Founders Fridays is a new StartupAmsterdam initiative that showcases local entrepreneurs who help strengthen our ecosystem. By inviting founders to answer a few questions, we want to shine a light on our ecosystem’s most inspirational stories and role models. We hope that by providing startup founders with a space to share their insights and experience, we’ll all learn and grow together.
This week we spoke to Adil Ayi, the co-founder of Omnia. Omnia optimises office use during the post-pandemic transition back from remote working. By using an innovative crowd simulation technology, Omnia can help provide insights on decisions related to the reopening of offices..
How did your career journey lead you to found Omnia?
Like most startups, our journey began with a first-hand experience. What we went through was something that everyone in the world was experiencing: the coronavirus pandemic. As millennials, it was our first experience with a global occurrence of this magnitude. We saw the dependency on technological advancement on the world. Apps came out that register coronavirus patients, vaccines had to be designed, even masks had to be mass-produced on a scale never seen before. All were dependent on how good the technology was to support this upscaling.
The biggest change someone could feel on a personal level was working from home. When the coronavirus statistics began to subside after the peak in 2020, people began discussing how the reopening could be realised. There was still one big hurdle: reopening decisions regarding capacity and time slots were based on guesswork. As technology optimists, we saw an opportunity. Using simulation technology, we are able to simulate the reopening of an office and assess safety and risks in advance. This gives decision-makers the right data to base an informed decision on. Omnia was born.
Why did you choose Amsterdam to start and grow your business?
As born-and-raised Amsterdammers, we had the privilege to always have been part of the innovative ecosystem that is Amsterdam. We have studied here and after our studies, Marwan and I both started working as researchers at the university. Amsterdam is one of the centres of Europe. Starting a startup immediately brings you into a community of like-minded people that are innovating but – as we say in Dutch – with a ‘sober’ mindset. An ideal place to grow and learn!
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
We once had a talk with one of our mentors about our situation. At the time, we had this core technology that almost any stakeholder in the built environment was excited about after we had talked to them. It seemed like having knowledge about human behaviour in a building – usage of that building – was a big gap in the market. But this knowledge was needed to enable future developments of human-centric spaces. At that time, we got a three-step advice from our mentor:
You might get the memo – he told us to focus. Every great company started in a niche and dominated that small market until they went to the next niche market. Once you have a pool of niche markets, you might be able to attack the bigger market where these niche markets swim in. He gave the example of Amazon: began as an online book store, then became a book-and-CD store... fast-forward some years and they've become the online store for practically everything.
Omnia founders Adil Ayi and Marwan el Morabet
Which were the local communities that were the most helpful in getting you to where you are today?
University initiatives like the ACE (Amsterdam Center of Entrepreneurship) were a big help for us. These organisations gather top beginning startups with mostly student backgrounds from the ecosystem and let them meet and grow together. It is amazing what the recipe of ‘space + like-minded individuals + entrepreneurship workshops’ can produce. You get motivation and a reference point for improvement.
What’s a recent win you’re proud of?
Yesterday we were featured on national TV. We filmed a segment on the show ‘Pak an Doen’ on NH Nieuws. It showcased our first developments and story. It was great seeing ourselves on TV presenting the things we work hard for. You can watch the recording here (in Dutch).
You were selected to exhibit at TNW2021 with StartupAmsterdam. How was your experience?
First of all, we were proud to represent this awesome ecosystem alongside the other 13 chosen startups. It was great seeing all the developments we are producing. The exhibition gave us an opportunity to network with corporate Amsterdam, which is very important. We were also able to talk with potential partners who are interested in our innovation. A lot of exciting collaborations might shape the future of our model.