Published on November 28, 2023 at 6:03 pm.
A rugged tablet with thick edges displays a “ultrasimple”shows Philippe Cognet, general manager of Roboptic, a start-up robotics has joined the Boa Concept group since the end of 2022. Thanks to a system of cameras and sensors, the robot dives towards a bin, brakes and delicately picks up a colander wrapped in a plastic bag, to place it in a package to be dispatched. “An artificial intelligence block informs modules to avoid collisions”specifies Philippe Cognet, who presented this innovation at the Prod & Pack fair in Lyon at the end of November 2023.
Smart harvesting robot
Imagined in Saint-Etienne, this automated collection solution, a logistics step that is still very manual, attracted the company Isère Mathon, which manufactures kitchen utensils. “Transporting and moving up to 800 pots and pans per hour is a TMS factor (Musculoskeletal disorders, editor’s note) for order pickers, who can dedicate themselves to more useful and less traumatic tasks”summarizes Philippe Cognet, who founded this start-up with his wife Bérangère in 2016. Year after year, Roboptic has crossed its valley of death, reaching six employees and a few hundred thousand euros in sales. “But by the time we finalized the contracts, recruited and deployed the solutions, our money was being consumed very quickly”witness Philippe Cognet.
The Roboptic couple owes a debt of gratitude to their new shareholder, Boa Concept, an intralogistics specialist created by another couple, Chantal Ledoux and Jean-Lucien Rascle, who developed intelligent conveyors for logistics warehouses. It is a Lille Exotec challenger . “We lacked a robotics skill and heard about the difficulties with Roboptic. We happened to be in the same city.”, says Chantal Ledoux, manager of Boa Concept, which employs 90 people and has a turnover of 20 million euros. Paradoxically, Saint-Etienne society is not much older. It was much faster, benefiting from the experience of Jean-Lucien Rascle and Chantal Ledoux, two 68-year-old engineers from Mines Saint-Etienne, who created it in 1990 and then resold it to Legris Industry Group the company Logarithme, now a-SIS, publisher of supply chain management software.
Managers diluted to 25% of capital
When launching their new company in 2012, the two partners immediately turned to investment funds: the Rhône-Alpes Création seed fund managed by Creaxi, then Rhône Dauphiné Développement and Somudimec from UIMM. First one and then two million euros allow “moving from idea to product”according to Chantal Ledoux.
Boa constrictor concept then open a factory in 2016. It is financed by the first sales and loans, without however giving in to the complete integration of the process. “We just internalized the final assembly. We couldn’t invest in very expensive machines, such as sheet metal machines. Fortunately, the industrial area is still rich in subcontractors”details Chantal Ledoux.
In 2020, Covid delayed the IPO, which took place in 2021. The duo did not hesitate to dilute themselves to raise enough money, in this case 12 million euros. Chantal Ledoux and Jean-Lucien Rascle now hold just 25% of the capital, leaving almost 70% floating. The rest is in the hands of historical investors and employees.
“As it was working well, the resources were not in a hurry to leave, but we needed to anticipate our internationalization”, remembers Chantal Ledoux. In the process, Boa Concept won an important contract worth ten million euros, to equip a 90,000 m platformtwo.
Geodis, Oscar , SOS accessory : Boa Concept’s automation and conveyor systems have attracted more than 140 customers. With a cash flow of ten million euros, the young start-up from Saint-Etienne intends to become a group, attacking the European and then the American market. One or even two acquisitions are planned for 2024.