And then there were four (and then two) – bidders bail as UnaBiz, OTEIS await Sigfox fate
An update on the Sigfox takeover, taken from largely from a report in La Tribune Toulouse, the local business paper in Toulouse, France, where the seven candidates offering to rescue the ailing French IoT firm had their bids reviewed at the city’s commercial court on Tuesday (april 5). Except there were not nine bids to be reviewed; only four candidates showed up, with four withdrawing from the scramble, and one only interested in the French network business.
The half-time verdict is that UnaBiz remains the favourite, as it has from the start, but that its foreign ownership, in Singapore, may let another candidate in, as reported previously in Enterprise IoT Insights. The companies to bail on the project are French ‘mechatronics’ company Groupe Zekat, citing the uncertain economic climate, Sigfox operator iWire, which has a €4 million debt with Sigfox already, and French IT consultancy Sentiens, which it turns out is owned by controversial Sigfox co-founder Ludovic Le Moan.
Le Moan was ousted from Sigfox in February; his ‘other’ (newer?) Toulouse-based outfit, it seems, could not bankroll a Sigfox takeover, in the end, after a funding round failed to materialise on time. A fourth, the Buffet Consortium, the investment vehicle of South African property magnate Jonathan Beare, appears to have quit the process, also; there is no explanation for its absence in La Tribune, which quotes CBF Associés, the legal firm appointed by the Toulouse Commercial Court to handle the administrative receivership process.
It has, to all intents and purposes, vanished from the contest. The other problem candidate is Heliot Europe, which is only interested in the “subsidiary” Sigfox SAS (rather than the main Sigfox SA) business under the hammer – and so is not vying to keep Sigfox alive as a technology, actually. Which leaves just four: Singapore-based UnaBiz, plus France-based LoRaWAN vendor Actility, France-based engineering firm OTEIS France, and UK venture firm Greybull Capital.
La Tribune reports that French law dictates the management team at Sigfox can no longer express its opinion on the matter; however, the Social and Economic Committee (CSE), representing employees at Sigfox, are quite able to give their view, and on Tuesday cast “two unfavourable opinions, one reserved opinion, [one] favourable opinion”. The two negative opinions are for Actility and Greybull Capital; both are rated by the CSE as a “big financial risk”.
Actilty, like Sigfox itself, is not profitable, it protests; meanwhile, Greybull Capital (the Sigfox management team’s preferred candidate, it appears, and a firm with a reputation as a “vulture fund” preying on distressed firms) has constructed a €50 million offer from private and public investments (“one euro of private funds coupled with one euro of public”), making it a €25 million deal in real terms, and one Greybull has not been prepared to budge on, “particularly on the social aspect”.
CSE reserved judgement on OTEIS France, perceived as strategically distant but financially sound. The funds for the Sigfox purchase are available, reports La Tribune, but the strategy is “too optimistic” for the CSE, and plans major job cuts at all levels. Which leaves just one: UnaBiz, which knows the Sigfox system, as well as the French system – on the grounds Henri Bong, its co-founder, originally helped build Sigfox from the inside and the out, taking it into Asia in the first place. Support for UnaBiz from the OGUN Alliance of Sigfox operators is noted.
UnaBiz, reports La Tribune, is proposing to take on 110 employees from Sigfox’s total headcount of 180 in France. It has offered €25 million for both Sigfox SA and Sigfox SAS. “By far, Unabiz is the most complete and balanced offer – and if there were to be a second favourite, it would be OTEIS,” said CBF Associés in the La Tribune report. But there is a holdup; the decision of the Toulouse Commercial Court, expected on April 14, is to also be ratified by the Ministry of the Economy, which might take the (non-French) provenance of the UnaBiz offer into consideration.
Which could, in the end, make OTEIS France the company tasked with rescuing Sigfox.