. 

It is  also worth mentioning the software publisher Specinov, which has been carrying out an eco-design approach for its products since 2017, with the aim of helping to reduce the environmental footprint of the digital sector. In the ecodesign field, the company Greenspector positions itself as a pioneer.

Regarding hardware, some companies are working to make devices more responsible, such as Largo and AfB Social & Green IT, which specialises in the reconditioning of terminals, or MCT and Qarnot, which specialises in the field of virtuous data centres. Other ecosystem structures, such as La Cantine Numérique and Images & Réseaux, are also mobilising on digital responsibility.

Beyond Green IT or IT for Green, associations and collectives, such as the association Femme du Digital Ouest, are also working for more gender diversity in the digital sector.

An ecosystem of dense networks to promote collaboration and innovation 

Atlantic France is home to an ecosystem of innovative and efficient players who contribute to the influence of the digital sector in the region.

Collaborative networks contributing to the development of the digital sector

  • Images & Réseaux – Nantes: well-recognised competitiveness cluster for digital innovation in Atlantic France and Brittany, bringing together more than 250 members.
  • We Network – Angers: cluster for the electronics sector in France which supports more than 200 companies and structures, at all stages of development of their projects in electronics, IoT and the industry of the future.
  • ADN Ouest – Nantes: network of professionals in the digital sector in Western France, representing 640 organisations in Atlantic France and Brittany.
  • Atlangames – Nantes: network, that brings together 64 video game professionals from Western France who are contributing to the development of the video game industry.
  • La Cantine Numérique – Nantes: Pilot association of the French Tech label, which participates in the development of the digital ecosystem and represents nearly 300 members in Atlantic France.

Players in technological research at the service of the sector

  • Atlanstic 2020 – Nantes: Atlanstic 2020 federates the ecosystem of research, training and innovation in digital sciences in Atlantic France.
  • IRT Jules Verne – Bouguenais: shared industrial research centre dedicated to manufacturing, with digital expertise in modelling and simulation as well as robotics and cobotics.
  • Technocampus Electronics & IoT – Angers: national technical platform intended for accelerating the electronics industry of the future, and it also specialises in the development of intelligent systems.
  • CLARTE – Changé: technology resource centre specialising in virtual reality, augmented reality and emerging technologies.
  • Proxinnov – La Roche-sur-Yon: platform dedicated to robotics that supports companies in the development of their robotisation projects.
  • Laval Virtual – Laval: association which brings together the community in the field of immersive technologies: virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

Training and research: a regional force for the development of digital skills

Including both initial and continuous training ranging from A-Levels to an engineering degree, Atlantic France is home to many training courses on the development of digital skills. These educational opportunities are supported by high-level research with the presence of 5 digital and IT-specialised laboratories, which bring together nearly 330 teachers and researchers.

The main universities and engineering schools distributed in the departments of the region (listed below) offer specialised training in digital technology: the universities of Nantes, Angers, and Le Mans, École Centrale, Polytech Nantes, Polytech Angers, and Polytech Saint-Nazaire, IMT Atlantique, Campus Academy Ouest, ICAM, etc.

290 training courses are offered in the regions: 262 initial (including 157 in apprenticeship or professionalisation) and 28 continuous. In 2019/2020, nearly 5,900 people were trained. Even if the number of training courses under apprenticeship contracts/professionalisation is important, the majority of students follow initial school-based training.

Digital and innovation events during the year

  • West Data Festival – Laval: major event in Western France on artificial intelligence and data
  • Web2day – Nantes: festival of innovation and new technologies
  • Connect – Le Mans: digital events 
  • Innovation Week – Vendée: digital innovation week
  • Connected Week – Angers: event dedicated to the digital sector and innovation
  • Nantes Digital Week: event dedicated to digital professionals
  • Dev Fest – Nantes: event dedicated to web developers
  • Laval Virtual: annual European exhibition dedicated to virtual and augmented reality

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