MEETING WITH CORINNE GRILLET, CO-FOUNDER & CEO AT ALYGNE, A FOR-PROFIT SOCIAL IMPACT TECHNOLOGY STARTUP.
by French Tech SF
Meet Corinne Grillet, co-founder of Alygne, an innovative company in the field of sustainability technology. With a background as a C-Level Executive in technology companies across different continents, Corinne brings valuable insights into the intersection of technology and finance. Her passion for innovation and growth is evident in her successful career, which includes prestigious positions such as Chief Customer Officer for Calypso Technology and Chief Operating Officer for Sophis Technology.
As a former French ski champion, Corinne's determination and competitive spirit shine through. She is actively involved in fostering innovation as a board member of French Tech San Francisco. At Alygne, Corinne and her team are driving positive change by providing personalized ESG alternative data to assist asset managers worldwide, alongside a free easy-to-use mobile app for consumers. Her commitment to creating a better and more sustainable future is truly inspiring.
“Creating a sustainable business is a marathon that sometimes requires sprinting, but the rewards are immeasurable”
French Tech San Francisco: Can you tell us about your background?
Corinne Grillet: I'm originally from the south of France, from the Ariège region below Toulouse, and my background is quite international. I studied in Paris, then spent five years in England, ten years in Asia, and have been in California for the last eight years. I have held various positions and roles throughout my career. Currently, I am a co-founder of a start-up called Alygne. My first venture was in ski racing, an activity I pursued extensively and where I became the French champion in 1987. It taught me the discipline of sports. After that, I continued my studies and embarked on a career as a senior international executive. And finally, my third endeavor is a project dear to my heart, a start-up.
FTSF: You've lived in several different countries. How has this experience benefited you?
CG: Firstly, it has been fascinating and has broadened my perspective. Living in various countries exposes you to diverse cultures, different perspectives, and varied approaches to work. I grew up in Pamiers, a town with 15,000 inhabitants, and then I resided in some of the world's largest cities. I have witnessed how value systems and behaviors differ, and it's absolutely captivating. Being open-minded and curious is crucial because you realize that each place is distinct. Professionally, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge, whether it's in London, Hong Kong, or California, the birthplace of start-ups. You learn how to work, how to lead, and how to engage with customers from different cultures. For instance, in Asia, you arrive in a country without knowing the language, struggle with reading and writing, get lost in the subway, and from there, you build personal and professional relationships. And that's what makes it thrilling.
FTSF: Can you summarize the path you've taken from the moment you had the idea for your company to the moment you launched it?
CG: It has been a gradual and lengthy journey, as entrepreneurship is not something that came naturally to me. It took almost 30 years for me to feel ready for this adventure. My extensive travels and international work experience provided the confidence I needed to embark on this path. Four years ago, I met my two co-founders, and together, we complement each other. While I had spent over 25 years in the financial industry, I was searching for a project that held meaning. After two years of contemplation, I decided to leap. The timing felt right, with a solid project, highly competent co-founders, and the support of my family. I couldn't find a valid reason not to pursue it, so I seized the opportunity and launched the company.
FTSF: Why did you choose San Francisco to develop your company? Was it because of the Silicon Valley environment?
CG: Actually, we have a presence in both San Francisco and Toulouse. The reason behind this is that I relocated from Hong Kong to San Francisco for my career, and my two co-founders were also in the area, so that's where we crossed paths. It's a classic San Francisco and Silicon Valley scenario where you meet people, have conversations over coffee, and decide to start a company together. We discovered that all three of us had been contemplating the same challenges, but with different approaches, and our skills perfectly complemented each other to form a cohesive puzzle. So, we decided to join forces and create Alygne. While the fact that we are all in Silicon Valley is coincidental to some extent, it also aligns with the conducive environment and mindset for launching a business. France has also done a lot of work in this area, and from the very beginning, we established an office in France since we are all French or francophone, which is very early for a small start-up. Additionally, France offers access to exceptional talent, and it would be a missed opportunity not to leverage it. Today, we have an extraordinary small team that covers a wide range of expertise.
FTSF: Can you explain how Alygne works and what kind of information users can find on the platform?
CG: Alygne's concept is based on the observation that there is an overabundance of digital data, but it's extremely difficult to know what a company thinks about a subject that's important to us. In the United States, for instance, subjects such as firearms, abortion, biodiversity, and animal trafficking hold significant importance. Alygne has created technologies that synthesize this information and make it accessible and easy to use. For consumers, the free mobile app allows users to first specify topics important to them, and then to check to what extent a company aligns with their values. This is where the name Alygne truly shines: aligning.
Alygne also offers detailed ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) data for companies and investors, providing insights to combat "greenwashing" and differentiate between a company's actions and its public image. The platform aims to provide comprehensive and reliable information, empowering users to make informed decisions based on their values and companies’ actions.
FTSF: How do you ensure that the information and ratings provided by Alygne are accurate and unbiased?
CG: We do not provide explicit ratings. Our objective is to offer access to information by providing the underlying articles or sections that form the basis of the information. We then assign weight to this information based on the credibility of various sources. We make this information available, and it is ultimately up to the user to make their own decisions. Our aim is not to lecture or impose judgments but to provide transparency.
