The story begins in the 1980s at the Leti Laboratory in Grenoble. For about ten years, Thierry Leroux headed a department whose mission was to develop electronic equipment for measuring screens (screen, lighting, wavelength, information, colours…): “screens are the first thing people see. When they buy a television, a smartphone, a computer or a tablet, that’s the main thing they see”.
At that time, the measurements, as done in Leti, were very long: “the equipment measured on one axis moved then to measure another axis and so on. The measurements were made one after the other. A single measurement took about one second, it took about 5,000 seconds or more than an hour to check an entire screen. This is not possible at all on a manufacturer’s production line”. In 1992, Thierry left Leti and created Eldim to develop, with his equipment, a technology capable of measuring one screen at a time. They went from measurements that took several hours to a few seconds. Eldim’s technology became a huge breakthrough for laboratories.
Measurement is key
After two years of R&D, Eldim’s technology was ready. The first concept was presented at a conference in the United States in October 1994. Very quickly they began to sell across the Atlantic to television labs, computers and mobile phone manufacturers… “Already in December 1994, we delivered our first machines to Xerox, IBM, AT&T, bath screen manufacturers… and very quickly production moved to Japan with brands such as Matsushita, Hitachi, Sharp, Nec…“. During this first period, Eldim’s main customers were the flat screen laboratories, especially with LEDs and liquid crystals, within which the teams work on R&D in new technologies.
But during the first decade of 2000, smartphones, laptops and tablets invaded our daily lives. The Eldim team understood that it had to evolve its products to allow its laboratory-developed technologies to be applied directly to manufacturers’ manufacturing lines. “Today, these products are in everyone’s pocket. As soon as there’s a small flaw, people don’t hesitate to share it on a blog or social networks. If manufacturers of end products do not want there to be any gap related to a screen or battery problem, they must perform the maximum number of measurements. And when it says as many measurements as possible, it means testing each component directly on the production line“.
From a few dozen to thousands units a year
By 2014, the team had been working hard for two years to miniaturize its technology and reduce costs to be able to produce in large quantities and equip production lines. In 2016, Eldim was contacted by some of the major smartphone manufacturers, including Apple, who wanted to measure every product that left their production line. The challenge was enormous. The team only had a few months to react.
“It was really a leap into the unknown. The quantities requested were 50 to 100 times greater than what we used to produce. We had to completely rethink the organisation of the teams and think about the staff we would need. We might have had some fears. It’s not because our product responds to a problem that we’ll be able to make thousands of copies without difficulty. We had to prove that our technology was scalable.”
To organize the teams and allow the processes to be resolved efficiently, Thierry had the idea of recruiting a musician: one of the singers of the French children’s group Les Poppys (who sang notably “Non, non rien a changé in 1971”). He was not a person who mastered the technicality of the developed technologies but he had a good experience in group management, he brought a lot of fluidity and efficiency to Eldim’s teams.
The money question
The operation was ambitious. Their usual financial partners (banks, Bpifrance…) saw a file with a request 10 times larger than usual, which provoked many questions and reactions.
“Although some bankers thought the risk was too great, most banks believed in us. With this challenge, questions of technical feasibility and scalability could arise. But we had been preparing for this type of order for several years now.”
In just 2 months, Eldim collected enough funds from the banks and managed to deliver the order on time and smoothly. So much so that, very quickly, Apple placed a new order. This time the challenge is even more difficult: Eldim had half the time to deliver the finished products. Going through the banks for this request was not feasible. The client could not wait for such a long time. That’s why Thierry decided to turn to October, a lending platform for SMEs. Thanks to just over 1,100 investors, Eldim managed to raise one million euros in 7 days!