The Road to Growth: A CEO's Reflections on SESAMm’s Journey and Series B2 Funding

Picture of Sylvain Forté, CEO and Co-founder Sylvain Forté, CEO and Co-founder | March 7, 2023

SESAMm has secured Series B2 funding, and I want to share my excitement about this milestone and reflect on the journey.

After months of hard work from our team, we closed on a €35 million Series B2 funding round led by Elaia and Opera Tech Ventures (BNPP), which followed a €7.5M B1 round led by New Alpha and Carlyle in January 2021. That means we can now pursue the next phase of SESAMm’s growth. 

We want to accomplish many things with this investment, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of our investors, partners, and clients who helped us during this process. But before I talk about them and SESAMm’s future, I can’t help but think about how the company started.

Academic beginnings

It’s still hard to believe that SESAMm sprouted from an idea, an academic project, and three college students. I still remember Pierre Rinaldi asking me to develop the first algorithms that used social media to analyze financial markets while in school. Pierre worked at a bank trading desk while finishing his studies and doing a research internship at a behavioral finance lab, where the idea came up for the project. I studied engineering and was passionate about AI already, so I started coding, and the first project was born.

Eventually, this project outgrew my capabilities. The volume of data involved needed hardcore algorithms to process them, the kind of algorithms Florian Aubry could build. Florian was the best developer in my engineering school, and lucky for us, he was also my friend.

SESAMm founders
From left to right: COO Pierre Rinaldi, CEO Sylvain Forté, and CTO Florian Aubry.

Before long, we started renting servers, optimizing code, and building signals based chiefly on Twitter data, reproducing research papers that also used text data to generate sentiment indicators for financial markets. You could say that this project had become more than academic at this point. But it really only became a company once we won our first startup award.

The award that sparked the launch of a company

We participated in a competition organized by local incubator SEMIA with support from Société Générale as a way to gain credibility for the project, and would you know, we won. The award was monetary, and we could receive it on one condition: that we launch an actual company.

You probably already know that starting a business is a big decision, at least it was for Pierre, Florian, and me. After all, we were still in school, trying to finish our degrees and looking to start new careers. Our choices could be life-altering. Pierre, for instance, planned to take a full-time job at the bank he was working at.

In the end, we chose SESAMm. Pierre didn’t take the job at the bank. I did my end-of-study internship at SESAMm, which allowed me to focus on the company 100% while finishing my degree. And Florian dedicated all his time and energy to the startup, too. In other words, we were all in, and our school project had officially become a business.

Pressure to build

Setting up a company was relatively easy. Building a business, as it turns out, is way harder. How would we take SESAMm’s product and put it to work? Pierre’s contacts, that’s how.

One by one, Pierre called on everyone he knew from school that worked in trading, offering them a chance to be the first to test the latest AI innovation: using social media for financial analysis. Back then, Pierre had more of a sales role. He’s now COO and head of HR, in case you were wondering.

Our first client was a trader from London. He put $50,000 into a strategy based on SESAMm’s signals. With our signals, the trader grew his portfolio with such performance that he began to raise capital, including for a hedge fund. Ultimately, he was trading $50 million from the strategy. It was the kind of success and track record we needed in the finance industry to take SESAMm to the next level.

Compelled to move…literally

Having demonstrated success, an investment firm, a venture firm called Fonds Venture Numérique Lorrain, reached out to us with interest in investing in SESAMm’s first round of funding. But they had two conditions:

  1. SESAMm must move to Metz, a startup-friendly hub in the Lorraine region in France.
  2. SESAMm must seek additional funding from other investors.

At the time, SESAMm was based in Strasbourg because that’s where Florian and I studied. And for all intents and purposes, we hadn’t planned on moving. 

Also, aside from Pierre reaching out to school acquaintances to try our solution, we had never pitched anyone to fund our company before. Pierre, Florian, and I faced a serious choice and challenge.

What did we do, and how did we fare?

We reached out to business angels and pitched numerous times while continuing to work on the product and starting to plan the first recruitments. We learned a lot during this initial period about how to structure a company and present it to investors. At the time, startups were less common in the region and using online content from YC and other accelerators was invaluable for us.

SESAMm’s headquarters is now in Metz, and we currently have offices in Paris, London, Tunis, New York, and Tokyo. We’ve also diversified our technology and clientele, particularly in ESG and corporate spaces. In other words, we faced the challenge, moved our headquarters, and grew and evolved a lot!


Signage at SESAMm’s first office
Our first sign, our first footprint, our first home office in Metz.

Series B2 funding round challenges

That brings us to the recent past. We’ve grown our company so much that it was time for another funding round, and the timing wasn’t the best. Our teamwork and ability to communicate effectively across regions and cultures were vital in tackling this latest fundraising round. We decided to run the entire process in-house as it was important to us to not only demonstrate our ability to do so but also to build our own VC relationships.

Moreover, we’ve had a unique previous fundraising experience. Having been funded by FinTech venture capital firm NewAlpha Asset Management and a large private equity firm like Carlyle Group Inc. in earlier rounds helped us improve our processes and standardize our communications. We felt ready for this challenge.

Frankly speaking, though, between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, startup funding had become a much bigger challenge. Things weren’t popping like they were a couple of years ago, so we needed to be cautious and conservative yet bold and compelling. Regardless, we dug deep and stuck with the plan, with a focus on our numbers and our vision. 

To achieve our goal, we created an internal team, onboarded two advisors, and created a scalable process. The internal team included SESAMm’s C-suite: CEO, COO, CTO, CMO, and CDO. Our advisors provided guidance around strategy, gave feedback, and supplied operational help when needed. And from our pitch deck variations to our storage and sharing policies, we established a fine-tuned communication and project management process to keep us on task and on time. It was a good process, and it really helped us manage things efficiently while maintaining control over day-to-day operations. I can’t say it enough: process is always the key.

Fundraising wasn’t easy, but the process was worthwhile. And all this to say that I couldn’t be happier to announce that SESAMm has wrapped up its Series B2 funding round. With this money, we plan to further expand into the U.S. and Asian markets and continue SESAMm’s exponential growth. We’ll also seek key talent to sustain this growth and support the development of our AI technology. 

Pleased, grateful, and excited for what comes next

Today, SESAMm is a healthy and fast-growing company. And as COO, CTO, and CEO, respectively, Pierre, Florian, and I are now more than a scrappy group of students. We’re a crew with the support of many contributors, consisting of more than 100 employees across many offices and cultures. It’s because of the teamwork and collaboration that SESAMm is where it is today. And I’m immensely grateful for all our team’s effort and the tremendous support we get from clients, investors, and advisors every day.

SESAMmers gathered for a company retreat
Paris, France, September 2022: Many of the 100+ SESAMmers gathered for a company retreat.

Thank you for being a part of our journey, and see you at SESAMm’s next milestone. Cheers!

Read the press release: “SESAMm Raises €35M in Series B2 to Grow its ESG and Sentiment Analysis Business.”