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It is the story of a young lawyer of Israeli origin trained in Great Britain and who arrived in Brussels in the middle of the nineties to do his MBA. Twenty years later he is still here. He turned it  into his home and established his career here and for the last three years, he has been the co-founder and CEO of CommuniThings, a start-up specialised in smart parking…

Creating your own company, was this a matter of course for you?

Etay Oren: At almost forty-seven years old, I have a long professional career behind me in several international companies wher I was able to work in different sectors, collaborate with multidisciplinary teams and find out in which field I excel. Perhaps the dream to launch my own company was already there, but I have always known that there was no doubt that I would go it alone and find good partners.

The opportunity did not arise earlier. The idea of CommuniThings therefore did not happen overnight. It had to mature. It was after discussions with David Gillot and Anne Demarche, long-standing colleagues but also my future partners and co-founders of CommuniThings, that we realised that we were ready to take up the challenge. We realised that we work well together and that we had achieved all that we could achieve in the company in which we were employed. We asked ourselves, “Now what?”

We each have our own profile, which complements that of the other two. Together we have given careful thought to the best manner in which to collaborate in future areas. We have targeted things connected to smart cities (cities using information and communication technologies). In all, it took us six months to think of brainstorming.

In what way is your project innovative?

E.O.: After having left our employer, we spent a long time incubating different concepts and subjects which we tested with cities, their residents and municipalities. Slowly but surely the smart cities showed us that this was the way to go. We therefore started approaching them and offering them a series of services intended to assist them.

We aim to try and solve the problem of traffic congestion by optimising the parking facilities in cities. Statistics show in fact that 30% of traffic is linked directly to the search for parking. We propose solutions based on sensors fitted to each parking space in order to gather data on their availability. This then allows us to guide the users to available spaces via a mobile application.

For example, for the last four months the city of Mons has been equipped with one hundred and ten sensors in thirty different shopping areas which suffer from a shortage of consumers owing to insufficient rotation of parking spaces. Thanks to our system, the number of parking rotations per day tripled.  As for the city, it has hourly occupancy statistics, day by day. This helps it to plan better. We of course wanted to convince Brussels in order to create an impact within our region.

Three years later, are you a happy entrepreneur?

E.O.: I do not regret my decision even if it is clear that the life of an entrepreneur is full of scientific, personal, and financial challenges to name but a few. We are not as well off as before and earn far less, just enough to keep our heads above water.

On the other hand, it is extremely interesting and enriching to work in an emerging sector.  We really enjoy what we are doing, we feel that we are having an impact on cities in which we are involved. We are conscious of providing them with a valuable service in terms of civil and environmental awareness.

Were you able to benefit from any programmes encouraging the founding of new businesses?

E.O.: We started with our own equity. We each invested a large amount of our savings in the company. Then, we aroused the interest of the company Wallimage Entreprises which first assisted in the form of convertible bonds then was the first to acquire an interest in the capital as a shareholder.  After a year and a half of activity, we also aroused the interest of ‘friends and family’ and a few company employees. This is the stage at which we currently find ourselves.

We put our name forward for the “prix Rise  d’Innoviris” for a specific product which forms part of the development of our offer. We knew that the startup of this project would require a very expensive research phase. We would like to implement it in Brussels and it is therefore here that we must recruit. Owing to the budget that we obtained via Rise and which extends to twenty-four months, we have been able to hire the necessary people. We currently make up a dozen employees.

What are your plans and ambitions?

E.O.: Since obtaining the Rise prize, we have signed up several new cities. We are already present in several cities in the Netherlands, in Belgium and in the summer of 2017 we will establish ourselves in a city in northern France. But above all, we are arousing the interest of different cities outside of Europe, including China, United States and Puerto Rico.

If we had stuck with our basic project, with our current sales force, our growth would have been very slow. This is why we conduct several projects at the same time. One the one hand we would like to equip the largest possible number of cities with our basic equipment. For this purpose, we have managed to set up a series of partnerships at least for the sales portion with a whole series of mobile operators, service vendors, integrators, other players linked to smart cities who are canvassing on our behalf.

Over and above sales we are responsible for developments, projects and technical support. Our other objective is to demonstrate that our service runs well, to extend our offer to other services and products which are not yet on the market and which do not yet form part of our basic service. The Rise project will enable us to open up this work sector and to reach other cities more rapidly.

What advice would you give to those who are tempted by the adventure of entrepreneurship?

E.O.: I think I am still too involved in the action to have the required wisdom! At best I can say what I have learned. I have learned to be more patient. When we launched the CommuniThings idea we hoped after three years to be in charge of a rapidly growing company arousing the interest of the whole world. But that takes time. You have to rise to many challenges. You do not only require good will, but also perseverance and have to be conscious that it will take longer than what you hoped.

Another very important piece of advice: do not underestimate the importance of partnership, people with whom the company is created. Having good partners is essential. You must take your time and think carefully before launching into such an adventure with partners. You must know them well, even try to work a little with them before becoming partners with them.

Author: Catherine Aerts


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