One is an economist by training, the other is an engineer. Pierre Bellagambi and Simon Lillamand are two childhood friends who made mosquito control a thriving business. When you spend all your holidays in the Camargue, mosquito bites, in fact, you know the problem well. But it was after the publication of a scientific article by Dr Brigitte Poulin, Head of the Ecosystems Department of the Tour du Valat Research Institute in Arles, that they are concerned by the catastrophic impact on the environment of current large-scale mosquito control methods. Even today, Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. Israelensis) is the most widely used bacterio-insecticide in mosquito control in Europe and around the world.
When Bti replaced chemical insecticides forty years ago, it was a step forward for the environment. However, the reckless use of Bti, especially in protected wetlands that were not previously mosquito repellent, is clearly a step backwards,
notes the scientist in a bibliographic review undertaken by an international research team composed of ecologists, ecotoxicologists, microbiologists and economists from four European institutions constituting the most current and comprehensive assessment of the impact of Bti on the environment. We learn that reducing non-target mosquitoes and midges, which are important food s, can impact birds and amphibians. Although Bti is currently the most selective and least toxic agent available in mosquito control, the authors call for monitoring of the persistence and effects of Bti in ecosystems as well as a socio-economic assessment, carried out by independent organizations. and without conflicts of interest. While waiting for this evaluation, they recommend alternative methods of controlling mosquitoes such as repellents, natural predators or mosquito traps.
The two young Arlésiens understand that it is urgent to work on a clean solution for the environment, especially as the invasion of the tiger mosquito spreads in France. Originally from Asia, this diptera arrived in France in the South-East in 2004 a priori by boat or by plane, through the transport of goods where eggs could be found. Very adaptable, it continues to proliferate, to the point that it is today present in 70% of the metropolitan territory. A mosquito to be taken much more seriously than the one that causes a simple gene because this insect can also be a vector of infectious diseases.
To trap mosquitoes, you must first know them. Annabelle Grelier’s report to one of the co-founders of Qista, who is keen to protect biodiversity.
Mimic human breathing
In 2014, Simon Lillamand and Pierre Bellagambi created Techno BAM (for “Borne Anti-Moustiques”), which then specialized in the design of an eco-responsible mosquito control solution. Two years later, they succeeded in developing a trapping device which he called Qista.
Protected by two patents, the technology involves dispersing recycled carbon dioxide to mimic human respiration, which attracts female mosquitoes (males do not bite). At the same time, she diffuses an olfactory lure to simulate body odor, in fact lactic acid. The device attracts the female mosquito which, once nearby, is sucked into a trap from which she cannot get out.
Male mosquitoes and other insects, bees, butterflies and other ladybugs are not attracted to the trap and can continue to play their role in their environment.
To develop their mosquito repellent terminal, the two business leaders are working in collaboration with the Tour du Valat Research Institute and the Camargue Regional Park where they will test their technology. Very quickly they get good results and the studies reveal that the number of bites has decreased by 88% within a radius of 30 to 60 meters. In one month, the terminal captures up to 7,800 mosquitoes of 12 different species per day, which lowers the reproductive cycle of these insects, which lay nearly 200 eggs in 48 hours.
It is not just a trap but an anti-vector prevention tool. The terminal also offers a real monitoring system in real time thanks to geolocated sensors which analyze the volume of mosquitoes captured and the current and future levels of infestations. These data are then crossed with the meteorological and environmental changes in the immediate vicinity of each device. The competent authorities, informed of the levels of infestation, can then quantify the mosquito populations in order to improve and anticipate their movements in order to prioritize the actions to be implemented in order to optimize the capture.
“The first terminals were installed in the Camargue in the commune of Le Sambuc in 2016 and the new municipality elected by Patrick de Carolis in Arles renewed the contract with Qista“, explains Pierre Raviole, his deputy in charge of agriculture, water and major risks.
On the village square or near the primary school, the terminals play their role for the greater tranquility of the inhabitants. It is therefore quite natural that we made this choice, firstly because they are local children but in addition it is the only effective alternative to Bit. We continue to spread it, but much less and in any case we cannot spray it above the villages. In the long term, we would like to no longer use this type of product at all.
More than 50 communities have followed suit and many cities are now equipped: La Garde, La Valette-du-Var, Le Pradet, Carpentras, Toulon, Talence, Chassieu, Mions, Marseille, Toulouse, Saint-Paul- lès-Dax, City of the Port on Reunion Island or Hyères, which has not hesitated to cover its town with more than 350 operating terminals.
Present on 4 continents
Other studies have been carried out, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, and show that machines abundantly capture tiger mosquitoes there.
Qista also deployed 104 units in Kaolack in Senegal last October, after winning the call for projects “Innovative solutions for sustainable cities in Africa”, organized by the General Directorate of the Treasury in view of the Africa-France 2020 summit. The machines protect areas infested by malaria, and are jointly monitored by Qista teams and Senegalese scientific services. The company continues its efforts to expand also in vector control in other African countries, Asia and the United States.
The deployment of Qista mosquito repellent terminals crossed borders and the start-up very quickly became a rapidly developing production plant for which global warming is a reality which results in ever-increasing export order forms. . The Provencal company based in Senas, in the Bouches-du-Rhône, employs 30 employees in 2021 against 16 in 2019, they will be 65 at least by 2022, projects Simon Lillamand.
We carry out 20% of the activity abroad. In two to four years, 70% of our activity will be exported. We achieved 3.5 million turnover in 2020, against 2 million in 2019. We are targeting 35 million in 3 years. We double our growth every year thanks to the partners and investors who support us.
Qista has already opened up its capital to Air Liquide and TDH, Thierry Dassault’s investment structure, but other funding rounds should allow the company to develop its French manufacturing technology based on recycled material and solar panels as well as its sales network for individuals in France and abroad.
Qista fully intends to continue to rely on the talents of French research. Last December, the two business leaders were among the 21 “Territoires d’Industrie” laureates in PACA under the France Relance Plan. Before knowing the previous year the recognition on the international market by receiving at CES 2018 in Las Vegas 2 Innovations Awards in the categories Smart Cities and Tech for a Better World.
This support will allow them to continue to develop the Qista Lab, an in-house molecular biology laboratory, to further research and learn more about the risk of the mosquito spreading and the diseases it carries. A limitless and important field of exploration since the mosquito kills each year by transmitting dengue, chikungunya, malaria, yellow fever or even Zika.
Undoubtedly, Qista belongs to this new generation of French business leaders concerned about climate change and the protection of the planet which combine economy and ecology. Of the one able to show the way to follow …