INDUSTRY OF THE FUTURE: THE NANTES STARTUP E-COBOT HELPS PEOPLE WITH THEIR WORK

Created in Nantes in 2016, the startup has just won the “Born Global” award from EY, which recognises companies with the biggest international potential. We talked to the company's founder, Sébastien Ecault, who says that "Nantes has a nice hand to play in cobotics".

Sébastien Ecault has been thinking since childhood about making cobots to support people at work. “One of my grandfather's was a garage owner and the other was a cabinetmaker and I did a lot of odd jobs with them when I was young,” explains the E-COBOT founder. “As they got older certain tasks got more difficult for them. I said to myself that one day I would make systems to help them do tasks such as bringing them their tools or lifting heavy pieces of wood and even developing exoskeletons to maintain operating conditions.”

Sébastien Ecault worked his way up. “As my grandfather used to say: before becoming a garage owner you have to have worked in three garages,” he says. After studying automatic engineering and artificial intelligence and then gaining a Master's in business administration, he began working as an automation and systems engineer with Sagem Défense Sécurité. Later he was appointed International Project Manager for an automobile equipment manufacturer. Then his career took him to Nantes as the branch manager for a project management consultancy.

A cobot to collaborate with humans

He began marketing his first product in late 2018 – HUSKY is an intelligent mobile cobot that helps operatives to lift loads (photo). The device can carry up to 400kg and tow 2 tonnes of merchandise. Like the dog of the same name, it can go where operatives go or else function in autonomous mode, in which case it is steered by a mobile application. “A dog can learn to cooperate with people, like guide dogs do with the blind, whereas this is not something that lions can do,” Sébastien Ecault likes to say. “To succeed, you have to know how to cooperate with others. Cobotics enables people to dispense with everything that does not add value.”

“With the presence of the IRT Jules Verne and the EMC2 competitive cluster, both of which help us to imagine what the industry of the future will be like, I am convinced that, in Nantes Saint-Nazaire, we have a nice hand to play in the robotics and cobotics sectors.”


Industry of the future: A nice hand to play in cobotics in Nantes

When he launched his plan to set up his company in Nantes, Sébastien Ecault got support from bodies that foster entrepreneurship. Firstly, Initiatives Nantes helped and then Nantes Métropole Aménagement provided hosting in the HubCreatic business incubator in La Chantrerie. Also, the Entreprendre Network gave valuable assistance. “This backing over a substantial period of time gave me confidence and peace of mind but also enabled me to be challenged by the CEO of the CETIH group,” says Sébastien Ecault in reference to a company that hosts some of E-COBOT's teams in brand new premises in Carquefou on the outskirts of Nantes. When it came to the innovation side, he got support from Atlanpole, which helps innovative companies to expand in Nantes. Alongside this, creative projects were fleshed out with local companies and universities. “With the presence of the IRT Jules Verne and the EMC2 competitiveness cluster, both of which help us to imagine what the industry of the future will look like, I am convinced that we, in Nantes Saint-Nazaire, have a nice hand to play in the robotics and cobotics sectors.”



New funds to be raised in 2020 to support development

Now Sébastien Ecault heads up a team of 32 "engineer entrepreneurs" and can reflect on the progress made in just 3 years. After raising financing initially in late 2018, he decided to structure the two into 2 pods, one dedicated to innovation and industrialisation (HUSKY) and the other to integration – this was called Solution. Some sixty cobots have already been ordered. Another fundraising effort is planned for early 2020 to support the industrialisation and marketing phase. « The goal is to continue developing at local level by offering our skills to companies such as Airbus, Vibracoustic or Chantier de l’atlantique in Nantes and Saint-Nazaire, with significant order increases scheduled throughout 2020. »

Awarded for the « greatest international potential»

While E-COBOT can base its development on gaining the custom of the large number of manufacturers in Nantes Saint-Nazaire, the prospect of thriving on the international stage has also been raised. Sébastien Ecault has just returned from Amsterdam, where he attended Euronext's 'Techshare' programme, which chose rapidly growing startups that may ask the market to help finance their development. It is surely not by chance that EY recently awarded the Born Global prize to the French startup in recognition of its big potential for developing an international business from its base in the country's Greater West region.

The diversity of the economic fabric boosts entrepreneurs' chances of succeeding and of bouncing back if ever there are downturns.

“Jules Verne, a symbol of the interaction between machines and the imagination”

For the time being Sébastien Ecault says that proximity is central to his company's development plans. He says: “Nantes is a magical city where nothing is impossible. Here, the work is not tied to one person alone but do a while history that has been built together. The diversity of the economic fabric boost entrepreneurs; chances of succeeding and of bouncing back if ever there are downturns. The way Nantes functions is a stimulus.” Wise words from a man who is now following in the footsteps Jules Verne, whom he describes as “a symbol of the interaction between machines and the imagination.”