Interview with Julien Letessier
Starting from the principle that store windows in large cities represent a crossing point where 75% of purchasing decisions are made, Hilabs offers an urban interactive display solution. The information consulted by the people passing by is then analyzed by Ubicity®, a local communication tool serving merchants. Meeting with Julien Letessier, managing director of the start-up.
What is the history of the start-up's creation?
Julien Letessier: The idea of going from a scientific result to an industrializable result has sprouted for me and certain members of the PRIMA team within Inria. But it was our shareholder and scientific advisor, James L. Crowley1&nbps;who initiated the concept of the interactive window. As for me, during the end of my dissertation in 2007 at Inria and the following year, I worked to mature the technology in order to move from an industrializable technology to a product. We benefited from the support of both the Rhône-Alpes region and the GRAIN local incubator. Hilabs received an award at the national competition to encourage innovative technology businesses in 2008 and 2009 as well as in 2010 in the category "Computer science, software, and ICT." The beginning of this adventure mainly involved bringing together a team2 and maturing the Ubicity® technology. The desire to create a business was more a consequence that a cause: in order to avoid seeing a very good technology end up in a drawer, the most effective solution so that it could increase in value was to create a hands-on product. The path to technological development is faster than licensing.
How is Inria associated with the start-up's activity?
Julien Letessier: We left the institution's fold a long time ago. The company has had its own premises since its creation. Two of the founders of Hilabs, partners and scientific advisors, James L. Crowley and Nicolas Gourier, expert engineer, are members of Inria. Today, the institute's support lies mainly in the licensing agreement that we have. It can be a special scientific partner, and in the future, we will be part of the joint research work.
What is the status of Hilabs now?
Julien Letessier: There is little competition, because we offer the only multi-touch technology implemented outside, even if some companies in the world are working on similar technologies (France, USA, UK, and Israel). However, this competition is neither immediate nor direct. The field is rather clear, which is why we encountered few difficulties in starting up Hilabs. The marketing of Ubicity Immobilier® (real estate) began in March 2010, and business is booming. In April 2010, we conducted a first round of fundraising of nearly 250,000 euros from private and institutional investors. Among our 30 customers to date, we have a number of references like Façonnable in ready-to-wear, Thomas Cook in travel, Grenoble Alpes Metropole, Institut national polytechnique de Grenoble, and so on. In the short term, we are developing Ubicity® Immobilier, and we are preparing to equip 250 windows within a year. A second, more substantial round of fundraising is planned for 2011 in order to expand our range (banks, insurance, etc.) and access the international market.
2 . The company currently has 16 people. In addition to Julien Letessier, the Hilabs management team is made up of Jérôme Maisonnasse (founder and sales director), Stanislas Borkowski (founder and R&D director), and Fabio Carvalho (marketing and communications director).
HiLabs, literally "Human interaction Laboratories", markets and sells a small window for stores through an outdoor interactive display. Most of the multitouch technology marketed through Ubicity® lies in its ability to turn any inside or outside surface (walls, floors, etc.) into a touch screen regardless of its dimensions and in all types of conditions. In addition to this function are the analysis and measurement of the audience. Ubicity®, which captures up to 10% of people passing by, combines two technologies, resulting in a product in the shape of a giant iPhone. The first technology, hardware, implements cameras equipped with sensors that register the movements of people passing by; the second, software, interprets the information collected by these cameras. The combination allows the window to react by providing helpful information in terms of communications and marketing to merchants subscribing to the system. Its customers are primarily the brands and brand networks of the largest cities.
- October 2003: Julien Letessier joins the PRIMA project team of Inria before obtaining his computer engineering degree at Ensimag de Grenoble
- 2007: PhD from Institut national polytechnique
- October 2008: creation of the company
- October 2009: first client: Besson Immobilier (Grenoble)