When companies plan mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the vision tech area, they often approach Vision Ventures GmbH & Co. KG for advice. Gabriele Jansen is the founder and managing director of the company. At present, she is a jury member of the LASER World of PHOTONICS Awards 2019. In the interview, she talks about the consolidation trend in the industry, success factors for company takeovers, important growth areas for imaging, and her impressions from working in the jury.
Gabriele Jansen: Certainly. As an M&A boutique, Vision Ventures specializes in the vision tech area, in other words, in companies that work in machine vision, computer vision, embedded vision, and also photonics and optical measuring in the automation environment. As an M&A expert, we work together with owners of vision companies and advise firms that are interested in taking over a vision company. We handle the complete project management process of the sale for the owners. Even during this phase, they can continue to focus on the success of their company. With the buyers, we first develop a vision-specific acquisition strategy. When we have identified suitable targets, we actively support them in purchasing the company.
Jansen: My background is in the vision industry. For about 20 years, I worked in the management teams of vision companies and also owned a firm in this area. In 2012, it was obvious that, sooner or later, there would be consolidation in the industry. Both parties, the sellers and buyers, require M&A support that traditional investment banks do not offer. Vision tech is a very heterogeneous area from image sensors to turnkey systems, from factory automation to autonomous vehicles, and from consulting engineers to multinational corporations. The trick is to bring the right partners together at the right time. We now know that our technology and industry expertise and our large international network of vision players are extremely valuable for our clients.
Jansen: The vision tech industry is characterized by a large number of small and medium-sized companies. There are hundreds of them in Germany alone. Most of these companies do not have the financial clout or the management resources that are needed to achieve international success. Growth by merging with similar companies or by buying suitable companies in the supply chain is an excellent strategy. Imaging and sensor technology have also become established as key technologies in automation, whether in Industry 4.0 or for mobile devices. This makes the market very attractive for big players. Consolidation will be unavoidable for companies to survive in the competition.
Jansen: The most important factor for the success of a company transaction is, of course, that the partners are a good fit for each other. This applies to the technologies, which should complement each other, the products, which complete a portfolio, or access to markets that enable economies of scale. But it also applies to the cultural compatibility of the teams and companies. Sometimes, the first step towards a company acquisition is a successful strategic alliance in which the partners can get to know each other better. Many vision tech companies are managed by their founders, usually by people with a technical background. For buyers it is important to understand that the most important things for these sellers are the future of “their” company and protection of their teams’ jobs. These are the most important decision-making criteria in addition to the purchase price. On the other hand, it is important for sellers to understand that buyers base their evaluation of the company on its contribution to the future profitability of their organization. Sellers must demonstrate this contribution.
Jansen: Imaging is a key technology for many industries. In the classic areas of application, imaging will continue to grow by around 10 percent per annum. An end to this development is not in sight. But in addition to this, there are technical developments that offer much more growth potential. Think about embedded vision modules in combination with Industry 4.0/IoT. Smaller size, less electricity consumption, and lower costs for the components allow integration in almost every machine and in virtually every stage of production. Where there are currently single or double-digit numbers of vision systems integrated in current production lines, this could become hundreds of systems like this in the medium term. We are talking about every area of industry here – from cars to frozen pizzas. Use of learning technologies is another dynamic growth area. In many applications, analysis and interpretation of image data no longer have to be carried out by algorithms that were developed especially for that purpose. Instead, a comparison of good/bad examples is sufficient. This expands the areas of application and also reduces the technical inhibition level for users. Autonomous machines are another major growth area in the future. Robots, drones, vehicles, or vacuum cleaners – they all need vision systems for autonomous navigation, identification of objects, interaction with humans, and, last but not least, inspection of the specific work results of the device.
Jansen: I have been very impressed by the quality of the submissions and the innovative strength of the products and developments that have been presented. I am very happy that LASER World of PHOTONICS offers these awards and gives companies the opportunity to show their innovations to a larger audience.