European PHD grads for a disruptive boatbuilding startup in the Caribbean ?


Cocoon Cruisers is a startup around a next-generation liveaboard motorsailer design and its heavily automated manufacturing process. Rapid evolutions in many related fields allow a much enhanced remix while the flexibility of the manufacturing approach will encourage continuous improvement.

Design-wise, we’ll be after breakthrough volume, speed, efficiency/autonomy, and draft. Blurring the somewhat artificial line between motoryachts and sailboats, the boat is exceptionally flexible in terms of sailing modes and cruising grounds. Once proven in the recreational field, it might also turn out attractive for some specialty workboat applications. Nothing overly complex about the concept though: we can aim for a modest TCO and a new generation of users.

After a few years of project refinement, there is a rough, but fairly coherent baseline design, and reasonable confidence in the feasibilities. Other builder’s recent launches have showcased isolated aspects of the project, and a market begins to form. A rare conjunction of funding opportunities allows for a serious R&D effort while preserving independence. Time to scale up.

That’s where you come in – a whole multidisciplinary R&D team of flexible and curious enthusiasts. Bright minds, shiny people, real diversity. You’ll shape the workflows and strive for ambitious solutions in your fields, while patiently integrating the findings into a platform that grows way beyond the sum of the parts.

Things will tend to work out notably different from usual practice, and from our plans too. We’ll go full circle more than once and try harder. We’ll enhance and reduce like we breathe. A few years down the road, when an unheard-off product hits the seas, we’ll hopefully leave many impressed. Understanding the outcome in the light of the myriad aspects that could have gone wrong may feel a little special then. We’ll have grown.

Organizational ideal

Agile development in a learning team.

R&D roles and core team size

The role descriptions and keywords below are intentionally broad. Main point here is to identify the areas where we’ll need to move past the ‘marine’ state of the art to bring the project to reality. People with experience in multiple fields are, of course, more than welcome. There is some flexibility in the project scenario and even in the product design and the side project monetization strategies. So the tight integration of a 4 people core team with multi-rolers would be great, but so would the power of a larger group.

Structure : Lightweight structure optimization along the loads and manufacturing constraints. Analysis of the boat’s operational environment, of complex composites and of fused, bonded and mechanical assemblies. Generative design, FEA, long-term fatigue estimation, predetermined breaking points, vibration/noise.

Hydrodynamics : Dynamic stability (seakeeping) of a novel geometry, including rough sea conditions and highly transient events. Optimisation of planing and lifting surfaces, and propulsion. Hardcore CFD. A few aero aspects may need investigation too.

HPC / CIO : Computational competitive opportunity, cluster, adaptation and extension of parallel code, workflows, collaborative tools, interoperability and formats, versioning/archive/searchability, security. May also build services for external users.

Composites : Design, calculation, in-situ processing, tests and quality control of custom composites: Polymer choices, long & short fiber reinforcement, thermoplastic foam extrusion, sandwiching, bonds to other materials, safety, health & recycling aspects.

Fab / Robotics : Custom manufacturing approach relying on robotics for versatility, not volume. Subtractive & additive tools. CAD to toolpaths, accuracy and measurement. Tool development and opportunities with used equipment, assemblies, safety.  Robots in Architecture ad.

UX / Design : Adoption, long-term usage, ergonomy, safety and style of a living space in motion. Relationship dynamics and work at home vs limited space. Ease of maintenance, extendability. Transcending the capacities we grow, so the project can resonate strongly with the early adopters.

Software & tool-related skills

It may be a little early to talk about particular tools/platforms; choices will depend quite a bit on the participant’s profiles. However we already know that this will be a small company with unsteady resources, part-time use of a wide variety of tools, and a very long product lifecycle. Off-the-shelf components will not cover every aspect of the project: some customisation will be required. Some of the resources may also be offered to external users, raising even more interoperability questions than the internal usage. The long-term sustainability of the virtual and physical toolset is a real challenge in this setting, and negotiations with big-name vendors targeting much bigger players will likely come close to a nightmare. So flexibility and familiarity with the open-source and ‘reasonably priced’ tools of your field will be an asset. Programming skills and some familiarity with CAD may come in handy in any of the roles. We’ll also rely on used equipment as long as the platforms are stable, and on abstraction tools avoiding vendor dependency.


Why do you prioritise on recently graduated european PHD’s ?

A thesis speaks for itself in terms of motivation, flexibility and expertise. The broad field knowledge and the relationships you have built along the way will also be invaluable assets to the project. Your credibility is key to constructive negotiations with the authorities around novel approaches. PHDs in their first permanent contract are also part of the project’s subsidy strategy (Having been temporarily employed like in most post-doc positions is not an obstacle.).

