Frantz Saintellemy, president of LeddarTech |  A Quebec world leader in highly autonomous driving

LeddarTech, of Quebec, specializing in the design and development of microprocessors used for frequency-light detection in the automotive sector, was recently named one of the five future Canadian unicorns, these young companies technologies valued at more than 1 billion. Frantz Saintellemy, who has made an international career in the field of microprocessors, has been the president and chief operating officer of this Quebec unicorn for three years and explains his ambitions to conquer the world.

Jean-Philippe Decarie
Jean-Philippe Decarie

Three years ago, we met when you were involved full time in the development of Groupe 3737, a hub innovation dedicated to entrepreneurial diversity. What brought you to LeddarTech?

When I sold the ZMDI microprocessor company to IDT in Silicon Valley in 2015, I made a commitment to stay with them for two years to make the transition. In 2017, IDT took an interest in LeddarTech and its lidar technology (light detection and ranging) eYou decided to participate in the round of financing of more than 100 million US that LeddarTech had launched.

In September 2017, CEO Charles Boulanger asked me to join LeddarTech because I am a baby in the industry and have worked there all my life. I knew LeddarTech well, a small Quebec company that had great ambitions and great potential, and I know the major players in the automotive industry well because they were my clients for years.

What exactly does LeddarTech do and what sets it apart from other industry players who also develop and manufacture automated detection systems?

During the 2010s, it was the rush towards the autonomous car. The whole industry was working on the advent of the autonomous vehicle and IDT was developing microprocessors for braking systems, oil, gasoline and sensors for obstacle detection.

Today, we are talking more about a highly autonomous car, and LeddarTech was the first to develop technology that allows lidar motion detectors to be miniaturized on a single microprocessor. Our competitors are assembling technologies on modules that are much more archaic and which are much larger.

We are integrating lidar, radar and camera technologies on microprocessors that capture information and process the signal using algorithms. We ensure optimal miniaturization and increase the efficiency of environmental sensors for cars.

A recent AAA study in the United States found that 80% of car motion detectors are unreliable, while our technology ensures much more accurate raw data fusion and perception.

LeddarTech is based in Quebec, but recently completed a series of acquisitions. Where are you today?

LeddarTech is a spinoff (spinoff) of the National Optics Institute of Quebec and was founded in 2007. In 2017, the company had about thirty people and achieved a financing of 103 million US. Three acquisitions were made, two of which were in the past six months.

Today there are 215 employees, including around 100 in Quebec City, around 20 in Montreal and Toronto. We also have 35 employees in Israel and ten in Austria. There are a total of 170 engineers.

The acquisitions we made have enabled us to seek out specific expertise that we would have taken more time to develop ourselves. New financing is currently being prepared and further acquisitions are planned to continue our expansion.

Who are your shareholders exactly? I understand that the American tech company IDT took a stake in 2017?

We have several shareholders. Initially, in 2007-2008, we had financial partners such as BDC, Desjardins and, in 2017, we had several strategic partners who were added when funding US $ 100 million.

IDT was acquired by the Japanese firm Renesas, which is an equipment manufacturer which has 30% of the world market share of microprocessors installed in motor vehicles. We also have the German equipment manufacturer Osram, the American Delphi (now Aptic, following a stock market separation from Delphi) and Marelli.

All of these OEMs want to implement our environmental detection systems and solutions with their customers, the world’s major automobile manufacturers.

The demand for our microprocessors is expected to explode from 2023, as the production of highly autonomous cars will result in the implementation of many more sensors and assistance functions for driving in traffic or assisted steering on highways.

Our solutions are at the heart of the next phase of the autonomous car and we will be able to install between $ 100 and $ 300 of our products in several million vehicles.

What will be the spinoffs for Quebec from your active participation in this next stage of the emergence of the highly autonomous car?

Quebec has no history in the automotive industry. We do not have companies that can supervise us, as Bombardier could do in aeronautics. This is why we have adopted the strategy of partnering with first-level equipment manufacturers who can help us better penetrate this huge market.

That’s good news, our recognition is being exercised at the very moment when Quebec wants to establish itself as a major player in the electric car battery industry, at all stages of its production.

The valuation firm Tracxn has added you to its short list of 10 start-up most promising in Canada and describes you as one of the next five unicorns i.e. you deserve a valuation of $ 1 billion. Does this intimidate you?

Not at all. Our competitors, who also use lidar technology, but who manufacture modules that are still very large and less efficient have just been awarded even higher valuations.

This is the case of the companies Velodyne and Aeva, which are both on the NASDAQ and have a valuation of 2.5 and 2.1 billion US, or Luminar, which is attributed to a value of 3.5 billion US .

We do not plan to use the public market. We are in the process of completing a new round of financing and we have the means to continue our expansion and, above all, we continue to win client projects.

Corrigendum: A previous version of this article was accompanied by a surtitle and a vignette which introduced Frantz Saintellemy as the CEO of LeddarTech, while he is indeed president and chief operating officer, as specified in the text. Furthermore, Mr. Saintellemy sold the ZMDI (not 2 MDI) microprocessor business to IDT, which was sold to Renesas, not Renaissance. Our apologies.


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