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François Sylla, a quiet businessman

Particle acceleration, a craft like any other


François Sylla is the cofounder of a company specialised in laser-plasma acceleration. Throughout the world, he defends French know-how in the engineering industry. Something very natural for the Frenchman born in Togo 33 years ago.


An atypical businessman

François Sylla is not a businessman like any other. His start-up, SourceLAB, is not specialised in designing connected objects of selling music online, but in "laser-plasma acceleration".

This is a highly qualified topic, but François Sylla has a certain pedagogical sense. "Plasma is a hot gas. If you direct an intense laser beam on a liquid, solid of gas, the contact of the two creates a very hot plasma wave that shoots out particles in every directions. This is particle acceleration. We are studying the properties of this plasma and the particles in order to learn more on matter and try to design applications out of it. 

François Sylla's career is also marked by fruitful experiments He was born in Togo 33 years ago, by a Guinean father and a Polish mother and attended school in Guinea, in the French high school in Conakry. "My parents knew it was by far the best school in the country

After his baccalauréat, he was offered a scholarship from the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) in order to study in France. He attended a prep school in Lyon in the Lycée Du Parc, an engineering school in Paris (ESPCI-Paris Tech) and the Imperial College of London to study optics. François Sylla accumulated as many successes as moving outs. The atmosphere in the ESPCI favourable to applied research, pushed him to write a thesis in 2007.

A successful and seamless career

Antonin Bollot, his roommate at the time, convinced him to apply to the Laboratory of applied Optics (LOA) in Paris Saclay to work on laser-plasma acceleration, an industry in which France is a leader.

Research is also DIY In order to trigger the reaction they want to study, François Sylla and Antonin Bollot need an "interaction target", pressurised tank in which the laser hits matter. But not one laboratory or company in the world produces the tank: the two doctorate holders need to build them by themselves. Things fall into place: "We realized that research team would need to have this object for their experiences. We decided to develop the offer." 


Ambassadors of French know-how

François Sylla and Antonin Bollot created SourceLAB in 2013. Interaction targets meet demand immediately, and orders keep flowing in: "Among our references, says the start-up boss with pride, we have German laboratories, the University of Berkeley, a huge Korean research centre... Those guys don't mess around, and they all trust us." 

The adventure wouldn't have been possible without the support the two businessmen have received. "After the crisis, the French government put the emphasis on innovation y developing financing structures. If you wanted to start an adventure, that was the best backdrop." François Sylla now represents French excellence in engineering: "All in all, I see myself as French, he states without hesitation. This is how I'm seen most of the time during my professional travels." 


A thirst for knowledge and entrepreneurship

In addition to external supports, François Sylla owes his success to his high curiosity and acute sense of entrepreneurship. He launched his first success at 16 years old. His parents give him a nice lump of money; most teenagers would have used it to go on holidays or buy a car. He decided to... build a dugout canoe. He invested in the engines, then in a fishing business that allowed him to employ 10 people for a time.
The adventure is short, but useful. Seventeen years later, he hunts particles instead of fish, but his motivation remain the same: to learn and to create. "Today, just as before, I sell objects that I build myself. This is my approach of companies." 


François Sylla is not finished with experiences. With a friend, he has just created an association: SYFO. Their objective: to sow the first Guinean vineyard. "We have found a region which has the same climate as the Luberon region in France. We will try to sow merlot and cabernet plants, just to see how it goes." The loop is closed: François Sylla may soon go back to his country of origin to promote a typically French know-how. "If I succeed, I may become a wine reseller. This is how I work." 


Photo credits: © Samuel Cortès / Animal pensant