Women aboard

As an ambitious collective adventure, as a wildly holistic integration effort, in almost any design aspect of the boat and due to the long and complex nature of the user experience and client relationships, this is a project that can hardly succeed without a healthy dose of female leadership.

Don’t have a marine background ?

We’ll certainly hire boatbuilding professionals at some point. Daily interactions with a lot of highly competent industry partners are expected, and there will be a lot to learn from them. But keep in mind that after a few rather sleepy decades, the recreational boat industry is facing a revolution these days – and that none of the skills, materials, machines and software which made that possible have their roots in boatbuilding. So don’t be shy.

How about non-PHD’s with valuable experience ? And aren’t there a few roles missing ?

We will first staff as many key roles as possible with people who fit the above scheme. Of course, in a second step, we’ll have to open up to secure the missing skills, and as we refine our capacities and positioning in the value chain, additional roles and opportunities for external collaborations will materialize. We will not respond to candidates that don’t fit the PHD criteria yet, but please stay tuned ! (You can also leave us your contacts via the form below so we can come back to you when there are news.)

Places and languages

Recruitment is european. The startup is based in Martinique. It’s a highly developed French Caribbean overseas department, part of France and EU territory, but out of Schengen space. While english may be enough to get around there and do your grocery shopping, a little french will allow to enjoy much more than an expat experience. Potential market is worldwide, and we may replicate the manufacturing setup in other countries at some point. Oral language within the project may be whatever fits the situation but documentation and wider team communication shall be in english. Founder is german but has been living in (metropolitan) France for 25 years, and moved to the carribean a few months ago.


  • Complexity and uncertainty.
  • Highly interdisciplinary teamwork involving a lot of learning and explanations.
  • Hands-on applied research, prototyping, optimization, tests … many failures and surprises expected.
  • A DIY edge and limited resources, but a lot of freedom to shape the workflows: Virtual and digitally accelerated prototyping, adaptation of used machinery, mostly open software and occasional low-tech elements. Exploration of processes and materials usually found in other industries than the recreational marine field.
  • Contained, but not negligible workload for documentation and interaction with regulators.
  • A link role vs external research institutions and suppliers.
  • A fairly entrepreneurial experience and a constant quest for a ferociously competitive product.
  • Startup from scratch gradually evolving into a small business (think about 10 people two years ahead) still emphasizing highly skilled and flexible staff.
  • Involvement in a few minor side projects for monetization or promotion.
  • Timing and formulation constraints on publishing, but many areas where we’d benefit from sharing the knowledge we build rather than hiding it away.
  • An intense job but sustainable and flexible work hours: We’ll want very clear minds for this venture so creative rest, time for family & visitors, cruising, discovery of the beautiful island and region, sports, home vacations etc will be valued.

Hours, money, social security, childcare

  • French standard is a 35h-week with 5 weeks of annual leave. We’d tend go farther and set a flexible 32h guideline for the company. It would allow various usages like a 4-day week, or hours compatible with young kids, or a whole month of extra holidays if you usually work 5 full days. If you’d like to keep very close ties to Europe, you could also combine this with the occasional business trip and a little remote work to spend up to 3 months a year on the continent.
  • Yearly gross (fixed salary + bonus) around 50k€ (about 38k€ net) for a 32h-week, which seems to match the local average for scientific staff / young professors and should be enough for a small family in Martinique including occasional travel to Europe. There’s a little headroom for people bringing in highly relevant former research or industry experience.
  • We’ll help a bit with the relocation and adaptation.
  • Fairly good social security and healthcare roughly similar to continental France.
  • Childcare and school system are quite similar to continental France. Since families tended to have more kids than on the continent (even now 3 or 4 are common) there are lots of schools. Social integration may actually turn out easier for young parents than for singles. We seek to set up the facility close to a pre/primary school and in a child-friendly area.

Special opportunities

  • For sailors with liveaboard voyaging ambitions: The early prototypes will be exceptional opportunities to acquire or co-own a large, sound and smart liveaboard boat with minor bizarreries and a little self-finishing ahead. They will be sold off to staff in priority, and should come at a TCO that you can afford with a middle-class job while young enough to enjoy.
  • We’ll try to set up a company savings programme to facilitate the above proto-buying move and/or some kind of way to buy into the company for long-term participation.
  • There is room for a symbiosis with a CFD software team. We’ll need a lot of fast and cost-effective simulation runs for highly transient hydrodynamics, with detail levels requiring an order of magnitude higher computational effort than the usual marine CFD for planing boats. We’ll certainly need to build HPC resources for that. So it would make sense for us to get involved in the development of a suitable workflow and maybe help marketing it as a service. UPDATE: this is coming to life, we’re now hiring CFD/HPC developers for a partnership with TUHH Hamburg !
  • Maybe you’ll need support from your former (public, EU) university or research institute from time to time. We can probably raise ‘externalised R&D’ funding for that on a limited scale.
  • If the project succeeds, there will either be opportunity to replicate the manufacturing setup in other regions, and to diversify around the know-how, machines and processes (You’ll come out of the startup phase with substantial entrepreneurial experience). Or we’ll merge into a larger group, which should also allow for new opportunities and locations.

