Approximately 10% of the world population suffers from a partial or total loss of smell known as anosmia. This condition is often irreversible and can cause individuals to become isolated or depressed. Last March, Grenoble Ecole de Management launched a new research chair called Anosmia: Making the Invisible Visible. We speak with the chairholder, Vincent Mangematin, who is Scientific Director of Research and a professor of business strategy at GEM.
Why did GEM create a new research chair on the topic of anosmia?
Two years ago, Grenoble Ecole de Management created the foundation GEM School for Business for Society. This foundation aims to identify and understand emerging phenomena in order to create tools that bring together the economy and society. Social engagement and responsibility at GEM is not about working as an activist side by side people in difficulty. Our job is to offer economic models and approaches that can provide viable solutions to societal challenges.
Anosmia is recognized as a condition that creates important disabilities as 50% of anosmic patients are de-socialized. This research chair aims to unite skills and understanding in order to improve the lives of patients suffering from anosmia. The goal is to provide them with access to technology that will improve their living conditions. A business school is well positioned to analyze the context around anosmia and unite a community for researchers and business developers.
The Anosmia Chair aims to raise awareness among two groups: first, the general public to help people understand this condition, and second, companies that could potentially develop efficient solutions to overcome the challenges of anosmia. What has the chair accomplished thus far in terms of research?
As the goal of the chair is to help patients with anosmia access new technology and create financially viable solutions, our researchers would first like to mobilize a community of anosmic patients. To better understand how patients adopt innovative technology, the chair’s researchers have analyzed how deaf patients adopted transistors in the 1990s.
We have also expanded this thought process to discuss how diabetes technology is adopted. These various studies will allow us to understand the ties between users, technology and business models in order to provide a solution that matches the needs of a varied community of potential users. We are currently collaborating with the Psychology Department at Université Grenoble Alpes and we are carrying out laboratory tests on the subject of anosmia.
The chair’s first partner is the startup Aryballe Technologies. This Grenoble startup created a cutting-edge technology to enable digital smell (an artificial nose). Their technology is patented worldwide and for the moment, development is geared towards businesses. What are other possibilities for development?
We are working on creating business models tied to biotechnologies. We are privileging deco-development. The world has been introduced to digital images (e.g., instagram) and digital sound through mp3. Aryballe Technologies is the first company in the world to digitalize taste and smell. It’s a revolution. As a result, we are going to test business models in order to create a reliable solution that will successfully bring Aryballe’s promising technology to market.
This technology has a strong added value. The goal is to optimize the use and cost of the technology for end users (anosmic patients). This is a complex challenge, which is why an international research chair on anosmia was an excellent step forward.
Tristan Rousselle, cco-founder and president of Aryballe Technologies in Grenoble
"Developing a universal and portable odor detector"
As a biology researcher and expert on proteins, Tristan Rousselle developed a biosensor at the CEA Grenoble. This sensor was initially designed for industrial gases, water and waste treatment, the food industry, cosmetics, and perfumes. The creation of an artificial nose is a disruptive innovation that combines technology in optics, biochemistry, electronics, computer sciences and databases.
“It has always been more complicated to measure a smell than radio or light waves because odors are transmitted via biochemical molecules. The first three prototypes were handheld devices that were approximately 20cm x 5 or 6cm and weighed 400-500 grams. The last prototype can be controlled with an iPhone. The sensor is only as big as a thumb.” Aryballe Technologies is now capable of detecting smells that were previously only within reach of an actual human nose. The potential for digital smell is a major development for millions of anosmic patients worldwide.
“For the first time, we can see the end goal: To provide the general public with the ability to measure and record smells. This was the reason for our partnership with GEM. We need to think about users and mobilize an international community. We have to develop a new business model that will be adapted to the digital smell industry. The sensor will provide anosmic patients with information about their environment. It will not cure their condition, but it will provide them with valuable assistance. It will allow them to re-discover taste and smell factors such as those that accompany food, body odor or a stinky bathroom…” explains Tristan Rousselle.
The company’s ambition is to develop the first digital smell sensor within five years. Aryballe Technologies employs 18 people and was created three years ago. In 2016, the company raised funds to finance the industrialization of it process for various industries.