In the suburbs of Paris, a nondescript building in Rueil-Malmaison fails to paint the stereotype picture of a startup that I’ve come to expect. I have ventured outside of the comfort of the startup-packed Sentier district in Paris in order to meet Frédéric Granotier, the founder & CEO of Lucibel, a startup specialized in lighting.
Admittedly, I’m late to the game on writing about Lucibel – even François Hollande visited their factory before I did. The company, founded in 2008, had already raised more than €20 Million from private investors like BPIFrance, CM-CIC & Aster Capital (a VC fund sponsored by Alstom, Solvay, Schneider Electric & others) before they IPO’d earlier this month on the Euronext Alternext, raising yet another €17 Million and prompting my visit.
I spoke with Granotier about why he thought there was room for another lighting company, next to giants like Philips. He told me first that 70% of lights will be LED by 2020. The second was that an LED company looks nothing like a traditional lighting company – new factories, new sales strategy, new engineers, etc. – which means that large players like Philips have to stay quick on their feet and invest quite a bit of money to convert to the future. “Philips is Kodak,” Granotier chimed, referring to Kodak’s demise when they were unable to anticipate the rise of digital cameras (seems pretty obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?) – I asked Granotier “If Philips is Kodak, who are you?” He said he’d have to think on that.
Still, Granotier has a pretty brilliant vision for the future of lighting. Given that consumer light bulbs are a commoditized space, Lucibel focuses most of their efforts on the enterprise space – offices, retail stores & factories – where they say clients are seeing the return on in investment from switching to Lucibel in just 6 months. Granotier said that he thinks that the light bulb as we know it will disappear – a vision he backs up by pointing out that the original reason that screw-in light bulbs were created was because the lifespan of a lightbulb was so short and there were so many in a given room that you needed to be able to switch them out on the fly, a problem LED lights (50,000 hour lifespan, roughly 7 years of non-stop power) don’t have. Still, light bulbs are the now, and so Lucibel has brought innovation to the space – their “Luciflora” light uses a unique patented ‘flower’ design, allowing them to use just 5 Watts of LED energy, while producing 400 lumens (a measurement for light), leveraging a hollow interior and slits on the sides in order to keep the light cool using natural air flow (demonstration in French here).
“Tomorrow, all lights will be connected” – Frédéric Granotier, CEO & founder, Lucibel
I probed Granotier on the fast-growing “connected lighting” or “smart lighting” space – the Philips Hue, along with incomers like Holi, have been making waves in this space – a space which Granotier says is an inevitable future when it comes to saving energy for the end-client. Being aware of the natural lighting in the room and being able to shut off lights that are close to windows during the day, for example.
In the retail space, Granotier says that Lucibel is very ambitious around the opportunities that come with Li-Fi — the idea of using visible light communication in order to send information (that is, rapidly turning a light on & off in order to send packets of information). Lucibel is currently doing a pilot test with a retailer in France, testing out a service whereby shoppers’ carts are equipped with tablets, and the retailer is able to know exactly where shoppers are, and push them offers & information based on the aisle they are in. On a large scale, Li-Fi offers an alternative to beacon technology for retailers that is less intrusive, and which has an economic value beyond customer engagement.
The company currently does 60% of its annual revenue in France, where the majority of its 210 employees are based, including a factory which they acquired recently in Normandy in order to produce customized products for local clients, although they have subsidiaries in Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Morocco, China & Hong Kong. Granotier expects revenue to come more & more from outside of France, stating that they expect €200 Million revenue in 2017, with a positive EBITDA as early as 2015.