Mr. Foulard, what is special about COMPREDICT?
Virtual sensors are at the core of our solution. They are algorithms that intelligently link together the signals from hardware sensors in the vehicle to enable more in-depth analyses. We use data and information that is already supplied by the vehicle and use it to generate new information that was either not measurable up to now or which was too expensive or difficult to measure – such as the behaviour of a component in real-life operation or its current status or wear.
What motivated you to enter the software business at that time?
My co-founder Rafael Fietzek has just gained his PhD on the theme of test stands and originally wanted to found a company with me in the hardware sector. But you are always faced with the chicken and egg problem in that sector: You need money to build a prototype but it is often only possible to receive the necessary money when you already have a prototype. It is easier to get started when your business model is based on software. When I published the results of my dissertation on online load management in 2015, digitalization and industry 4.0 had become the current megatrends. And this raised the question of what added value could be extracted from vehicle data and how this could be achieved. Interest was shown by potential customers and it demonstrated to us that there was a market for this type of development. This was the decisive factor and we have seized the opportunity.
You need money to build a prototype but it is often only possible to receive the necessary money when you already have a prototype.
What is important when you are developing a new business model?
You have to do it at the right time and ensure that your solution is very clearly structured. We wanted to achieve far too much in the beginning, which is a problem that most start-ups experience. You want to do everything, preferably all at the same time. But you have to decide what is important. In the end, we identified two market segments where we want to scale up our business. On the one hand, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) who can use our software to transform every (series production) vehicle into a development and test vehicle, and on the other hand, fleet operators who can use the virtual sensors to optimally manage and maintain their fleets.
Scaling the business is a huge challenge for many start-ups. What strategy have you followed?
Instead of relying on organic growth, we quickly pushed ahead with the first round of financing at the end of our EXIST grant and secured the funds required at this time for the development of our product, primarily via collaborations with industry partners. We have had a marketable product since the end of 2019, which we are now launching on the market a little later than planned due to the coronavirus pandemic. The aim now is to secure new investors to support us in the further development and scaling up of the business. Naturally, we also have to continuously improve our software at the same time.
How do you manage to grow the company while also developing a close-knit team at the same time?
We employ people who bring the necessary hard skills with them. But they must also fit into the corporate culture. This was important for me from the very beginning: When you are growing as a company, you need common values that everyone can identify with, jointly embody and regularly scrutinise. We are a feedback company. The product and the business have to be right but a company’s soft skills are just as important – such as taking time for training and joint reflection and naturally promoting a positive error culture.
We are a feedback company.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
You need a good idea, good timing, a good spirit, a good team and a good network. The willingness to take risks and tenacity are vital but the most important thing is resilience. You need to learn not to worry about everything. And last but not least, success always relies on a little bit of good luck.
Interview: Dr. Jutta Witte
COMPREDICT GmbH was founded based on the research work carried out by two mechanical engineers Stéphane Foulard and Rafael Fietzek in the Institute for Mechatronic Systems (IMS) at TU Darmstadt. The company developed out of a patent held by TU Darmstadt (Intellectual Property).
The start-up – which now has 30 employees – offers its software as a service solution that enables vehicles to be developed in a customised way without additional hardware and allows vehicle fleets to be monitored in real time. It is scalable for fleets of more than 10,000 vehicles and is already being used in more than 11,000 vehicles with two to 18 wheels, in trains and for industrial applications. SEK VENTURES, Michelin and THI Investments have invested in Compredict.
The HIGHEST Startup and Innovation Center at TU Darmstadt was closely involved with the entrepreneurs from 2014 to 2018 – e.g. helping them to complete the EXIST application, with IP management and supporting them with advisers from the HIGHEST Network. (jw)
- 07/2016 to 06/2017: EXIST Business Start-up Grant
- 12/2016: Foundation in Darmstadt
- 2017: Main prize and special prize for Big Data at the BMWi start-up prize for digital innovation
- 2018: Participation in German Accelerator Tech and the accelerator programme Plug and Play Mobility
- 2019: Winner of the New Mobility World (NMW) Lab Open Challenge
- 2020: Business Insider: Top 100 list of fastest growing start-ups
- 2021: Winner of DB Mindbox
- 2018/2019/2021: Participation in the Start-up & Innovation Day at TU Darmstadt