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French woo region's businesses

| Thursday, July 18, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

Representatives from France's high-tech Rhone-Alpes region visited Pittsburgh on Wednesday as part of a tour intended to foster business and educational connections, including agreements to share students and research between four Pennsylvania universities and six French institutions.

Led by regional President Jean-Jack Queyranne, the equivalent to a governor, several dozen representatives of universities, industries, governments and research centers are touring the state. In Pittsburgh, they reviewed the city's transformation from a center of manufacturing industry to one with research and looked at how universities help commercialize that research.

“We're looking at in-depth partnerships,” said Patrick Vuillermoz, managing director of Plastipolis, a group of plastics manufacturers and researchers seeking to make connections to U.S. buyers and suppliers. “The purpose for this visit is to propose the next steps (of business relationships), to be even more ambitious.”

The delegation's presence mirrored one from Pennsylvania that traveled with Gov. Tom Corbett to the Rhone-Alpes region in March 2012, said Cindy Black, an international marketing executive for the state Department of Community and Economic Development. When Corbett visited France, he invited officials to the United States, Queyranne said.

“We're especially interested in the link between universities' research and its application in industry,” Queyranne said through interpreter M. Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, honorary French consul to Pittsburgh. “We have very similar activities in biotechnology, nanotechnology, new energy and design.”

Several institutions from Rhone-Alpes were to sign agreements this week with the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University and Temple University. Pitt signed one agreement Tuesday night with INSA Lyon, a top engineering school in Europe.

INSA President Eric Maurincomme said the agreement would allow an exchange of engineering students, enabling them to earn a “dual degree” from each school. The program will start with four or five electrical engineering students and expand to other fields. The schools eventually would share faculty.

“For students and employers, having a multicultural awareness, having lived in different countries and cultures, this is what we need,” Maurincomme said.

Carnegie Mellon University Provost Mark Kamlet boasted of his university's success spinning research into start-ups and collaborations with established companies such as Google, Intel, Disney and Microsoft prior to a luncheon at Carnegie Mellon.

Local entrepreneur Mike Elchik demonstrated “WeSpeke,” an online video-chat, language-learning and social-networking tool he created with Jaime Carbonell, director of CMU's Language Technologies Institute. The program connects language students with native speakers via text and video chats.

After meeting with Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Peduto and City Council, the group listened to presentations on shale gas, green architecture and Pittsburgh's history and redevelopment.

They planned to visit Harrisburg and Philadelphia on Thursday and Friday.

Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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