Sophia Business Angels News - Volume 6

Q1 2021 Edition

From the SBA Board


Welcome to this 6th Edition of SBA Connect, the Webzine the Sophia Business Angels publishes every quarter to stay in touch with and indeed connect to our entrepreneurial, innovation, and early-stage investor community in Sophia Antpolis, in our beautiful Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur region, in France, in Europe and the world.

We are so pleased to share with you a number of news items about our members, our events, our partners, our mentee and our investee companies in this issue.

Certainly, one of the Happy Days in the life of a Business Angel and an Entrepreneur is when an exit occurs.  As you will read below, our SBA Member Yan Cornil has achieved this with his sale of Light Tec to Synopsys in spades and we are so pleased for him and for our club!  Many times over the years we wondered what he was doing when he would disappear for weeks at a time with this very very high-technology company based on optical technology which not all of us understood but now which is front and center in the world and has earned him a great exit!

We are hoping that the same result will appear on the not too distant horizon with the most recent investment by the SBA members in EMPE Diagnostics, a breakthrough technology company for TB Diagnostics, under the leadership of our Board Member Charlie Sidman. As you will read below, the investment came about in a true synergistic manner by leveraging SBA's membership in EBAN, the European Business Angels Network, and working with our fellow Angel organizations around Europe and the globe.  As is so often the case with Business Angel investments, our Lead Investor is a Subject Matter Expert and has his PhD in Immunology from Harvard University.

3 of our new members, Alex Wiedmer, Ian Sosso, and Jean-Paul Ortelli (all profiled in one way or the other below!) are very much looking forward to investing together and being active in the SBA

The SBA International Venture Academy has been one of the defining activities of our club and has contributed more than 45 % of our deal flow over the years.   We are so pleased to announce that under the leadership of Marcel Dridje, our SBA Board Member and our representative to EBAN, where he also figures as a Board Member, our partners , Business Jyväskylä and HHub from Finland, FiBAN, BANC and SBA will all be joining under the EBAN umbrella for an International Venture Academy in Jyväskylä!  Read all about it below!  Plus, at our SBA Invest meeting this coming Friday we will have two alumni, ARMonitoring and Trust Place from the Venture Academies of 2018 and 2019 !

As typical for the SBA, our SBA Invest meeting this Friday brings together a wonderful blend of local, national, regional, European and International.  Our Keynote Speaker is Marco Landi, former worldwide president of Apple in the USA and current President of Institut EuropIA, (European Institute of Artificial Intelligence funded in part by the French government and gathering all the AI players together in the region).  Marco also keynoted at EBAN's Annual Congress in 2019 and spoke about the need to make certain and create an AI pendant to the USA and China.  Marco has called the Sophia Antipolis region home for many years now.   Jean-Louis Brelet,  our SBA Board Member and representative to France Angels, where he is also a Member of the Board will preface Marco's remarks by introducing one of our exciting new initiatives, EuropIA Capital.

We will also be adding a twist though to our normal "cocktail", by introducing a "Virtual Cocktail" via Zoom with excellent wine from the Chateau de Calisse  provided by our new/old member Jean-Paul Ortelli (see below) .

And finally, we will also extend our "worldly" presence to the universe with the presentation of "Full Metal Energy", the winning team from Cannes in the European Space Agency -backed "Act-in-Space" Hackathon, coached also by none other than our amazing Sophia Antipolis partners, PACA incubator EST, Telecom Valley and Pole SAFE.  Talk about Sophia Antipolis  going to the Moon :-) !

**We are opening exceptionally this edition of the SBA Invest  members-only event to our entire SBA Community and so if you would like to attend by Zoom, please email our new SBA Business Manager, Sara.Bentsen at: and she will make certain and send you an invitation.  Sara, who is a trained diplomat and social media guru, speaks and writes four languages fluently - French, English, Germany and Norwegian, so you can write to her in any one of those languages!  At this time, I would also like to introduce our SBA IT manager, Cedric Ponte, who is studying to be a Cyber Security Manager and always open to internships in this field around the world.