This job is probably not for you if

  • You want to specialise even more than during your thesis. The work in this team will be an eclectic succession of challenges, some of which will be out of your field, while others may appear like reinventing the wheel.
  • If drawn towards ‘consulting’ or ‘supervision’ roles where you expect others to do the actual work. There may be some assistance in later project stages but you are the starting point, yourself.
  • If uncomfortable with the idea of starting a low-cost lab from scratch – don’t expect readymade corporate-style facilities. The funding possibilities look roughly realistic and many ‘expensive’ needs can be tackled in inventive ways. But the efficiency of the setup will require a lot of thought, and many nice tools and licenses will remain out of reach.
  • If any ivory tower tendencies, elitist or racist impairments may hinder communication with vastly different people and organisations.
  • If you need some kind of ‘authority’ mentor or project manager to keep going or to integrate. A lot of drive, openness, collaborative talents, multitasking and … resilience are needed in these strategic roles. There is enough detail to the vision to get everyone started with a few identifiable challenges. But on a broader scale, the complexity of the project with all these conflicting/evolving requirements and opportunities will remain hard to tame. We’ll soon have to share these responsibilities, in confidence and maturity.
  • If a predictable career is a very immediate concern at this stage of your life. (We hope to generate interesting opportunity at a faster pace than the average corporate job, but miserable failure or a funding KO before there’s much to show are real possibilities too.)

Rough timing


  • As of new year 2017, founder is on site since 6 months. It’s a beautiful island with very friendly people, and practical life is quite easy overall. The search for convenient and enjoyable facilities has been difficult because of the climate, infrastructure concerns, and rather few quality buildings of suitable size for rent/sale. There is now a nice temporary office & flat in Vert-Pré/Le Robert, a small but central village offering the key services, a fresh microclimate and gorgeous views. Real estate search/negociation goes on, we’ll probably go for a new build. A couple candidates have already visited and more are supposed to come shortly. Two of them have more or less confirmed with minor details yet to sort out. The first local contacts for financial / administrative matters have been established, formal move of the company to Martinique is underway, and we should be all set up to pay salaries from february. We’re working on partnerships with a few european research labs and companies, and very pleased to see the one with TUHH (around their advanced marine CFD codes) coming to live these days.

Setup & Initial Design Phase

  • Key staff expected on site : Jan 2017
  • Current year: Setup, feasibility reviews, baseline design review, setup of the simulation tools, search for equipment and facilities.
  • 2nd year: Lab setup and trial prototyping. Lab feedback loop (material properties, manufacturing capacities & constraints) begins to influence the design. Refinement of the structure.
    • Although there are many promising options for continuity, the current financing round covers the first two years. So if some of the participants plan to go back to academia or big industry after a short project, which we’re comfortable with, aiming for a 2-year period could make sense.

Production & Refinement

  • 3rd year: Finalisation of V1 design, fullscale prototyping, testing and debugging.
  • 4th year: Commercial launch with pilot users. Fab scale-up and setup of partnerships for the finishing work. Work on V2 of the boat begins.
  • 5th year: Promo cruises, full market splash, V2 testing, replication of the fab in other places if necessary.


  • Diversification
  • Scale-up

... moving across the atlantic just to drown among scary lunatics ?

  • There’s no chance, nor any will to take the risk out of this venture. But then again, would you be happier with a promising trainee position in a 10-folks team at a prestigious global car corporation, running after approvals for the connector layout of some rule-cheating device ?
  • Job interviews aren’t just about testing you out – it should work both ways. No industrialised mass hiring with intermediaries here, and there aren’t that many people fitting the criteria anyway. Just talk/skype/meet with the founder a couple times and come back with questions as you make up your mind.
  • You’re welcome to visit of course – flights (from Paris) are quite affordable if you can avoid french school holidays and we’ll help with accomodation etc. Even if you find out the job doesn’t make much sense for you, you’ll probably remember the lovely snorkling and hiking :)
  • As you can feel in this job ad, there are a few confidentiality concerns, and integration projects tend to be lengthy to present. But we can already talk about the aspects touching your field in much more detail.
  • We’ll try to organise a kick-off workshop in Europe so the participants can meet upfront, have a closer look at the project, and get organised for the move.

Contact form

Imprint and founder's resume

SARL Motivée SIRET 514 003 847 00027, France. (No point in sending documents there, founder operates paperless and will be on the road. The company will be transformed, renamed to something like Cocoon Robotics & Development, and moved to Martinique in the next months.).

Founder’s LinkedIn: .

Published march 2016, updated october 2016.