The Road to France
“It took us a long time to figure out what we were going to do.. but it was clear, right from the start, that we had to eventually do it in Europe.”
If you have been following our work for the last year and a half, you might think that setting office in France happened from one day to the other, but it was actually a process that began around the start of 2015, and which was sort of a clear goal since 2012.
It all started after having worked on robotics for a while, and because of a strong influence from “Creators Project” (Vice). I’d like to say the inspiration was our own, but it was watching video after video of what these guys were doing which created a strong itch towards exploiting our technology’s potential in more ways than just the obvious medical ones.
“What if we created robotics for entertainment, robotics for arts.. performances which existed because of the technology itself.. indescribable experiences because of an unusual use of technology? It was constantly in our minds and it wasn’t going away.”
But we quickly realized that the interest in these sort of things wasn’t enough in México (especially in the north) to actually finance the kind of large and daring projects we liked and wanted. We realized we had to go to Europe.
So it was 2015 that we first set out to Germany, to find our place in this forward-thinking ecosystem that we called Europe.
Getting to Germany and taking part in the << Start-Up Scene >> there was quite different from what we had experienced before. I could definitely see the similarities and understand where the concepts we were hearing in Monterrey (México) had come from, but I could also spot many differences: there, I saw a higher average in << startuper >> age, slides covered in partnership logos, a significantly larger number of experts within every startup, and each team starting with a technical person aiming to find someone in business; a definite learning experience on many things we just weren’t doing right.
“It was like they were emulating behavior seen elsewhere, but México was focusing on making it a business only for some, instead of focusing on creating a truly supportive, collective and effective environment.”
In the end, our approach on Germany just didn’t work out. Thinking back, I believe we definitely weren’t ready yet; but we were so fixed on it that we went back a second year in a row. We thought we had a better plan and an improved company.. but it was still nothing.
I keep in mind this was before many of the developments we have now, and it was before we began to understand how we could finally connect our ideology and drivers with an actual business. We were also even younger. I suppose the result is actually easy to understand.
“After another three months of knocking doors and meeting people, we finally came back from Germany empty handed; not even a pat on the back. We decided it was not the way or the time.”
So we forgot about Europe, for a while. There are enough problems building a startup in México and trying to live off of it to keep you busy and make you ignore everything else.
A year went by, and then another. A project was finished, and then another. We learned a thing or two, and then another.
“Two or three years went by trying to survive and keep on creating impact in our own country. Up’s and down’s, good’s and bad’s. And then an email arrived.”
It was somewhere around early 2018 when we started pushing our marketing again (marketing is tough.. but that’s another topic). Because we were finally pushing ALICE (our Open Source Pediatric Exoskeleton) like crazy, we started getting some international attention and people started writing from South America, Asia and Europe (the last one felt a bit awkward; like an ex writing back).
“We got an email from a French woman on her last year of master’s. She wanted to do an internship. She was thinking just engineering, but there was even more in our minds: this was our chance to do a comeback!”
So one of the emails turned into a collaboration with an insider, and it turned out her interest and dedication were way more than we expected. Everything finally started to really build up from there.
- “Does it have to be Germany?”, she asked.
- “No, no it doesn’t.”
Fast forward a couple of months. She’s back at her hometown and hundreds of emails + dozens of meetings have turned into a whole network of contacts. And these aren’t just any people. One of the most recognized universities in France is now involved. They have a growing startup program specifically focused on research-related topics. Professors and associates really like our scientific background. She’s managed to get everyone impressed with our portfolio. The team seems solid and her involvement definitely increases credibility. We adapt our approach to France and now the business makes sense. The whole region is boosting entrepreneurship and we manage to attract their attention. She’s not afraid to go directly with the guys in charge. Meetings become constant. They love our craziest projects. Documents are written, presentations are pitched and excitement gets higher. A couple more months and those emails have even started building up clients in arts! We’ve checked all the boxes and now they’re asking when we’ll set up business in Provence. We get legal support and now it’s just about the details.
Then we hit a bump.
We were going to need a Visa (obviously) but nobody had mentioned any of the requirements, yet.
“Our immigration model includes two options:
1. You are an investor and you need to invest over XX amount of hundreds of Euros (I can’t even remember because it was so high), which is probably not possible for you.
2. You are a business owner, and you need 40,000 EUR + your new company must pay yourself at least ~7,000 EUR per month, or else it is impossible. (I like this salary but that money would be our own -obviously- so that wasn’t so fun.)”
So the requirements seemed a bit impossible. We just didn’t have the kind of money they were asking for. We weren’t -nearly- there.
There was a slight depression period. (..you know, about an hour and a half.)
Thankfully, the guys from Provence Promotion (yes, they’re pretty cool) had the answer.
“There was this program called The Climb by Le Village, at a place called The Camp. We were told how if we were accepted there, not only would it fix our problem but it would also provide critical business, administrative and market support to make sure our entrance to this new market was successful and quick. So you know we went for it!”
Some of the details weren’t too clear yet (whether or not there was financing provided, if they would ask for equity and how much, specifics about what the program would include..) but we definitely had a strong feeling that this was the path to follow. So we got into it and began the proposal process.
Long story short (I can tell you all the details later, if you’re interested), we got in. And then it was full-on entrepreneurial mode to make sure we stayed in!
“It was our job to do everything and anything necessary to make sure we could come back to a new but business-ready and profitable company, or all the years of wait and work would have been for nothing.”
For the following 12 weeks, our stay in France consisted in 18-hour days setting up a network of collaborators and clients, building demo presentations, working out administrative details to set up the company, building the paperwork for the resident visa, and running projects back in México.
It was a tough three months, but we had -a lot- to prepare before we had to go back to México to process the final Visa. And we know opportunities are a one-time thing.
“The only thought going through my mind was the possibility of missing something, and therefore of missing our only chance.”