Dear SBA Friends, Colleagues and Community, in closing may I also take the chance to welcome and thank all of the members of the incoming SBA Board, many of whom have been mentioned above and who have taken over from the outcoming board.  I would like to introduce Patrick Kedziora who is heading up our Deal Flow and Screening Committee and is always open to great deal flow suggestions from our SBA Community around the world at  Patrick has also been very active in the Banking and Investment Industry, so he is a perfect Deal Flow Director ! Our wonderful Member of the Board, Barbara Saxby has come from Silicon Valley and  is assuring our SBA Connect, Marketing and Communication.  Where would any good Business Angel organization be without a great treasurer, such as Francois Ruppli!  Our board has been joined by two more of our SBA President Emeritii, Edgardo da Fonseca and Eric Cokini, all of whom have come together to prepare our SBA 20th Anniversary next year in 2022!

As you can see, we have a full calendar already for 2021 and so are looking forward to staying in touch with you and to seeing you virtually and physically as we all go forward together in this great community of entrepreneurship, innovation, and early-stage investing.

Candace Johnson

SBA President

EBAN President Emeritus

SBA Members Investments and Exits


French Startup Goes Global and Exits in a Grand Fashion

The French based startup, Light Tec, was founded by SBA Member Yan Cornil in 1999.  It quickly became a pioneer in optical software solutions. Over the years it grew to be a global provider of scattering measurement equipment and design software tools.  In November of last year, the company was acquired by Silicon Valley based Synopsys, Inc. (NASDAQ: SNPS) to expand its customer access to precision light scattering data for materials and media used in optical systems. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

This is a very big win for Light Tec and the industry.  In a nutshell, the valuable data the software provides about how the light interacts with surfaces is a key part of successful optical product development. Light scattering data provides designers with real, accurate information to predict how light reflects and transmits in an optical system. It is used to obtain high-precision simulation results for a wide range of applications such as optical sensors, displays, semiconductors, and luminaires. Light scattering data is also important for demonstrating optical product spectral behavior in photorealistic renderings.

Barbara Saxby of the SBA had a conversation with Yan so we could share what he learned during the process.  He was also kind enough to offer a few pieces of advice for French startups looking to globalize and have a successful exit.  

Barbara:  What was the genesis of the company?

Yan:  I started Light Tec after working with a competitor and had my own vision for the technology and best path forward. I self-funded the company and lost a lot of money in the early years and it took me 12 years to get profitable. But I always believed in the solution and understood the market. 

Barbara:  And how did you take it from a startup to a global company?

Yan: The global growth strategy including becoming an early distributor for Synopsys along with selling our own solutions. We knew we needed to operate worldwide and were convinced we had the best solution in the market. Our strategy was to go direct in Europe and use distributors in the other regions. 

Barbara: Can you provide some advice to other entrepreneurs here in France looking to go global and have a successful exit too?

Yan:  The first thing you must remember is to stay with what you know.  Don’t go into other markets that others try to direct you too if you don’t understand them.  And the second and most important point to is to develop your own your IP.  You can’t sell your company with just a nice idea or a me-too solution if there is really no value baked into the value. 

Barbara: And what is your involvement with the company now that it has been acquired?

Yan: I am still actively engaged with Synopsys but at a higher level as a strategic industry advisor. 

Barbara:  And now as a private investor, what are you doing with your time?

Yan:  I am still looking at one or two companies a year. As an optical engineer I am always interested in optical projects and spend time to understand the market before investing.  But I am also enjoying life!  I did not see my wife that much with all of the traveling I did over the years, so now we spend time at our place in Brittany and here on the Cote d’ Azur near Toulon. I am also doing a lot of fishing, enjoying my Classic cars and playing with my grandson. 


SBA invests in EMPE Diagnostics


Almost one-quarter of the world's population carries or suffers from Tuberculosis (TB), resulting in order-of-magnitude as many deaths worldwide per year as the more recent and topical COVID, either directly or in combination with other diseases such as COVID, HIV, etc.  TB is not an equal-opportunity disease, however, as it impacts many more people per capita in poorer and less-developed regions than in those with better health care, although it is present in and affects even the most even well-developed countries as well.  Modern medicine can detect and effectively treat TB in medically well-endowed regions, but these tools are drastically less available in poorer countries.  TB is therefore a disease of economic inequality as well as of medical science and care.

