16 Feb 2023 |
Research article |
Entrepreneurship & Management
The Brilliant Path of a Company Founded by Three ÉTS Graduates
Fully dynamic intelligent LED lighting system created by Sollum. @Sollum
Sollum Technologies—cofounded in 2015 by three ÉTS graduates, François Roy-Moisan, Gabriel Dupras and Jacques Poirier—recently closed a $30 million round of financing. It should be said that the company, housed at Centech from 2016 to 2018, designed a technology that made it the benchmark for fully dynamic intelligent LED lighting. By replicating the sun’s natural cycle with unparalleled accuracy, Sollum’s innovation allows producers to grow crops in greenhouses regardless of the product’s climate of origin and the greenhouse location. This is the story of a young company now playing in the big leagues!
An Invention Born of Necessity
The adventure began in 2014. François R. Moisan, then a student in Electrical Engineering, was conducting research with Professor Sylvain Cloutier on the characterization of solar panels. “We were set up in the back of a laboratory and we needed a light source that could mimic sunlight,” he recalls. “I played around with a LED lamp and it worked!”
You Guys Are on to Something!
The technology attracted interest from cultural institutions. Since it does not emit ultraviolet or infrared light, it can optimize artwork conservation in museums. Unfortunately, the acquisition times in this sector are too long to make the company viable.
Sollum’s fate changed when an agricultural specialist borrowed their lights for testing. By playing around with the device’s wavelengths, he improved the taste of some herbs while reducing harvest time by six days. He returned to us saying, “Guys, you’re on to something!”
A Young and Rapidly Growing Company
In 2016, the company made its debut at Centech. At the time, François R. Moisan was starting a master’s degree at ÉTS, combining photonics and electrical physics. His goal was to improve his product.
While greenhouse owners responded favourably to their technology, the young entrepreneurs felt they needed help and advice to develop their vision, but also to establish a financial package that made sense.
“Centech gave us precious guidance, and our exceptional mentors, Pierre Laferrière and Luc Giguère, did not spare us in order for our plan to work,” recalls François R. Moisan.
He adds, “When we started, we were four and today we are 47, and it is especially thanks to the arrival of Louis Brun in 2016 that we have been able to grow without losing our footing.”
“The interesting thing is that ÉTS has a great understanding of its student body. I was 27, I had a child, and my professors were all aware of my reality—they knew what tools to give me to ensure my success. This is why I hold ÉTS and Centech dear to my heart,” concludes François R. Moisan.
The contracts obtained by Sollum, notably with Allegro Acres, in Ontario, allowed him to refine his product by collaborating with the Harrow Research Centre, accelerating a development that is proving profitable for all.
“Through various tests with Harrow, our intelligent LED lighting solution evolved and became fully dynamic with algorithms that modulate the full spectrum of natural sunlight, depending on the varieties of plants to be produced,” explains the engineer.
As a result of this ongoing research, Sollum’s lighting solution now increases greenhouse productivity by up to 40% compared to a conventional LED lighting system, and provides energy savings of more than 40% compared to high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting.
These technological achievements were instrumental in securing $30 million in financing last December to support company growth.