What is the impact of the coronavirus on the activities of start-up Phasya? Will start-ups actually find it more difficult to attract investment due to this crisis? Read the interview with Jérôme Wertz, CEO of Phasya, and member of Agoria's Transport & Mobility Club.

Are you still locked up at home?

At this moment I’m at the Phasya office, because there are some administrative tasks to do. But all our team members are at home, except when they need to use some specific equipment.

Can you explain what Phasya is doing and your role within the company?

Phasya is specialized in software for monitoring physical and cognitive states, such as drowsiness, distraction, stress or cognitive load that impact human performance, well-being, safety and user experience. Our main business today is automotive but we also have projects in aviation. I’m cofounder and CEO of the company.

You’re focusing on the software, you’re not developing hardware, is that correct?

Yes, we don’t develop any hardware.

Can you explain your connections to the automotive industry? Will you license your software, or integrate it?

Our software today is mainly of interest for driver monitoring systems in the automotive industry.  Notably because of the new European regulations for safety. Our software for drowsiness has most interest, but we also have contracts for stress and cognitive load monitoring. These are still in an early stage in the industry, but there is all sorts of interest. Not only for safety, but also for well-being and user experience.

Regarding the coronavirus, you already mentioned that normally you and your colleagues are working from home. Can you explain a bit what the impact of the virus is your business?

There are 2 main impacts on your business. First in terms of internal research and development.  Because we started data acquisition in March in a driving simulator and in a vehicle on the real roads, with external participants. We planned to do this in March and April but we had to stop. We invested a lot in this and it was a key investment for this year. Postponing this data acquisition has a huge impact on our internal development roadmap.

Secondly the direct business in the automotive industry experiences a huge impact. There are lot of automotive companies that are slowing down their business. We have some projects that are being postponed or even cancelled. 

We are especially worried what the impact will be in several months from now.

There are still some running projects, because strategic and mandatory projects need to be carried on.  But as we are also working on innovation projects with the automotive industry, some of these projects are cancelled.

Last year you had a very nice recognition, you won the CLEPA Innovation Award.  Can you explain what the result of that was?  What has been the benefit of winning this award?

Indeed we won the award with our software for driving monitoring. It highlighted our main differentiators on the market. It helped us to get more interest from the automotive industry and to promote our innovations.  The award resulted in some contracts related to several of our software modules. For instance, at CES the company Veoneer used several of our software modules in seven vehicles for demonstration purposes. Also now we have signed a first contract with another automotive Tier-1 which is now using our software modules for demonstration purposes for OEM meetings.

You mentioned CES and are quite active with traveling and presenting at conferences. When do you expect to be able to travel again? What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I expect that can travel again starting from September.  As a small company, we don’t participate in so many events per year. So by chance we had CES in January. Our other major event, which is Eurosatory for the defense sector, has been cancelled.

I got some signals from our other club members, that they expect that startups will have more difficulties to raise investments.  Do you expect this also?

That’s a very good question.  There are still some investment opportunities in this crisis.  It’s clear that the automotive industry will focus on its priorities. They first have to manage the crisis situation and to stay alive. So they will think twice more in case of new investment.  At the end they also need to take about how they will organize themselves after the crisis, to be less sensitive to such situations.  So probably strategic investment will remain as usual, but other, more they will be more careful on spending money on more  “nice-to-have” topics.

I don’t think there will be big difference for important projects but at the end there will be less investment.

It’s been a very interesting talk.  I understood that the coming months will be though, but you stay committed to develop your technologies and putting it in vehicles very soon.  The CLEPA award is a nice recognition for the fact that your technology is really state of the art, and I wish you a lot of success in the coming months.