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Start-up - Mensia Technologies

Patrick Philipon Technoscope - 31/07/2013

Interview with Yann Renard

Put simply, Mensia Technologies offers the possibility of controlling machines with through thought. This new start-up is focusing essentially on therapeutic applications, but is now offering other services and products, as its Technical Director, Yann Renard, explains.

How and why did you end up at Inria?

I trained as a general engineer (in computer science) and started out at an IT consulting firm specialising in virtual reality. In 2006, Inria recruited me as an expert engineer to support the OpenVIBE projects, backed by the French national research agency (ANR) and directed by Anatole Lécuyer. The aim was to provide the scientific community with a software program offering human-computer interaction via brain activity: in other words, to make it possible to control a computer "through thought". This field, which was totally new at the time, combined electroencephalography (EEG) techniques with signal analysis and processing. The first project was completed in 2009. A second phase, OpenVIBE2, then began, focusing more specifically on games.

Why did you create Mensia?

In 2009, I took a entrepreneurship awareness course run by IT-Translation. There, I met Jean-Yves Quentel, who was involved in creating and developing start-ups as an expert. My contract at Inria expired in the summer of 2011. I then noticed that OpenVIBE was being distributed to research laboratories, but was not reaching end users. Wanting to develop industrial applications, I joined the Emergys incubator in Rennes and got back in touch with Jean-Yves to ask him to co-found the company with me. We are aiming particularly at the medical field. The system will be used for exploring the brain (diagnosis), as well as for rehabilitating the brain throughfeedback. The idea is not a new one, but we have highly innovative software technology at our disposal.

What is your business model?

We do not produce EEG hardware, only the software. Even before Mensia was created, we were generating revenue by providing services: training researchers to use the software and developing software for industry players, one example being an EEG headset manufacturer that wanted to make its products compatible with OpenVIBE.

Mensia's medium-term objective is to sell medical devices. This is a long and complex process, involving fine-tuning, regulations, clinical validation, CE marking, etc. To this end, we have raised funds from IT-Translation and a business angelto form a team and work for two years. The Ministry of Higher Education and Research prize also helped us considerably! In parallel, we are already selling services and licences for OpenVIBE add-on software (we are therefore acting as software vendors) on markets that are much less stringently regulated than the medical devices market.

How is the company coming along? Have you hired any staff?

Mensia was created in November 2012 by Jean-Yves Quentel (CEO), myself (Technical Director) and Anatole Lécuyer, who remains a senior research scientist at Inria but acts as a scientific advisor to the company. The fourth founder is a company: IT-Translation. Since then, we have hired a junior research scientist with a PhD in neuroscience, a software development engineer and an administration and finance director. We are continuing to develop the product. 

Keywords: Start-up OpenViBE2 OpenVIBE Software technology Yann Renard Functional rehabilitation Gestual interaction Mensia Technologies Electroencephalography Human-computer interaction

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