Start-up - Golaem
Interview with Stéphane Donikian
© Inria / Photo C. Lebedinsky
Golaem has developed a software suite that directs autonomous virtual humans capable of making decisions. Its goal: to anticipate the movements of people in order to examine the impact of the environment on their behavior. This unique solution on the market can be used in both the urban architecture sector and in industry, transport, and the world of imaging. Interview with Stéphane Donikian, President and CEO of Golaem.
Why was the name Golaem selected, and why did you choose to create a start-up rather than licensing?
Stéphane Donikian: Like Rabbi Löw, who breathed life into a clay humanoid in Prague in the late 16th century, we want to give life to inanimate matter. As for the creation of a start-up, this was not my idea at all originally. We collaborated a lot, when I was on the SIAMES team (now BUNRAKU2), on technology projects of interest to the industry going up to a prototype but not beyond. I therefore sought a partner on everything involving the simulation of human behavior in 3D in order to carry out a technology transfer. After two years of discussions, a major software publisher offered to buy the technology from us, provided that the team would no longer work on the topic. That was unthinkable. So, we were led to embark on a project to create a company. In order for the business to be viable, it appeared that I had to invest myself in it full time. Today, I am the technical director, president and CEO, and HR director. I manage all of the divisions...what interests me is developing this technology so that it means something, so that it doesn't remain just a laboratory product.
Where is the start-up now?
Stéphane Donikian: We launched a contract with SNCF in February 2010, and the initial contracts to put distribution networks into place abroad in Japan and India were just signed. In France, we have to market the technology ourselves, and we are looking for partners for that. Golaem has eight people in all, plus four R&D engineers employed by Inria who work in the company through full-time collaboration agreements. The R&D portion represents 75% of its activity. Currently, only on the commercial aspect, I am in the process of recruiting a salesperson for early 2011. Since September 2009, we have been set up in the premises of the business incubator of the Rennes Atalante technopole, where I underwent several training sessions on topics related to business management. Anything involving the legal and accounting aspects is outsourced.
How was the institute associated with the start-up?
Stéphane Donikian: We received full support from the technology transfer and innovation department and its local manager for the incubation phase. Inria has a favorable operating licensing policy for businesses, which is not the case for all of the players in the academic world. We have established an R&D collaboration agreement with the technology transfer and innovation department. Inria Transfert, a private company resulting from Inria, was the first to invest as a shareholder and tested its new venture capital fund model on our project. All of this was done without breaking the relationship with my original team, BUNRAKU, where the technologies industrialized by Golaem came from. The objective is for these technologies to remain accessible to the team for its own collaborative projects, in the hope of generating other technology transfers. This relationship is beneficial for both parties and is made to last.
1) IRISA (Institute for Research in Computer Science and Random Systems), a joint research unit associated with Inria through a large number of joint teams within the Inria Rennes-Bretagne Atlantique center.
2) BUNRAKU (formerly the SIAMES team), which derives its name from the Japanese marionette theater, is a joint project team with CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), INSA de Rennes, Université de Rennes 1, and Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan.
Golaem is developing a software suite of components for modeling and simulating individual and group human behavior. The start-up is currently the only company to use an ultra-precise technology that takes into account the activities of people in their environment with the interactions and the forces generated between them in order to predict flows of movement. This is a solution allowing human behavior to be anticipated, inspired by work in cognitive and social sciences. It is applicable to numerous fields, primarily the manufacturing industry with the functional study of data centers, the optimization of security conditions, etc. Other sectors of application: the design of architectural and urban spaces, the development of public areas (transport, cultural and commercial sites, etc.), and training (serious games). The video game, animation, and special effects sectors are also interested in the technology. A concrete example of application is SNCF, which has signed a contract with a start-up in order to optimize traffic flow in commuter trains in Ile-de-France. For Golaem, this involves examining the impact of the layout of a train car, reflected in the exchange time between a train and a platform based on its interior design.
- 1994: following his dissertation at IRISA1 , Stéphane Donikian becomes junior researcher at CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) and is then loaned out to Inria in 2007
- Early 2009: joined Inria
- January 2, 2009: creation of the start-up
- 2009: Golaem is awarded a prize in the national competition to encourage innovative technology businesses of the Ministry for Higher Education and Research, in the "Creation & Development" category.
- November 2009: he becomes the company's full-time technical director
- June 2010: he becomes president and CEO of Golaem
- February 2, 2010: first contract with SNCF