What I did to… develop a smart lighting system

Here is Martine Debette’s article, published in the Nouvelles Publications weekly in the Economics section on:

A former researcher, Guillaume Bonello changed his life to create the LED’s CHAT startup. The company he chairs has developed smart LED tiles containing embedded intelligence to interact autonomously with each other, thus enabling all kinds of illuminated effects to be created.

“As a former researcher, I wanted to create a startup exploiting a technology from publicly funded research and prove that it was possible to set up a profitable business. It seemed to me that there weren’t enough startups being spun off by research laboratories, despite those in Marseille being very high quality. So the best way to remedy that was to create one, LED’s CHAT. Among the researchers with whom I worked who held patents, I chose to start with Peter Niebert, inventor of the patented technology and research lecturer holding concours scientifique* status. We exhibited interactive illuminated panels as part of Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture in 2013. Architects, specialists and artists told us that the concept was original and interesting. At the time, the LED lighting market was booming. We felt we could do something with this software component to make smart light fittings. The patent relates to a system used to operate and control light-emitting diodes in lighting. So in 2014 we surveyed the conventional lighting market, which was not yet mature enough to adopt the technology. So we developed the extension of the illuminated tiles from A to Z: electronic board, parts made using plastics processing, and then the whole process. We produced several prototypes and conducted demonstrations with partners such as Vinci Autoroute and Eurovia, who saw potential solutions in signalling, while also focusing on decoration.

We needed funding to develop the product, which took us a long time. We’ve been through almost every system! SATT Sud-Est, the development agency of Aix-Marseille University, helped us a lot with the first prototype. Then we worked with the Impulse incubator, we obtained loans on trust from Crédit Agricole, a Bpifrance innovation development aid loan, and last year we recapitalised nearly €100,000 with what we call ‘love money’ This enabled us to obtain bank loans and a Paca Emergence equity loan to survive and grow.

In 2019, time for the commercial launch. The product is ready and industrialised. We’ve attended several exhibitions, collecting expressions of interest. Now, we’re really building commercial development: communication to raise product awareness then find our channels, refine the offer so that it meets or generates needs. We are targeting the interior design market through specification (architects, decorators, lighting designers) and direct customers, managers of venues such as museums, business and co-working centres, etc., and trade exhibitions. Perhaps we’ll work on distribution networks next”.

* Concours scientifique status (“scientific contribution”) is a measure in French law that allows researchers to participate in creating a startup and to devote part of their time to its development.

In brief

  • • Created in April 2015 in Marseille;
  • • Simplified joint-stock company with a capital of 33,333;
  • • Four founding partners and two institutional partners (SATT Sud Est and the PFactory accelerator);
  • • Two patents under license and one in the company’s own name;
  • • Prizewinner of the I-Lab competition in 2015 2.06.52 (national competition to aid creation of innovative technology companies, run by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation);
  • • Réseau Entreprendre prizewinner.