Olivier Duchenne, an entrepreneur in the Land of the Morning Calm
Olivier Duchenne, a young company director, created the Solidware start-up with his wife in 2014. Based in Korea, they are now helping banks and insurers to optimise their forecasts usingmachine learning.
Why did you decide to create your business in Korea?
Quite simply because my wife is Korean! We met in 2007 at the University of California, Berkeley, during an internship I was carrying out during my thesis. We ended up settling in Korea at the beginning of 2013. She had been hired by AXA Direct Korea and I was employed in acomputer visioncompany, which was then bought out by Intel. In this company, my workload enabled me to devote some spare time to my personal projects and the desire to create a start-up - which had existed ever since my thesis - came back to the fore. All I needed was a good idea...
One day, whilst talking with some of my wife's colleagues who worked in automatic forecasting for the insurance sector, I realised that they had nomachine learningtools to optimise their results. And that's where the idea came from! This project also had the advantage of being at the crossroads between my profession and that of my wife.
How did this start-up take shape?
After having presented our project to various prospective clients, we became certain that it was a viable one. So we both gave in our notice to devote ourselves full-time to this venture. In return, it required an enormous amount of work!
After only seven months of activity, an investor made us an extremely interesting offer to buy us out. So, in March 2015 we agreed to sell our entire company to Yello Financial Group (YFG), a company specialising in the buying-up and ecosystem implementation of start-ups. The agreement does however provide for the fact that we keep control of the company for five years. Thanks to YFG's financial standing, we are more comfortable prospecting future clients and have been able to employ new collaborators to accelerate our growth. Managing to head such a solid company in so little time is a great success!
What does your start-up offer?
Solidware helps banks and insurers to improve their forecasts. For example, a bank will be able to define the risk that a client will struggle to reimburse its debt with greater precision. For these companies, being able to anticipate these kinds of events more efficiently can mean a saving of up to several hundreds of millions of dollars.
Before becoming a Korean entrepreneur, you were a French researcher. Can you remind us about your career?
When I joined the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in 2005, I very quickly decided to move towards computer science. Following a first-year placement with the Imagine research team at the École des Ponts ParisTech, in 2008 I joined the Willow* project team, led by Jean Ponce - one of my lecturers at the ENS - in order to do my thesis there. It focussed on the detection of categories of objects in images. In concrete terms, we were looking to identify an object by comparing it with similar elements stored in a database. This research also gave me the opportunity to familiarise myself withmachine learning.
In 2012, following my thesis, I went to the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University as a post-doctoral student, where I worked on scene alignment. This consists in associating different views of the same place based on a reference image.
What are your plans for future projects?
I'm about to become a father, so I'll take a bit of time out to enjoy that! But I really see myself creating another start-up in five years. My dream would be to do something in the field of robotics.
* Commune Inria Paris Rocquencourt, CNRS, Ecole normale supérieure de Paris, Département d'Informatique de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS Department of Computer Science).