Let me share a personal example. Some time ago, I purchased a Giro bicycle helmet for my ten-year-old daughter. During a conversation with a friend, I learned that this brand is owned by a company involved in the arms industry, which was public information I was unaware of. Intrigued, I looked it up online and discovered that Giro is indeed part of Vista Outdoor, whose primary activity is firearm production. This information might have influenced my choice of bike helmet for my daughter. For others, this information may not be a determining factor. It is experiences like these that have contributed to the creation and growth of Alygne.
At Alygne, we strive to provide users with access to information that can empower them to make their own informed choices based on their values and preferences. We prioritize transparency in our approach, enabling users to make decisions that align with their beliefs and priorities.
FTSF: What difficulties did you encounter on this project?
CG: Starting Alygne posed challenges as we built the company from scratch. Coming from more established companies, starting a business with no product and no customers was new and made me question my capabilities to manage at such an early stage. Adjusting to a different pace, transitioning from constant demands to a blank whiteboard, was personally challenging. Having a clear vision amidst the abundance of advice and information available is also crucial. There is a lot in the media on how a startup should function, who did the biggest fundraising round, who is the latest unicorn, and so on. Striking the right balance between listening to advice and understanding deeply what may or may not be appropriate for your own situation is difficult but vital! Overall, the journey has been immensely rewarding, and our passion and excitement keep us motivated to overcome obstacles.
FTSF: Alygne evaluates companies based on various principles, such as environmental responsibility and social impact. How were these principles chosen, and do you believe they will become increasingly significant for consumers in the future?
CG: The evaluation principles were foundational to Alygne, extending beyond consumer spending to encompass broader societal contributions. We initially defined around 30 criteria and incorporated user suggestions for custom topics. For example, we added "Business in Russia" in response to user feedback on the Ukraine situation. Our platform's flexibility allows us to adapt and add topics as needs and emerging trends evolve. Looking ahead, I believe environmental responsibility, social impact, and related principles will gain even more significance for consumers.
FTSF: In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of issues such as climate change and social justice. How do you see Alygne fitting into this wider trend toward sustainable and ethical business practices?
CG: Alygne is strongly aligned with this trend, as we aim to provide a range of technological tools that provide transparency on environmental, social, or societal subjects. As a founding team, we are technologists, professionals who have dedicated our careers to technology, whether in finance, hardware, software, AI, and NLP (natural language processing). Our mission is to provide tools that assist businesses, consumers, and stakeholders in making better, more informed decisions. In digging deeper into this field, we realized that one of the main obstacles to implementing sustainable programs and raising awareness is the lack of reliable, consistent data. There's a real "Swiss cheese" situation in terms of available information. This is why we are involved in the field of "Sustainability Tech Platforms", providing access to more data thanks to technological advances. We are fully committed to this approach, but we don't want to play the role of a lesson giver by declaring what is right or wrong. Our role is to provide the necessary information to facilitate informed decision-making and raise better awareness.
FTSF: What role do regulations play in this project? Do they enable us to benefit, or are they too restrictive?
CG: The movement towards a more sustainable world symbolizes our need for a planet where we can live and breathe. Regulations have a significant role in supporting sustainable initiatives. While some may view regulations as constraints, they can also serve as catalysts and supports. Currently, we see tax incentives, such as credits for environmentally-friendly products, at both consumer and business levels. Europe is leading in implementing regulations in this area. However, for this transition to be sustainable, it must also be economically viable. We need to be realistic because even with the best intentions, long-term economic viability is crucial. I believe in this change, but there is no magic bullet. It will take time and an evolution of frameworks and rules to accompany this transition. Without proper support, it risks becoming a passing trend followed by a return to previous behavior. This is not a criticism, but the reality of the world we live in today.
FTSF: What prompted you to join the board of French Tech San Francisco and other organizations, such as your position as Secretary General of the USA West-North Committee of French Foreign Trade Advisors?
CG: Joining the board of French Tech San Francisco and other organizations was a natural choice for me. French Tech does an exceptional job promoting France's assets globally, and I wanted to contribute to showcasing the country's strengths. Having lived in different places, I've come to appreciate the unique qualities of France that are sometimes overlooked. Given my French nationality and the opportunities I've had, it felt right to give back by volunteering and supporting France's international development.
There are many synergies between these commitments. While they require time management and multitasking, I find them intellectually stimulating and enjoy the learning experience. I believe that time is flexible, and we prioritize what matters to us. Engaging in these activities is important to me because I recognize the remarkable opportunities I've been given. If I can give back even a small fraction of what I've received by donating my time, I will do so gladly. Therefore, I consider my time to be expandable to fulfill these commitments.
FTSF: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to create a sustainable, socially responsible business?
CG: First of all, bravo! on embarking on such an important and valuable journey. Creating a sustainable, socially responsible business is a commendable endeavor. My advice would be to start by being really honest with yourself, understanding the level of commitment required by the project, and envisioning the long-term implications of your venture. This is likely to be a true commitment for years, not months. It's crucial to have a clear vision and define your own definition of success, aligning it with your personal and professional goals. Creating a sustainable business is not just about the project itself; it encompasses various aspects of life. Take the time to reflect on what you truly want and what you are willing to do to achieve it. Being mentally prepared and staying focused is key. Once you have a strong foundation, the journey becomes truly fascinating. Embrace the challenges and learn from them. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals - very few people have made it alone -, seek guidance from mentors, and leverage the knowledge and resources available. Creating a sustainable business is a marathon that sometimes requires sprinting, but the rewards are immeasurable.
By Louis Rossignol de la Ronde for French Tech San Francisco.