In Paris, a boutique for big ideas

PARIS -- A notable boutique for invention celebrates its tenth anniversary and reaffirms its promise to help innovators get ideas off the ground.
Written by Bryan Pirolli, Correspondent (Paris)

PARIS -- La Boutique des Inventions, the only independent invention boutique in Paris, is celebrating 10 years of business this year. Launched in 2003, this mom-and-pop shop of sorts has survived the last decade all on its own without the resources available today, in a time before incubators and social media. Paul de Trentinian and wife Isabelle Risacher opened the shop in the historic Village St-Paul, welcoming French and some international inventors to sell their creations.

Starting a business in Paris isn't easy, but times are changing. A recent report ranks Paris eleventh in global ecosystems favorable to entrepreneurs, ahead of all European cities besides London (No. 7). Still, obstacles like a rigid education system and extraordinarily high rents discourage many from working for themselves. Also, starting up your own business is sometimes deemed less desirable than working in the public service like nearly a quarter of the population.

Ten years ago, the climate was even less hospitable to entrepreneurs, but La Boutique des Inventions has thrived. Initially a gallery for a few selected objects, de Trentinian's shop morphed into an emporium of imagination with color-changing umbrellas and ergonomic bags that are as fun as they are innovative.

From the beginning, de Trentinian said that finding a place to house the boutique on the Parisian real estate market was a headache. It was only by chance, after failing to secure another nearby storefront that he and his wife stumbled upon their current location. Even then, the mayor's office said the store was a gamble and didn't support the couple's project, but they signed a private lease, securing their place among the art and antique shops in the area. "They closed the door but we entered by the window," he said.

From there, he began meeting inventors who took interest in his shop. Products come mostly from Europe, but also from around the world. While some are simple, designer takes on daily objects, others are farther in left field. Umbrellas from a London designer turn colors in the rain, Contigo mugs from the U.S. never spill, and a simple French-designed wooden knob is an innovative way to attach multiple plastic bags at the outdoor Parisian markets. More unique projects include the New Zealand Sushezi, which helps make the perfect maki roll and a French-made oyster opener to prevent injuries while shucking.

De Trentinian, who admits to carrying several iPhone accessories, says the industry has changed over the past ten years not only because of tech, but also there's been a shift toward objects "Made in France."  European-based industries have begun to rival, if even slightly, outsourcing to China as quality and transport issues led to valuing goods made locally, kind of like a "slow invention" movement, if you will.

This new group of inventors, however, faces stiff competition on the market. "They need to get into the market. That's the problem because it's a monopoly," de Trentinian said.

The couple advised and helped young inventors find their way, but the boutique is entering a new phase. Whereas previously the store served largely as a counseling center for inventors, the boom of city services for entrepreneurs and incubators in the past few years has made this aspect of de Trentinian's work less important. "We are more in the commercial aspect, featuring products made by those who don't have the capacity to enter into larger distributions," he said.

Working on the website to increase their online presence while continuing to feature an array of innovative items in the shop and the e-boutique, the couple hopes to evolve and modernize the store while remaining independent. "We feel that there are people that are interested in us and we're looking to find opportunities to reach them," he said, hoping that investors may one day take interest.

Having survived successive crises, like the financial breakdown in 2007 and the current European crisis, de Trentinian said it's been tough to make the store profitable. While trying to keep prices accessible but still worthwhile for the inventors, there hasn't been much left for the couple. "Now we work just to cover the charges," he said.

Though the crisis hasn't been positive for his business directly, de Trentinian said that the ailing economy has a silver lining for other inventors and other entrepreneurs that he sees as potential partners. "When individuals start having financial problems, we find ways because we don't have a choice," he said. "We have ideas when we're hungry," de Trentinian said, and hopefully this hunger will help keep his shelves well-stocked with fresh inventions.

Photo: La Boutique des Inventions

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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