Today, Precilens is a fast-growing company. Having generated a turnover of over 4 million euro in 2009, it now expects to double it by the end of the year, and has seen its benefits increase in spite of a shrinking global market. A few years ago, the same company was seeing its market-share steeply declining. Precilens’ CEO, Pierre Pitance, a former investor drawn by the thrill of entrepreneurship, sees only one explanation for this positive trajectory: innovation.
A small operation, his company counts less than 50 staffs, mainly based in the newly-built facilities in Créteil, an industrial hub in Paris’ suburbs. The staff, a joyful mix of young engineers and more senior technicians, moved in recently. ‘Our former location did not allow us to stock the high quantities of the new product we are now handling,’ explains Pitance. Yet the new product in question is no bigger than the pupil of an eye.
The Monthly C2 contact lens was developed as part of a publicly-funded project, supported by a European programme helping innovators called Eurostars. Using a revolutionary new material, soft silicone hydrogel, designed by computer with a nanometer-precision, the new lens was launched earlier this year and it is already Precilens’ number one sale. With the Monthly C2, the company opened its products to a much broader market, multiplying its client base more than tenfold.
LENSES FOR THE MASSES
This premium contact lens has the particularity to correct the vision of people with complex cases of presbyopia, a condition in which the eye loses its ability to see objects up close. Statistically, past 45 years old, 90% of the population is to one degree or another subject to presbyopia. The Monthly C2 is cheaper than the competition, and a recent study published by a German University demonstrated not only its medical value but also its superiority in terms of comfort, a key criteria for people with vision problems.
‘THE IDEA DEVELOPED DURING THE EUROSTARS PROJECT WAS TO TRANSFER OUR TECHNIQUE TO MASS PRODUCTION.’
Treating complex presbyopia cases has been Precilens’ specialisation for the last thirty years. Still today, it uses high-precision technics for the realisation of specific models. Such contact lenses are designed on an individual basis, tailored on a special lathe-machine, and made for people with very specific vision deficiencies. The purchase price however is prohibitive. The idea developed during the Eurostars project was to transfer this technique to mass production.
‘When I took on the position of CEO of Precilens in 2004,’ Pitance tells us, ‘I was handed a company using rather old technology and positioning itself in a niche market.’ During the first few years, Precilens’ new man-in-charge focused on modernising the company and introducing computer-based design and new findings of nanotechnology to its processes. Ultimately, his main objective was to take his company to a larger market.
By 2010, Precilens had turned itself into a real high-tech company; an essential condition to take part in Eurostars, which is a transnational fund using public financing to support small companies performing research and innovation. Eurostars helped Pitance to launch the Monthly C2 contact lens, and to develop a process to apply the company’s technological know-how to mass-production for the first-time. Together with two other partners, Precilens developed a new manufacturing technique allowing for a higher output and based on moulding rather than lathe technology.
The maths are simple. ‘Custom-made lenses such as the ones in which we originally specialised represent no more than 7% of a market worth 4.5 billion euro. By stepping into moulded lenses, Precilens opens itself up to a client base just about twelve times larger – nearly 90% of the market!’ explains the businessman.
'THE FACT THAT WE WERE SELECTED FOR EUROSTARS FUNDING AS ONE OF A SMALL NUMBER OF PROJECTS EACH YEAR HELPED US GAIN RECOGNITION AS A RELIABLE PLAYER.’
A TEAM EFFORT
In the frame of its Eurostars project, Precilens teamed up together with UK-based contact lens manufacturer Sauflon. ‘We do not have the means to produce ourselves – building a factory to make lenses is an investment of some five million euro-, but, like other companies, Apple for instance, we control every other stage of our business: from conception to distribution,’ says Pitance.
The funding received from Eurostars was also used to finance a clinical study conducted by the University of Applied Sciences in Jena, Germany, which enhanced the credibility of the Monthly C2 lens in the medical community. The study, realised with the participation of eminent specialists from France , Germany and Netherlands, demonstrates the lens’ superiority when compared to those manufactured by Precilens’ most advanced competitors, mostly based in the United States.
To protect its products from competition and prepare itself to face the industrial giants, Precilens has for the first time applied for a worldwide patent. After launching sales of the Monthly C2 in Europe, it now plans to conquer the US market.
Pitance is whole-hearted about Eurostars: ‘The fact that we were selected as one of a small number of projects each year for Eurostars funding helped us gain recognition as a reliable player; this is important for our relations with bigger companies and private investors. We have demonstrated that we are able to scale up and manage large international projects.’