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French VCs invest SFr10 million in Lausanne startup

Brightrivers has wooed venture capital from abroad. Brightrivers SA

Brightrivers SA, a Lausanne-based software vendor for the process industry has received SFr10 million in venture capital from Atila Ventures and Credit Lyonnais Private Equity.

Brightrivers, founded in early 2001, makes and licences software that enables chemical, pharmaceutical, and food manufacturers to model, dynamically simulate, and optimise their manufacturing processes, including the supply chain.

After receiving the SFr10 million in venture capital from Atila Ventures and Credit Lyonnais Private Equity, one quarter of the company remains the property of the two founders, Jean Gayral, a former CERN engineer, and Jacques Boschung, the former Director for Switzerland of IBM’s PC division.

The young firm is able to take advantage of a local market that includes some of the world’s largest process companies right on its doorstep, including Nestle, Syngenta, DuPont de Nemours (Lycra and Nylon divison), and Roche, all of whom have licenced the startup’s software.

“We sell directly to end users to ensure quality. The software is fairly complex and requires industrial know-how,” says Boschung, claiming that these worldwide market leaders are able to improve their flexibility, reduce costs, and gain dramatic improvements in productivity by using his firm’s software.

“The average productivity gain is between 10 to 50 percent,” says Boschung.

Finding funding

The founders did not have an easy time raising capital. Negotiations with Softbank’s European fund fell through when the Japanese VC decided to close its Paris office. Banque Vaudoise (BCV) Private Equity also pulled out after agreeing to put up SFr6.5 million. “Luckily we kept the lines open to Atila Ventures,” Boschung told a local newspaper last week.

First round funding of SFr3.5 million was raised in early 2001 by a syndicate including the Europe Union Venture Capital fund. Brightrivers used the original venture capital to acquire the rights to the source code from a company called Propsys. One of the founders, Jean Gayral, had been using the software for his one-man consulting company and he saw that the software had greater potential, according to Boschung.

The software, now a product called D3GO, simulates and optimises processes based on a “genetic algorithm” that analyses and quantifies the effect of production constraints to improve productivity and optimise planning.

Production constraints are things like tight margins, macroeconomic trends, such as globalisation, mergers, volatile demand and market fluctuations, or the need to consolidate production — basically the constraints are circumstances that affect the day-to-day production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and food manufacturers.

Fast growth and profits within reach

This year it will hire 40 more employees to reach its goals for 2002, bringing its total to 60 employees.

Today, some eight employees are working on research and development of the software in an office in France, near Geneva. Another eight are working in sales and marketing. The company typically hires people who have experience selling software and IT solutions.

“We have hired people from Compaq, SGI, and Worldcom,” Boschung told Swiss Venture Update, all of whom have large branch sales offices in the Geneva/Lausanne region of Switzerland.

The rest of the staff, are “productivity consultants”, a breed of engineer, usually holding a PhD, who understands the process industry and is able to use the complex modeling and visualization software to create models of the clients manufacturing systems, allowing it to find solutions or “put out fires” where required. “We hired process managers from Swatch, for example. It has a division that produces powders for coating it watches,” explains Boschung.

By the end of 2003 the company expects to be in the black.

by Valerie Thompson

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