From the crisis to life afterwards, three companies give their views

The economic and health crisis related to the Covid-19 pandemic has totally overturned the everyday life of the companies of the Pays Basque. What with reorganisation, resorting to assistance mechanisms, and sheer determination, three of them talk to us about this unprecedented year and their ambitions for the future.

Tekniaero seizes opportunities to bounce back

A sub-contractor to the aeronautics industry, manufacturer of parts for production aircraft, Tekniaero has managed to come through the upheavals of this particularly difficult year for the sector. “The crisis occurred in our fourth year. That is less serious because we had already been through the major stages of creating a business. Had it happened one year earlier, Covid would have finished us off,” states Stéphane Azcué, Head of Tekniaero, a company located on the Technocité Technology Park in Bayonne. “When the summer lockdown was announced, we were in a period of strong growth, with several staff appointments under way and a dozen people in temporary posts that we hoped to give contracts to. We had to reduce the number of temporary staff and resort to short-time working. After a month’s closure, which gave us time to put health measures in place, we set up all-day working and a 30-hour working week, plus 5 hours of short-time working. That enabled us to lighten the structure and spread our orders over time, which our customers accepted.” 

From April, Tekniaero requested that its loans be deferred for six months and took out its first PGE (state-guaranteed loan), followed by a second at the end of the year. This enabled it to continue the business and invest in the future, by recruiting several trainees from September. “We take training very seriously, and 35% of the staff at Tekniaero are trainees. This is important because we know there will be a recovery. If we don’t train now our colleagues of tomorrow, boiler-makers, machinists, aeronautical welders, we will find ourselves with a problem in the future.” 

The company is also focusing on its development, by seizing the opportunities offered by the relaunch plan. “We were not quick enough to position ourselves for the first call for projects, but we are working hard on a dossier to present in early 2021, in order to benefit from the relaunch plan. We are implementing a project of diversifying and extending our production capacity.” While Tekniaero originally envisaged this new stage over the next three years, the relaunch plan could bring it forward somewhat. “This professional diversification is something our customers expect. It also offers great training and employment prospects for the company,” highlights Stéphane Azcué, who hopes to increase the number of colleagues from some thirty to around sixty within two to three years. 

Vracoop continues to develop

Created in 2017 within the ESTIA incubator, established at Izarbel in Bidart, the young start-up Vracoop develops solutions to facilitate the sale of bulk produce. What are its flagship products? Cash registers with an ingenious integrated balance system as well as eco-designed hoppers and bulk bins. Vracoop has pioneered loose-product sales in France, with only 15 shops in France when the business began (as against 250 in 2020 and double that number planned for 2021), and the company is riding a rapidly-expanding movement which it is committed to supporting.So the year 2020 in no way held back the activity of this young start-up now established at the Créaluz incubator, in the Jalday area of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. “We have recorded excellent progress despite lockdown”, says Charlotte Teixido, Head of Business Development at Vracoop. Of course, the social and community business was impacted by the health crisis, but that was mainly reflected in orders being postponed. “We were at a standstill for the two months of the first lockdown but business picked up again after that. We were able to set up short-time working in April and May, but it wasn’t necessary in the second lockdown, when we worked full-time.” And with good reason, as bulk groceries are among the essential businesses. “We even fitted out three shops that opened during the second lockdown,” added Charlotte Teixido. 

To compensate for the fall in turnover in the second half-year, Vracoop took out a PGE. “That loan acted as a cushion, a buffer that allowed us to continue our development. On the 1st of November, we took on two new staff and we’re planning for another at the beginning of January 2021. We also made progress with new solutions, such as click & collect, which took off this year. The bulk market is really expanding now. Our aim is to develop other solutions to make our contribution to the waste-reduction effort.” 

Solikend develops its offer

A start-up located in the incubator of the Izarbel Technology Park at Bidart, Solikend was really taking off when the Covid-19 crisis brought it to an abrupt halt. It should be no surprise that this social and community company, with a unique concept of reserving hotel rooms for the benefit of charities, felt the full force of the collapse in the hotel business. “It was the worst time of our development for that to happen,” recalls Yoann Mangin, Manager of Solikend. Just when the web platform for community night stays was attracting more and more attention (award winner for sustainable tourism and of the Digital InPulse competition) and the portfolio of partner hotels was seeing strong growth (120 hotels in France to date), the young start-up had to slow down its activities from the month of March. “We cut back our expenditure and operating costs as much as possible to turn the corner.” 

Although Solikend, being in its first year of business, was not eligible for a PGE, in the absence of a turnover figure for the previous year, it was nevertheless able to find support from the Nouvelle Aquitaine fund for very small businesses, financed by the Region and the Communauté Pays Basque. “We managed to get an interest-free loan that helped us finance the expenses necessary for relaunching the business: recruiting a versatile new member of staff and developing our web platform,” adds Yoann Magnin. That financial boost enabled Solikend to work on new BtoB oriented offers (works councils, business incentive gifts, staff leaving presents, etc.) to be launched in early 2021. “We made strong strategic choices, in the absence of a general public customer base. The year 2021 will allow us to roll out these new offers, hoping that the context will be more favourable.” While waiting, Solikend is one of 10 businesses (out of 186 applicants) selected in October by Atout France under the call for projects of ‘Innovative tourist solutions post-the Covid-19 epidemic’. 

That sounds good… 

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