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Technology / AI and automation


Although European venture capital is being made available to high-tech startups, the increasingly large sums needed to succeed in the market are pushing more French companies to a sure source: NASDAQ. In mid-July, Rousset-based PixTech SA, which makes liquid crystal-alternative flat panel displays with Field Emission Display technology, became the third French information technology company to be quoted in the US, raising $22m to start up its production in Montpellier. As with last October’s flotation for software company Business Objects SA, it was oversubscribed. We went to NASDAQ because there is no equivalent [venture capital] market in Europe, and we couldn’t get adequate financing. We have European investors, but they couldn’t provide enough, said financial director Yves Morel. It’s true that there is a lot less money in Europe than in the US, says Olivier Protard, a partner in Paris-based Sofinnova, a venture capital company specialising strictly in high-tech start-ups. There are, for example, 200 investors in Silicon Valley, compared to five or six in France for truly technical start-up financing. Protard notes further that many US investors have recognised that France has important skills in software, networking and biotechnology, and we have investors in Silicon Valley asking seriously about French companies. Of PixTech, Protard says: It’s an early-stage technology, but there’s an enormous world market. Morel explains that, while liquid crystals transmit light through a filter, field emission displays glow, emitting light from the cathode. It gives a better quality picture, more like television. Its production cost is good, and, in contrast to LCD, it can be used at any temperature. LCD, being liquid, doesn’t support extreme temperatures. He said PixTech would ship to customers in limited quantities by year-end. Despite a potential insufficiency of venture capital in Europe, Protard says it is a healthy industry. Before, there were only big French companies, like SGS-Thomson, who went on NASDAQ, but now there are start-ups like Business Objects. A French software and microelectronics company going to NASDAQ within six months of each other shows a healthy venture capital industry, he said. Furthermore, he said, There are quite a number of start-ups financed every year, and now we feel as though we are into a full recovery. We are not in any crisis [for cash]. We had the recession, which was very negative, even for high-tech funds, but now there is new technology coming along that is easily financed. 1995-96 will both be strong investment years in information and biotechnology. We’re working on lots and lots of projects. We could do more if we were bigger. It’s not a question of money, he said.

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