Clément Saad, the new president of the French Tech Mediterranean network, is also the head of Pradeo, an innovative cybersecurity company founded in 2010 with two partners.
Why did you choose Montpellier?I was born in Montpellier and I went to the university there, notably for my PhD at LIRMM (Montpellier Laboratory of Computer Science, Robotics, and Microelectronics) with the French Ministry of Defense. When I defended my thesis in 2008, it was at the time smartphones and tablets were really taking off, accompanied by mobile applications, which were a true innovation. I realized that there was a lack of focus on security issues. We launched our project with two friends, who have since become my partners. Our mission was to secure usage of mobile applications.
We immediately contacted Montpellier BIC for assistance. That was one good reason for staying in the Montpellier Métropole area, but there were others as well, such as top-quality university programs making it easier to hire people with strong profiles; and cutting-edge research centers. It just so happens that, at the time we were getting started, LIRMM research topics closely matched those of Pradeo. I also really appreciate the Montpellier quality of life, along with the climate and environment. I am quite attached to this region.
How did Montpellier BIC and its teams contribute to your success?Montpellier BIC assistance helped us organize our company’s structure. They taught me the basics about creating a company and helped me ask myself the right questions. That helped me make the transition from researcher to entrepreneur. Another benefit is that assisted startups get to join the ecosystem faster, especially in terms of meeting bankers and investors, who take you into consideration because you come from Montpellier BIC. BIC is an accelerator. For example, during our incubation period, Irdi Soridec – a regional capital investment firm – acquired equity stake in Pradeo.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start a company?First, it is important to ask key questions, like: “Am I made for this?”, “What makes me think I’m so great?”, “What makes my partners great?”. Too often, I have seen young people partnering with a clone of themselves, which inevitably leads to project failure. The key to success is to have complementary profiles.
Then, it is very important to be clear about your objectives and for all the partners to share the same goals from the outset. Are you creating a company to generate revenue, create jobs, or take over the world? Founders very often ask themselves these questions when it is too late, as their only preoccupation in the early phase is to keep the company alive. When they finally start to see growth opportunities, one of the partners may proclaim his or her goals, another might not want to continue, and problems rise to the surface. Sometimes one of the partners leaves the startup... I have seen several startups fail because of major differences of opinion between the partners.
In my case, I came from the research world and wanted to take my ideas further. The second partner was a sales representative and the third took care of technical issues with extremely clear vision. We were all on the same wavelength from the beginning. We wanted to impose our technology on a worldwide scale. That also helped us avoid having one person end up feeling that things were going too fast and too far.
How do you envision the innovative company of tomorrow in Montpellier?In this world, there are societal innovations like Facebook, where everyone wants to see what their neighbors are doing. And there are technological innovations – created in laboratories – that companies want to implement.
In France, the bridges between the scientific and economic worlds are not yet strong enough, even though the situation has improved over the past few years. Did you know that the first people to invest in Google were the founders’ university professors? That illustrates just how close the university and business worlds can be in the United States. My researcher colleagues did not look favorably upon me because I wanted to create a company, instead of working on fundamental research and wanting to apply our discoveries in the real world. The greatest innovations are created in laboratories. That’s their job! If we could take a slightly more industry-oriented approach with those innovations, we would be world champions! Innovation really needs to have a solid technological core to avoid being overtaken by competitors. That is how we will help tomorrow’s giants emerge.