The Swedish company EMPE aims to change the above realities and economic disparities in TB detection and treatment.  Using sophisticated but much less-expensive and laborious technology that it has developed, EMPE will allow faster, cheaper and clinically more useful TB detection and analysis outside of major medical centers, and the rapid initiation of more specific and thus effective drug treatment, starting in the world's most intensely TB-affected country, India.  Besides making a major positive impact on poorer and less-well-served populations, EMPE will be a profitable business, and thus a promising investment opportunity.  It is, therefore, a perfect opportunity to "do good while doing well".

Members of Sophia Business Angels (SBA) initially learned about EMPE at a virtual pitch event put on jointly by the European Business Angels Network (EBAN) and Ireland's CorkBIC in June of 2020.  After several months of investigation and discussion, several SBA members decided to invest in EMPE.  Sophia Business Angels is one of the world's most geographically diverse Angel groups (in terms of members', and invested companies', home regions).  Europe's EBAN is to be congratulated for catalyzing what is a perfect example of cross-border co-investment syndication, moreover, here in the service of an obviously socially beneficial Impact investment.

Join us, and let there be more to come!


A Member's View

Ian Sosso, Founder and Managing Partner at Monte Carlo Capital

New SBA Member, (Full Bio here).

Building direct exposure to early-stage start-ups is not only a profitable strategy but is vital for the long term perennity of principals of family offices in a world where we are seeing a redistribution of wealth towards tech businesses and tech entrepreneurs.

This article is not only relevant to principals of family offices but also to any sophisticated investor who can afford the illiquid and long-term nature of the asset class: from high net-worth investors to principals of family offices, to pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds and endowments.

To the principals of family offices, whether you still own businesses which at some stage may become threatened by new technology and business models, and therefore you need to keep on top of the technologies which affect those businesses, or your family has exited its businesses and seeks either capital preservation or accumulation, becoming a savvy early-stage tech investor provides significant upside, both direct (financial) and indirect (know-how).

Principals are increasingly investing directly in early-stage businesses. I have seldom met one that is not either already investing or at least considering it, yet, finding the right investment formula has been challenging for many: loss of capital in the first few investments, lack of understanding of technology and the investment process, ticket size too small to warrant the time and effort, etc.

So how do you build a strategy that makes sense and why it is so important that you do?

I initially started Monte Carlo Capital (MCC) to invest my own money in early-stage businesses. Now MCC is a group of private investors and family office principals investing directly in early-stage tech and life science companies, and I am the lead investor for every investment the group does. As a result, I get to deal with principals of family offices regularly and the observations highlighted in this article stem from my interactions with them. However, every family is different, and followed its own path to wealth. The comments in this article are meant to highlight some of the main trends I have observed over the years.

Read the full article here.


SBA Calendar 2021


18:30 Friday, 26 February - SBA Invest*

18:30 Friday, 19th of March - SBA StartUp Factory**

18:30 Thursday 25 March - SBA Invest*

18:30 Thursday 06 May - SBA Invest*

9:00 a.m. - 17:00 Friday, 28 May - SBA International Venture Academy***

18:30 Thursday 24 June - SBA Invest*

18:30 Thursday 09 September - SBA Invest*

18:30 Friday 17 September - SBA StartUp Factory**

9:00 a.m. - 17:00 Friday 15 October - SBA International Venture Academy***

18:30 Thursday 21 October - SBA Invest*

18:30 Thursday 09 December - SBA Invest*

*SBA Invest:  These monthly virtual meetings, usually held on a Thursday evening at 18:30, but exceptionally this month on Friday 26 February at 18:30 always feature a Keynote Speaker and 2 - 3 Investment Ready entrepreneurs, many of whom have been mentored and invested in by our members or our Angel Community.  Many times they have also come through our International Venture Academy.

