20 Jun 2012
Oregon-based laser system vendor Electro Scientific Industries buys the French company in an all-cash deal.
EOLITE Systems, the venture-backed fiber laser specialist that is based at the “City of Photonics” development hub near Bordeaux, France, has been acquired by the US company Electro Scientific Industries (ESI) for $10 million in cash.
The EOLITE technology and product line, which is largely based on rod-shaped fiber lasers that were initially developed at the University of Bordeaux, generates high-energy pulses and is suitable for delivering third-harmonic emission in the ultraviolet region for high-precision material processing applications.
The company’s lasers are now used in engraving, glass processing and solar cell production, and in recent years EOLITE had opened sales offices in both Germany and the US – coincidentally in Portland, Oregon, the same city in which ESI is headquartered.
ESI specializes in laser manufacturing systems for microtechnology applications, for example wafer scribers and dicers used in LED chip production, as well as flat-panel display repairing and semiconductor device processing.
The company says that EOLITE’s technology will provide it with the ability to customize lasers to specific applications, for differentiated capability and at a lower cost. Nick Konidaris, ESI’s president and CEO, said in a statement announcing the deal:
“Leading-edge laser capability is key for ESI to meet the challenges in state-of-the-art materials processing. By combining the higher power amplification capabilities of EOLITE with the flexible pulse technology from our PyroPhotonics division we strengthen our ability to provide innovative solutions to our customers.”
ESI added that it intends to continue to market both the PyroPhotonics and EOLITE laser products into the commercial market for solar, microelectronics, and industrial applications.
Originally known as “Femlight” when it started up in 2004, the company changed its name to EOLITE Systems in January 2007, following a €1.3 million first round of venture financing.
After launching Q-switched rod-type fiber lasers commercially, the company then attracted a second funding round worth €2.8 million in October 2008, and was also involved in the European Commission's "Leadership in Fibre Laser Technologies (LIFT)" project.
EOLITE’s venture backers included Bluebird Venture, Turenne Capital and Idinvest Partners (the latter was a subsidiary of the German bank Allianz until May 2010). Bluebird Venture was set up by Pierre Potet, originally a research engineer specializing in infrared imaging at the French Ministry of Defence.
In 1989, Potet had founded Cedip Infrared Systems, which was subsequently listed on the Euronext Paris stock exchange before being sold to FLIR Systems for $95 million in 2008. That exit looks to have been much more lucrative than the EOLITE deal, with investors having ploughed at least €5 million into the company.
In an interview published by optics.org in April 2007, EOLITE’s CTO and general manager François Salin had noted how much easier it was for university research to be commercialized successfully in the US than in France:
“The main difference between commercialization in the US and in France is that in the US there is no wall between the university and private companies,” Salin said. “This means that if you have an idea at the university then there is a real chance that you can take it up to the market. If you are successful, there is the option to sell your company and return to the university – you don’t have to choose your camp.”
Last month, Nasdaq-listed ESI reported fourth-quarter sales for fiscal 2012 of $45.5 million – down sharply from the prior year because of the cyclical slowdown in the market for semiconductor capital equipment.
However, orders also rose strongly, with CEO Konidaris anticipating a “gradual improvement in capital spending on LED, DRAM and passive component capacity”.
Having trimmed its operations but maintained a healthy cash pile on its balance sheet during that cyclical downturn, ESI had put itself in a strong position to make acquisitions.