Raphaël Gindrat and Anne Mellano came up with the idea of a start-up while they were working on an EPFL research project. The academic institution had just been granted the ability to test a small fleet of autonomous shuttles on campus for six months. “At the time, everyone was focused on how these self-driving cars worked, and no one thought about how transport companies were going to manage their vehicle fleets,” said Gindrat, CEO. “And EPFL was going to receive these vehicles. Someone had to manage them.” And so in January 2014, Bestmile was created in Lausanne. It has since opened offices in San Francisco and London to expand international partnerships.
The start-up has developed software that can coordinate and optimise trips made by a fleet of autonomous vehicles in a defined area, such as an airport control tower. This innovative tool is key in developing smart cities, where the use of resources and services are optimised with the help of new technologies. CarPostal was interested in Bestmile’s software. The first commercial contract between the two companies was to equip the autonomous buses crossing Sion’s city centre with Bestmile's technology. Others have since followed suit, including public transit companies from Geneva and Fribourg and Swiss Federal Railways for a mobility scheme in Zug, as well as a project in the Cossonay region.
Global industry leaders – such as RATP, Keolis and First Transit – have called upon the Vaud-based start-up for use around the world. Recently Bestmile entered into a partnership with Alto, a US-based ridehailing service that competes with Uber and uses human drivers. While its focus remains managing autonomous vehicles, Bestmile has begun to adapt its platform to include conventional transport systems. “We need to support this transition,” said Gindrat, “because it could take anywhere from five to 20 years depending on the country.”
In 2016, a first round of financing raised $3.5 million, allowing the company to expand from five to 20 employees. The following year, a new round of financing – $11 million – made it possible for Bestmile to grow to 55 employees, approximately 10 of which are spread around the globe focused on commercial development, primarily in the United States and Asia.
For Gindrat, the Vaud region is a significant talent pool, due to its universities and state-of-the-art research institutes. As many of the investors who have supported Bestmile since 2016 are Swiss, the CEO believes staying in the region is a good idea. “Switzerland isn't a car country – it's known more for its quality transport systems. We can work with that idea.”
In spring 2017, Bestmile was awarded the distinction of Scale-Up Vaud, which supports start-ups with an average annual job growth of over 20% that are seeking to grow internationally. This recognition has made it possible for Bestmile to exchange advice and best practices with other members of the network.
«Economic development bodies in Vaud were a great help. They
completely understood how a start-up can become more isolated after a few years.”»
Raphaël GindratCEO, Bestmile
In the future, the scale-up aims to develop collaborations directly with auto manufacturers. “Most of them will launch their own transport companies using their own vehicle fleets. We want to be their chosen partner when they decide to take the first step.” In June 2018, Bestmile left its EPFL location, moving into a larger space on Avenue de Rhodanie in Lausanne. It's leaving the nest to take flight.
In its first few years, Bestmile received support from SPEI and Innovaud. The SPEI financed the recruitment of qualified R&D employees and participation fees for international events. Innovaud provided a coach and supported Bestmile in obtaining a FIT TECH GROWTH loan from the Foundation for Technological Innovation (FIT). “Economic development bodies in Vaud were a great help,” said Raphaël Gindrat, CEO of Bestmile. “They completely understood how a start-up can become more isolated after a few years. The Scale-Up Vaud recognition was a new form of aid for us, in terms of exchanges and networking.”