Alexis Comar, the founder, and the CEO at Hiphen tells us about crop health and development.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alexis Comar: On the family side, everyone is doing fine. Guess this situation is harder to live for teenagers (like my brother), but we should not complain. I have a strong thought for all the readers that lost a loved one.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Hiphen.
Alexis Comar: I founded HIPHEN just after my Ph.D., with the support of my 2 Ph.D. advisers, it was 7 years ago. The idea was to put in real life the knowledge I acquired during my Ph.D. The president of my jury, who was working for a private company, became my first customer. I then learned the business the hard way: investors would not believe in my initiative, so I had to self-finance HIPHEN through my customers. Today, I am very proud of what HIPHEN has become! We have 15 permanent employees, some of them are here for over 5 years, and we plan to hire more in 2021!
How does Hiphen innovate?
Alexis Comar: We are an AgTech company specializing in measuring plants with sensors and helping our customers digitize their activities. This activity is called high-throughput phenotyping.
Innovation is quite a blur concept; I guess helping established companies digitize their activities is an innovation!
More seriously, we offer services to help breeders select the cultivars of tomorrow, to help agro chemistry companies better evaluate their new product that is often a bio-control or biostimulant one, to help agro-industries predict the yield and the yield quality of the crops they will process, etc.…
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Alexis Comar: We are pretty lucky because the Agricultural sector is not that impacted by the crisis. We did lose some business due to confinement episodes and are very thankful for French state financial support.
But mainly the business was postponed, and today our perspectives are excellent.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Alexis Comar: Like every company, In 7 years, we did have some employees or some recruits that were not thriving in HIPHEN, and we had to stop the relationship. I am thankful that this does not happen often! We always learn from those painful episodes, but there is always more to learn as well. Today HIPHEN has an external human resource advisor, and we spend a lot of time making management. I think that we have a positive working environment at HIPHEN, and I will do my best to keep it that way.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Alexis Comar: At the beginning of the crisis, we speed up the launch of our new cloud-based customer platform: Cloverfield, and it helped us a lot. As an international company, we are used to working remotely. Our customers are in Australia, Europe, Africa, America, etc… so we cannot travel for each deliverable. But of course, we are always learning and improving, so the pandemic has led us to implement new internal tools to be more productive. We will keep improving in the future as our company relies on modern technologies. In the end, I think the crisis forced us to professionalize even more, and in the end, it is a good thing.
More than the customer relationship, our commercial strategy had to be rethought with the crisis. We are definitely finding more leads online today than 1 year ago.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Alexis Comar: We did have the chance to get a state-guaranteed loan. I think it was essential to keep my stress level at a reasonable height. In the end, everything turned out well for us, but when you are experiencing your first ever confinement and your clients are calling you one by one to “pause” their contract, you are getting extremely anxious. I will be forever grateful that my government stepped up and said: “We believe in you; we will support you going through this crisis.” And this is what we did!
Your final thoughts?
Alexis Comar: While the pandemic has changed many things in our life, Hiphen’s purpose remains the same, and we will continue to work together with our customers and the agricultural sector to build a better tomorrow. So, whatever the future holds us, Hiphen will be there to bring science and technology into reliable plant phenotyping solutions.