Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Generation Start-up: Nybl looks to bring benefits of AI to Gulf businesses

Company pivoted from oil & gas sector by proving its mettle in a Dubai government challenge

Noor Alnahhas, chief executive of Nybl, an Al start-up that aims to be come the next unicorn in the Middle East. Shruti Jain / The National
Noor Alnahhas, chief executive of Nybl, an Al start-up that aims to be come the next unicorn in the Middle East. Shruti Jain / The National

Noor Alnahhas describes his company, Nybl, as an “Uber of the artificial intelligence world”.

The knowledge-driven machine learning platform that turns mountains of under-utilised data into actionable intelligence, can not only drive efficiencies and help businesses optimise or automate workflows, it can provide real-time analytics and even warn them about impending equipment failures.

In short, hail a Nybl ride and Mr Alnahas and his co-founders believe their platform will deliver your business to the next level of proficiency.

“We are much faster out of the box and much cheaper out of the box”, Mr Alnahhas says of the company's offerings to different industries.

Nybl itself was born out of the restructuring of another company that Mr Alnahhas, a serial entrepreneur with nearly 15 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, started in 2008.

At that time, the University of Houston graduate who went on to get leadership training at Wharton School of Business and INSEAD, was working for a couple of US companies selling monitoring systems for oil and gas, representing them in the Middle East.

He saw the possibility of creating a better product, quit his job and went on to form EnsoSoft.

“I thought it was ridiculous that companies [in the oil and gas sector] were paying millions of dollars just to know if a well has failed or a pipeline is leaking,” he says, adding that, his product was based on taking the information from the systems being monitored and then integrating them together to gain a better insight.

Mr Alnahhas was successful in launching the venture but then came the headwinds of the financial crisis. It took some doing but EnsoSoft survived and managed to expand but when the company’s founder decided to accelerate growth, the three-year oil price slump hit.

“We were doing great as a company operating in oil and gas. We [EnsoSoft] were making money,” he says, but when it started to push for greater growth "we saw $15 million (Dh55m) worth of projects coming to us get cancelled”.

“That was the point when we decided we need to diversify.”

That opportunity came when the government of Dubai in 2018 set a challenge for companies to help it reduce the time and money it spent on planning and purchasing inventory by 30 per cent using technology such as AI and the Internet of Things.

“Within nine weeks of the programme, having never doing anything out of oil and gas, we configured, developed and ran a proof of concept for the government that showed them 85 per cent reduction in time in inventory planning and purchasing,” says Mr Alnahhas. "There was an 87 per cent time reduction in inventory management.

“That was the birth, the switch to Nybl,” says Mr Alnahhas. “Nybl was our idea of how we would get out of the oil and gas sector.”

Mr Alnahhas says he and his Nybl co-founders sat down for a coffee in Emirates Towers in the first week of 2019 and since then there has been no looking back.

Nybl signed an enterprise agreement with Smart Dubai in July to deploy Nybl solutions to every single government entity that has inventory.

“We are in the process of implementing the first system, which is for the most important government entity – Dubai Health Authority,” he says, adding that the project will go live in the last week of December.

The Dubai government is not the company's only client. Nybl is working with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), providing it with real-time optimisation and failure prediction for electrical submersible pumps that help extract oil from wells.

“We joined the challenge at Adnoc where we competed against the MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], IMB Watson …. some of the biggest names in AI,” he says.

It is now working with a ride-hailing company, predicting when the major components of a vehicle will fail and order parts in advance to minimise their downtime.

Nyble is already working with oil and gas firm Novomet and Vulcan in Kuwait, and Mr Alnahhas says the broader Middle East and GCC in particular will remain key focus markets for the company.

“The target of the company is to be the leading AI tech company in the Middle East. The number one company. That’s what our mission is,” he adds.

The company has created a programme for master licencing, which allows businesses to use Nybl's platform. It is working with Commtel Networks, a communications and surveillance security firm in India, which wanted to develop an artificially-intelligent physical and cyber security system. Commtel master-licensed Nybl's platform to use its engine and software to develop a new system, which has control, command and counter-measure capabilities.

“In India, our partner takes the market. We are chasing opportunities in the US and Africa but our main focus is on the Middle East.”

Mr Alnahhas along with Shriprakash Pandey, one of the co-founders are the initial investors in the venture, putting together $500,000 (Dh1.8 million). The venture is currently raising $5m in the second round of funding and has commitments from high net-worth and institutional investors, he says.

“It is [fund raising] for growth. We started with six people and we are 19 now. We need to, right now, hire another 17 people,” he says. “Our [work load] requirements would need another 20 people in the second quarter of next year, so we are constantly looking at hiring.”

The company, he says, is profitable, but the “goal is to be the next unicorn in the Middle East”.

“We want to be a $1 billion or $2bn company. That means that we [will] have achieved our goal of being the number one AI company in the Middle East.”

Q&A with Nybl co-founder and chief executive, Nour Alnahhas

What successful start-up do you wish you had started?

With the help of my amazing team we are actually achieving the things we dreamed about. Nybl was our dream and we've turned that dream into a reality.

What new skills have you learnt from launching your venture?

The list is almost endless because every day is a learning experience when you are launching your own venture. Financial management, managing relationships and expectations, raising capital, building your team; you have to work your way through all of these things day in and day out. But the two most important are strategy and planning. If you don't plan, you plan to fail. That doesn't mean everything will go as planned. On the contrary, things almost never go as planned. But in sitting down and working out a strategy and a plan with your team, you have set a path that can be modified as things change.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would have started off in the UAE from day one. We started in other parts of the GCC and the USA. But it was Dubai that gave us the support and the opportunities that have brought us to where we are today.

What is your next big dream?

For now it's to make Nybl the leading artificial intelligence company in the Middle East, and the next unicorn. Internally we call it our "path to $1 billion". It's not really about valuation, but more about achieving what we set out to achieve, which is becoming the best AI company in the region the provides the highest value to their clients.

Updated: November 25, 2019 12:14 PM

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