The innovative nature and vast market potential of CompPair’s products have made the company one of the five Vaud businesses chosen to pitch at this year's TOP 100 Swiss Investor Summit, which will be held in Zurich on 7 September as part of the TOP 100 Swiss Startup Awards. The Summit will give selected startups from around the country an opportunity to present their business models to hand-picked investors from Europe and North America. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Amaël Cohades about his experience setting up a company in Vaud and how he hopes the Summit will support his business development plans.
Can you tell us a little more about your technology and what makes it innovative?
We’ve developed a unique self-healing resin, called HealTech™, that gives composite materials the ability to automatically repair cracks and delaminations. You just need to apply heat at a temperature of 100°C to 150°C for one to five minutes. And if the material gets damaged again later, there’s no problem – the healing cycle can be repeated more than 60 times. But our main competitive advantage is that with HealTech™, composites are repaired without altering their mechanical properties. In other words, there are no structural changes to the material itself. That’s crucial for applications like aerospace, and it’s something no other self-healing process currently offers. What’s more, the composite-repairing process currently takes an average of six or seven hours, against just a few minutes for our technology. These are game-changing features for our industry and mean all kinds of equipment – from retail to industrial – can be used for much longer before they have to be thrown away and replaced.
In fact, the overarching goal driving us at CompPair is to reduce the amount of material waste on our planet. We firmly believe in the circular economy and want to extend this approach to the composites industry. In developing our technology, we drew inspiration from nature – not only for our material’s self-healing capabilities, but also for our holistic, life-cycle perspective: we consider everything from the production and use of a material to its end of life. Along those lines, we’re working on recycling processes that can turn end-of-life parts into new products.
What advantages does Vaud have to offer that prompted you to set up your business here?
The main reason we chose Vaud is because we’re an EPFL spin-off and wanted to stay close to the university. We still conduct joint research with EPFL’s Laboratory for Processing of Advanced Composites (LPAC), which is where I completed my PhD. The university also provides a steady stream of bright students in materials science and all sorts of engineering disciplines. We enjoy giving these students an opportunity to carry out internships, and they constitute a pool for recruiting full-time employees. Another big reason is that Vaud has a buzzing startup ecosystem. There are a lot of vibrant new businesses in this area, along with organizations to coach them and support their growth. At CompPair, we’ve received backing from Innosuisse, Innovaud, and Venture Kick, for example. And there are many startup awards and similar programs going on that help us sharpen our business models and give us visibility.
How have the Office for Economic Affairs and Innovation (SPEI) and Innovaud helped you establish and grow your business?
The help we’ve gotten from both SPEI and Innovaud has been fantastic. SPEI has supported us on several levels; they provided training for staff members along with financial assistance for patent applications, for pilot tests with manufacturers – to make sure our products are ready for their production lines – and for testing new applications. They also supplied funding for us to attend international industry events, which have been key for speeding the customer acquisition process. With regard to Innovaud, they propose a coaching program for startups that’s been very helpful. We received advice in the areas of investment, corporate finance, governance, and HR. Innovaud has invited us to a number of networking events as well, and given us many opportunities to showcase our company – like at the upcoming Investor Summit in Zurich.
Speaking of the Investor Summit, what do you hope to get out of it, and what will be your next big milestone?
We’re currently opening a pre-Series A funding round for several million Swiss francs and are seeking investors for that. We hope to close by Q1 2023 – which is just around the corner, so the Summit comes at a perfect time! The funds will be used to drive our core business of launching product families for new applications. Our ultimate goal is to bring our HealTech™ technology to the entire composites industry, but since we’re a young company, we need to focus on a specific strategy. So for now we’re targeting three main verticals: leisure, wind turbines, and aerospace. We have good traction in all of them with a number of joint development agreements and projects under way, such as with Decathlon, Salomon, and the European Space Agency. Today we’re at a critical step in converting our development work into market penetration, and hope these funds will catalyze that and lead to a period of rapid revenue growth.
What are your business development plans going forward?
We intend to keep focusing on those three verticals, building up our brand, and increasing sales volumes. We see a lot of potential in wind turbines in particular, not only for business growth but also for making a real impact on product life-cycle management. These days, turbine operators don’t know what to do with used blades and tend to dump them into landfills. We hope that our technology will give operators a sustainable alternative. On the business side of things, we plan to open offices elsewhere in Europe and eventually around the world. The pre-Series A round will be a step in that direction, too. And finally, we’d like to hire more business-development profiles into our team to spearhead our expansion.