Sigfox sale gets delayed to April 21 – ‘a week to convince the government,’ says UnaBiz
The Commercial Court of Toulouse in France has delayed its decision on the sale of Sigfox until April 21. The decision, originally scheduled for today (April 14), gives Singapore-based UnaBiz, the long-time front-runner to buy ailing IoT firm, another week to appeal against the French Ministry of Economy’s decision to effectively block its bid, and keeps the contest as a two-horse race, provisionally, with engineering firm OTEIS France.
No explanation was given by the court; the UnaBiz contingent, plus Sigfox’s own management and staff, which have backed the UnaBiz offer, said they had received no word from the tribunal. The official document says only that the court is awaiting on “a document” (“le tribunal est en attente d’un document”). It is unclear, and perhaps doubtful, whether the document in question is the IEF authorisation that would clear the deal for UnaBiz as a foreign entity.
IEF (Foreign Investments) approval is required for non-French firms to enter the country via acquisitions. The main protagonists, looking to make the UnaBiz deal stick, cried foul yesterday that the Ministry of the Economy had – without explanation, also – forcefully delayed IEF consent until after the second round of the French presidential election, scheduled for April 24 – until 10 days after the court in Toulouse was to give its verdict (April 14).
They suggested the sale had been had been “censored”, effectively, by the Ministry of the Economy (‘Bercy’) to avoid inflaming the nationalistic political narrative being pushed by ‘Marine’ Le Pen, as candidates are set to about to enter the final week of campaigning. Henri Bong, chief executive at UnaBiz, issued a public letter to president Emmanuel Macron yesterday to appeal for the Élysée to intervene, and to ‘put Sigfox first’ (to paraphrase the letter’s content).
Bong’s team had requested the court delay its final decision until after April 24. As it stands, it gives the firm – which has, it might be noted, done an excellent PR job with the French tech press in particular – a week’s grace. Bong remains optimistic, he said. “Although the new deadline remains a little short compared to the second round of the elections, it leaves us an additional week to be heard by Bercy and the Élysée. Let’s continue our mobilization.”
He told Enterprise IoT Insights: “It is a good sign, as it shows the court has heard the employees, the ecosystem, and us, as well. It gives us a chance to convince the government. No explanation was given but we were the only ones asking for an extension as we would have been eliminated if a decision had been taken today. We would have preferred longer, but we also understand that it is difficult for the staff to be in a waiting position.”
Antoine Maïer, spokesperson for the Social and Economic Committee (CSE), representing Sigfox staff, stated: “The CSE does not know the reasons for the delay. If it has been granted so the Ministry of Economy can complete the [IEF] investigation, at the request of UnaBiz, then it is very good news. This would serve the employees’ objective – to allow the Commercial Court to make a real choice between the three offers [on the table], and not only on two.”
The third candidate, referenced here, is either LoRaWAN vendor Actility or UK venture firm Greybull Capital. The suggestion, implicit in the CSE response, is one of these two has since exited the process. However, the CSE’s verdict on the four companies (including both of these two) previously in the running, rated both the Actility and Greybull bids as “unfavourable” for different financial reasons.
Of the others, the CSE “reserved” judgement on OTEIS France, perceived as strategically distant but financially sound, and found the UnaBiz offer to be “favourable”. Sigfox has around 180 staff in France, plus a similar number outside of France that are indirectly dependent on the outcome of its sale. For its part, a spokesperson for Sigfox said: “We wait for the judge’s decision next week. In the meantime we continue to run business as usual.”