Tim Scanlan cannot stop making inventions
From huge groups to start-ups, this Englishman with the look of an inventor has been used to work in Sophia Antipolis. At 55, he has just founded e-acute.
After having passed a Bachelor of Physics and having begun studies as an engineer in computer science in Great-Britain, Tim Scanlan arrived in France in 1970. He married a Frenchwoman and worked in Paris for Steria. Then he moved to Nigeria to develop the computer system of a bank. During his hobbies, he invented the first program of bridge for computers. He entered in contact with Fidelity Electronics, an American firm that distributed the first electronic chess.Interested in his abilities, the firm suggested to him to create a branch firm in France. He accepted but at one condition: to choose the location. 'I chose Sophia Antipolis. In 1981, I settled there a four people team. I really saw the technopole's birth. There was not even one meter square to rent left for small firms!'Then, he joined another giant in games: Mattel (the Barbie's manufacturer), and once again he gathered together a new team in Sophia: 'We were about twenty people. Our mission was to develop a video games software'.First creation: 'Nice Ideas'Mattel which was confronted with severe competitors on the video games market wanted to close its French Riviera subsidiary. 'With some of the team, we decided to stand on our own two feet. I founded Nice Ideas. But the market became more and more difficult, a great deal of firms were working at a loss. We had to stop our activity. Fortunately, the thirteen members of the team could find another job: a great number of us was engaged by Digital Equipment then flourishing. I worked there for seven years as a software team manager. We invented a lot of things! For example, the first hypertext system, before Apple!''Our project, called 'Memex', was experimented at the Cern which is today considered as the place where the World Wide Web was born. But when our projects were interesting, the Americans automatically appropriated the ideas, which was not very motivating! We were at that moment working on a system that would recognize writing. DEC did not want to go further on that way, it was not its prime objective nor the heart of its activity. With three friends, we decided to try to evolve alone.The Papyrus adventureTim Scanlan founded Papyrus in 1993. He fought in order to demonstrate the importance of writing recognition as an interface, but the collapse of the Apple's Newton was not going to make things easier for him! In 1998, his firm was bought by the US firm Fonix which proposed him to come and work in the United States. But Tim did not want to quit the South of France, and Fonix did not follow Tim in his new passion: the recognition of Chinese characters. Then, he took back his liberty. 'I took out of my drawers my bridge game software: it was bought by an English firm and was published on the Psion 5.'Tim was convinced that writing recognition would be flourishing on the market of cellular phones. Then, he had his patent registered in December 1998. With his associate partner, David Buckler, he founded E-acute e-acute in July 1999.Still true to Sophia Antipolis, he has settled in a premise at the CICA. The young firm obtained the innovation prize in the Capital IT exhibition in Paris thanks to Octave, a writing system on cellular phones or PDA type Palm Pilot (see in the Start-ups file the article: e-acute: the small mobiles writing).A more favourable contextWith e-acute, Tim Scanlan is happy and looks at the past without bitterness, learning a lesson from his failures: 'At the beginning I became a creator in spite of myself; it was to react against the wish of Mattel to close the doors of the French Riviera subsidiary. It is almost sure that Papyrus would have had another history if I had been able to find at that moment the same investments than for e-acute. Our system was the most in advance in the whole world, but we did not have enough money. I knew what it was to be a small firm bought cheaply by a huge group. Nowadays, the environment is much more favourable for firms that want to start an activity: capital is more easy to find and when there is a purchase of a small firm by a bigger one, it can be much more positive.Confident as far as his new 'baby's' future is concerned, Tim seems to be very at ease in Sophia Antipolis. 'Here, we work a lot, but with less stress than in Paris or in London! Nice airport is very convenient, we can go everywhere in the world very easily.'He loves the quality of life in the South of France, even if he has not got enough time left to do his hobbies which are the piano, skiing, water-skiing. The region has got another advantage: its facilities dedicated to foreign people: 'My two daughters benefited from a bilingual education, going to the Collège International in Valbonne.He is happy to see that they are about to form another generation of Sophipolitan people: 'The oldest, after having made studies in England, came back to Sophia to work in a start-up that deals with marketing for the pharmaceutical sector.Contact: e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org