**The SBA Start-Up Factory:  This is a wonderful and cool "networking" event bringing together entrepreneurs, partners and investors from the Cote d'Azur start-up community.  The SBA works closely with the Incubators in the Alpes Maritimes region to find the best start-ups who wish to pitch to a group of truly interested professionals from the region, eager to get the latest on innovation and young start-ups and to help them!  A little bit of wine and snacks round out the evening when as many as 15 young entrepreneurs vye for the first and second prizes - a chance to be coached by a member of the Sophia Business Angels!

***SBA International Venture Academy:  The SBA conceived and originated concept of the International Venture Academy has been adopted and implemented around the world!  During this special event, entrepreneurs and their coaches come from around the world (virtually or physically) to present their companies in front of an international jury and audience in the morning.  During an intensive 2 hour coaching session at lunch time the entrepreneurs and their (new!) coaches reconvene for a final pitching and judging session.  The results are always amazing and everyone is a winner.  45 % of the Venture Academy participants have received funding in less than 2 years after participation at the SBA IVA.

****Deal Flow and Screening Committee Sessions:  These are internal meetings where the SBA members screen those companies suggested for investment from around France, Europe, and the world as well as those we receive from our great Angel Investor Network partners, our Incubator partners and those which we randomly receive.  This group of dedicated and experienced investors selects the companies who appear at the above events and investment sessions.  Each of these Deal Flow and Screening Committee Sessions is chaired by one of our members under the leadership of our SBA Board Member Patrick Kedziora who give their valuable time to make certain that no "pearl" or "unicorn" goes unnoticed !


SBA Events

SBA Invest - Friday 26 February 18:30  for the First Virtual SBA Invest Meeting of 2021 for All Members !

We are very pleased to announce that Marco Landi, former president worldwide of Apple and current President of Institut EuropIA, will join us to give the Keynote Speech.  Marco will share with us some great stories about his time at Apple with and without Steve Jobs (!) as well as his philosophy (literally!) about Artificial Intelligence.  Marco has traveled the world over, but we are fortunate and proud to claim him as a real "Sophipolitain", with his lovely house where he hosted the SBA International Venture Academy Brunch in 2019.  As you all know, our region has been chosen by the President of France as one of the 3 AI clusters in France and we are working also very closely with Quebec and Anges Quebecs in this field!  Marco will share all of this and more with us on Friday 26 February at 18:30 CET.

We will also be joined at the SBA Invest Meeting by the winners of the WorldWide "Act in Space" Hackathon which is sponsored by ESA, EBAN and EBAN Space, among others.  Teams from 70 countries from around the world participated in this hackathon dedicated to using technology in Space and on the Earth for a better universe.  Yes, you guessed it.  It was "Full Metal Space"  the team from Cannes, incubated and coached by none other than our partners, Incubateur Paca EST who won the no. 1 prize!  

In addition, we will have the following Investment-Ready Companies presenting.  Both have presented at the International Academy before ! 

Trust-Place: digital certificates for luxury and fashion brands. Known to Candace and accompanied by Roland Berger Tech Ventures in Paris. They solve a big problem for French luxury and fashion brands.

Armonitoring:   Loan Portfolio Compliance made easy!  With more than 20 years of combined experience in financial services compliance and data analytics, our platform has already monitored more than $1 billion in loans,

International Venture Academy 2021

Are you running a scale-up company in the field of digital health and well-being? Do you want to grow your business to new markets? Are you interested in international angel funding to boost your business?

International Venture Academy is an investor program for companies looking for international growth and investments. During the program, companies will engage with European angel investors in group as well as personal sparring sessions to sharpen their own growth plan, products or services and network in international markets.

This year, the theme of the program is Smart Health – how to utilize the opportunities offered by data and AI in providing innovative health and well-being solutions.

Read the full article here.


New Members

This month, we would like to introduce you to and welcome our new members

Alex Wiedmer

Alex is a Partner at Iris Capital, . Since its creation, the Iris Capital team has invested more than a billion Euros in over 230 innovative companies. Iris Capital has been sponsored by Orange and Publicis since 2012,  Iris Capital is considered to be the Grand-Daddy of Venture Capital in Europe, being one of the first indigenous VC's.  It was spun out of a joint venture between all of the national savings banks in Europe and today is sponsored by Orange and Publicis as well as receiving large investments from the European Investment Fund, Europe's "fund of funds", and the CDC, France's National Savings bank among others.

