EIC Coffee Break with Corinne Versini: The story behind Genes’Ink
Every month, during a Coffee Break, we dive into the stories of EIC innovators and get a glimpse of the persons behind the start-ups. In this month's episode, we had the chance to meet with Corinne Versini, CEO and founder of Genes'Ink. The French start-up offers a range of innovative conductive inks for consumer electronics market, with potential applications in various fields and industries. Besides her executive position, the CEO and founder of Genes'ink is also involved in the region's economy and development. Corinne was named 2016 Gold Laureate of the International Women's Prize "Women of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Economic & Monaco" and was a nominee knighted "Ordre National du Mérite" by French President Emmanuel Macron in July 2019. Let’s grab a cup of coffee and discover her journey together.
Tell us how the idea of your innovation started. Was it something that was bouncing in the back of your head for a long time?
I was working for an electronics company, and I knew that some raw materials weren't good. We had an accident that was not publicly disclosed with an acid leak that obliged us to change 3500 car glasses and re-paint these 3500 cars because this acid was very strong and dangerous for public health. At this point, I decided to change things because I wanted to do the same work without using any toxic materials and following my ethical principles. Accidents can happen, and there's always a risk, but I didn't want to use these dangerous materials in my work. I decided to start from scratch, with a blank page and a new team. We didn't have any business background, but this proved to be better because we were obliged to reinvent everything when we were starting, and we managed to find a disruptive solution.
How did your family react to your switch?
My children supported me immediately, affirming that I would succeed, but the rest of the family didn't say the same. They wanted to protect me and were worried about this dangerous step. They advised me to find a job as "employee" to avoid additional risks. I think families always have this protection with children. My family also did this, and they tried to discourage me, but I didn't listen to them.
Do you have someone or a situation that shaped who you are or what you are doing today?
My father influenced me because he was also an entrepreneur. When he was very young, he created his first company, failed a lot of times, and restarted again. He succeeded, he failed many times and nevertheless, he always tried again. I am very proud when someone tells me that I am like my father. I think that he's the person that I look up.
Can you tell us about a tough moment you had at your company and how you pushed through?
We had many difficult moments with the start-up. We always have ups and downs in the business world. We are a small core team and a small family. But the best example that I can give you happened with my son. When he was 16, I passed through a challenging moment and didn't want to continue with the company. When he realised that, he told me immediately that I should always fight for my dreams until the end because this was the message that I ever shared with him. He told me exactly what I needed to listen at that moment. Failure doesn't exist, because as long as you are alive, you can start again.
Do you still remember your first pitch for GenesInk?
My first pitch was in front of a group of business angels in the south of France. I was 49 years old, and the first question that I heard after the pitch was: "If you have to work extra hours, how will you care of your kids or help them with their homework?". When they looked at me, they realised that I was not happy with this question and the jury told me that they would do the same question to a man. I laughed because it was the only possible reaction in that scenario, but can you imagine this? I was almost 50 years old, and they asked me how I take care of my kids if I'm managing my own company. I will never forget that pitch.
Why are you passionate about your company?
My company is my fourth baby. My objective with my company is the same as for my children: I want to help the company grow, and one day she will live without me. This company will be autonomous, just exactly like my kids, and I will certainly sell Genes’ink or quit in the future. That's the normal process. Our children also leave the house, and a mother should be ok with that. I will do the same with my company.
What advice can you give to people who are currently playing with the idea of starting a company and becoming potential entrepreneurs?
My advice would be to have fun. It can be tough to launch a start-up, and if you don't have fun, it's something that you won't be able to achieve.
If you could talk business over lunch with a large corporate CEO or global leader, which one would you choose and why?
I admire lham Kadri, the CEO of Solvay. She is from Morocco, and unfortunately, in Europe, women from Morocco still face multiple difficulties in the business world. When I started my career, I was a single mother, and Ilham Kadri was always a reference for me, and I would definitely like to have lunch with her.
Could you tell us about a book that inspired you?
When I was a teenager, I loved "Gone with the Wind". The protagonist had many difficulties, but she never gave up, and this book was an inspiration for me.