Crowdfunded start-up takes to the skies

Alumni from Grenoble GSB help design intelligent drone that films extreme sports
Aiming high: Medhi Mugnier with the Hexo+ drone

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Grenoble is renowned both for its numerous ski resorts and as a high-tech hub. Now two alumni from Grenoble Graduate School of Business have married the French city’s strengths to create Hexo+ — an intelligent drone that films thrillseekers while they are snowboarding, skiing or taking part in other extreme sports.

The company behind it, Squadrone System, was co-founded last year by Medhi Mugnier, who has a masters in entrepreneurship from Grenoble and Sylvain Montreuil, a Grenoble alumnus and lecturer. Earlier this year it raised more than $1.3m on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.

Hexo+ retails at $899 and so far, via Kickstarter, Squadrone has sold more than 1,700 drones which it plans to deliver next May.

How did you meet?

Montreuil: “I graduated from Grenoble in 2005 but began teaching there from 2012. I teach entrepreneurship and kick off the course for students on the masters in entrepreneurship, teaching them the tools of building start-ups and how they should spend their initial funding. I met Medhi as a student in the classroom in 2013. We met again during the Startup Weekend Grenoble, a Google-sponsored event for entrepreneurs, just after I and the other co-founders had created Squadrone. We wanted to build a team of people who were interested in aerial filming and on whom we could test the project and the strategy. I discovered that Medhi was a ski teacher with a great knowledge of extreme sports and that we liked working together. Now we’re co-founders of Squadrone, working together daily.”

How did Hexo+ come about?

Montreuil: “I enjoy extreme sports and my friend Christophe Baillon and I began discussing whether it was possible to create something with drones carrying a camera that would make filming autonomous. We agreed to launch a start-up around the idea but we realised that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. That’s why we took the idea to Startup Weekend Grenoble and we were able to bring Mehdi and our other co-founder, Antoine Level on board. We presented the project to Matt Giraud, a sports agent, to see if it made sense to him. Before we invested too much money into the technology, we really wanted to test the market. We got such a good reaction from people like professional snowboarder, Xavier De La Rue, that we realised we were on to something.”

Are there safeguards for those who do not want to be filmed?

Mugnier: “We have a selfie tool, which means the Hexo+ frames the subject directly and does not intentionally film others. But there are no special safeguards. It is like any other camera and it is the responsibility of the user to use it in an appropriate way.”

Is there a risk Hexo+ could interfere with other forms of aviation?

Mugnier: “We’re introducing a safety “bounding box” which means the drone will not be able to move far away from the subject. This will prevent the drone interfering with other forms of aviation which fly above 150m altitude. Drone use is already prohibited in specific areas, where you usually find aircraft.”

What are the next hurdles?

Mugnier: “The next target is CES (consumer technology trade show in Las Vegas) next month, when we hope to tap into a new market — moviemakers. We think that our product has a lot of functions that would appeal to those guys, so we have a dedicated marketing campaign around that. In the longer term, we hope to explore ways of including our technology in a range of products that will make photography easier.”

How easy is it to launch a technology start-up in Grenoble?

Montreuil: “The main difficulty of launching a company in Grenoble is trying to think global and create a product that is not just for the French or the Alps, but for the world.

“That’s why we have opened an office in Silicon Valley as we expect 70 per cent of our customer base to be in the US. We want to keep our R&D and engineering in France but we have to think global and create an international company.”

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