Alex's investing expertise is primarily in software, e-commerce, and fintech companies.  At Iris Capital Alex identifies investment opportunities and is involved in governance issues, deal negotiation and structuring funds. He has done this for Iris in Europe, North America and most recently the GCC and MENA regions, where he is now located.

Alex has long been associated with both the SBA, when he represented Iris Capital in a very productive and mutually beneficial MoU that we had done with Iris Capital around 2008 and also with EBAN, the European Business Angel Network, where he represents Iris Capital  today as a corporate partner.

Although Alex holds at least 3 passports - Canadian, French, and Swiss (!) we are lucky to claim him as a "Sophipolitain", having done his Masters at Theseus (EDHEC) and been resident for many years in Valbonne before moving to the Middle East.  Recently, Alex and his family bought a family home in Vallauris.  Alex has long been a Business Angel and an entrepreneur from his school days at University of Western Canada and McGill and is delighted to be joining the SBA in a personal capacity.

Alex Widener on Linkedin.

 Jean-Paul Ortelli

Jean-Paul is a partner and senior advisor at Paris-based Oaklins France (before Aelios), a Global M&A and Financial Advisory Firm,  Oaklins has been instrumental in organizing a number of trade sales to the mutual benefit of entrepreneurs, angel investors and corporations. In particular, since Oaklins is based in Europe but has a global footprint, they have been able to arrange global transactions for our European entrepreneurs.  Jean-Paul has been most instrumental in this.  

The reason that we have put "new" in quotation marks is because Jean-Paul was for many years an SBA Member and one of the founders of our Succes Europe Fund.  He also helped us do a number of transactions where the companies that we invested in were then sold for a nice profit to corporations.  Jean-Paul was obliged to pass many years in Paris.  Recently, we are very pleased to say, he is spending more time at his home in Cannes and is excited about joining the SBA again as a business angel in a personal capacity!

Before joining Oaklins, Jean-Paul was a partner at Acceleration International, founded by Gérard Moufflet (former Baxter International and Advent International). Acceleration International is a catalyst for private equity investing in the healthcare industry in Europe and the United States, based in Boston. Before this, he was the CEO and main shareholder, through an LMBO, of a mid-sized company in the automotive distribution sector. Jean-Paul also served on several boards of mid-cap businesses in the distribution and construction sectors, and chaired the French Employers’ Confederation (MEDEF) in the French Riviera. Jean-Paul started his international career holding various positions at Thalès (former Thomson-Csf) in the finance and international departments, at Sanofi Pharma International and Baxter as plant manager and VP of operations in Europe. Jean-Paul has an MBA from the Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC).

Jean-Paul's family has an amazing Wineyard, le Château la Calisse,  The SBA spent many SBA Summer Events there and hope to do so again in the future !  AND, we are very pleased to announce that Jean-Paul's daughter, France, who interned with one of our SBA Investee companies has recently published a book, "Nos Coeurs Sauvages", a story about modern love and the Internet,  which is making headlines across France, !

 Jean-Paul Ortelli on Linkedin.


About SBA

Founded in 2002, the Sophia Business Angels (SBA) are dedicated to fostering and investing in innovative startups on the French Riviera. Sophia Antipolis represents one of the leading technology parks in France and Europe. The group features successful men and women who previously enjoyed careers as entrepreneurs or corporate executives and bring international expertise from diverse disciplines, industries and countries. SBA members are dedicated to mentoring, developing, and investing in promising startups that will deliver significant financial returns for the group and entire innovation ecosystem.

We are always looking for new members who are passionate about helping entrepreneurs build value for startup companies. Concurrently, if you are an investor (or thinking about becoming one) and would enjoy working with a team of smart, fun people, please contact us.

Join Us !

We would like to stay connected with you!


Espaces Antipolis - 300 route des Crêtes 06560 VALBONNE SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS FR