Meet Mehdi NAFE , CEO & Co-Founder of Novelis, the startup that supports companies for a digital transformation at the cutting edge of new technologies. The secret ? R&D, R&I (Research and Innovation) and above all, team spirit!
Mehdi, tell us about yourself and your journey …
I had the “classic” path in engineering school (ENSEIRB-MATMECA, in Bordeaux). My interests are mainly in the fields of telecommunications and software engineering; in which I specialize. I worked with companies like CGI , GFI , and SQLI in delivery management and digital transformation consultancy. I learned a lot, discovered various ecosystems, and realized that human qualities are as important as technical or operational qualities, they actually make the difference.
Why entrepreneurship? What was your click?
I have a lot of admiration and respect for those who take risks, those who are daring, that has always inspired me. So I’ve always had entrepreneurship in mind. I like to create, innovate, and bring added value. What pushed me to move on to the concrete was the technological acceleration that I noticed around me. Some companies that I have encountered during my career path did not anticipate the deep technological transformation that we are experiencing. I wanted to be part of the development of a structure capable of doing so, and of supporting our clients in this new adventure.
Tell us more about Novelis.
We combine two essential aspects, more and more inseparable : Research and Development, as well as the world of Services. The idea through Novelis is to support companies in their digital transformation and allow them to work more efficiently. This is why we invest heavily in R&D and R&I, to participate in the development of technological tools, master them to create the most innovative capabilities available to our customers, and provide them with the most efficient solutions. We have our own R&D Laboratory and work a lot on AI-oriented subjects, more specifically on NLP * (Natural Language Processing).
Other themes that also interest us : connected objects, virtual reality, Blockchain, etc. All the subjects that are at the heart of tomorrow’s challenges for businesses, and in which we wish to invest.
* NLP is a multidisciplinary field which involves : linguistics, IT and AI. The objective is to create tools for processing natural language, for different applications. Not to be confused with computer linguistics, the aim of which is to understand languages using computer tools.
And why digital?
It was obvious to me, I have been involved in it my whole career, and it is through this area that we can bring added value. In particular thanks to R&D, which is a necessity in order to be relevant, and effectively support our customers on very specific issues. We accumulate technological and scientific knowledge over time, and that’s what makes us more competent and different.
What has been the biggest success for Novelis so far?
As a small company, we have to prove ourselves and double our efforts to win markets and work with our clientel over time. Winning their trust, and convincing them with our skills, is our greatest pride. It remains a constant challenge and each success is a collective victory.
Any particular difficulties?
Managing temporality is a major difficulty in the life of the company. You have to be patient, sow seeds, and wait for the results to come in later. We must have a well-established plan, be able to repeat efforts, persevere, and have a spirit of innovation that allows us to find solutions to move forward. During which teamwork is a real strength, because it helps maintain this consistency.
What is the secret of team cohesion?
Team spirit is a particularly important point. Teamwork must be at the heart of the business. I have observed in my career too much damage from individualism. You have to think about your teammates, help each other and show solidarity in all circumstances. The best way to achieve individual goals is to achieve them through collective goals.
The next steps for the startup?
Novelis is 18 months old, we already have around fifty employees. It’s a fairly significant progression. Our objective is to strengthen ourselves, by doubling the number of employees at the end of 2020. We will do this by consolidating our presence with our major customers and by seeking new markets within our industry. We also want to provide new offers, and be able to support our customers on new themes and issues. We want to make Novelis a benchmark in the field of innovative technologies, and through our company help those who wish to implement their ideas and make it them happen for them by providing the necessary resources.
What is the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“It’s too dangerous, it won’t work, you shouldn’t get into it.” It’s the worst when people push you to stay in your comfort zone. If I could go back in time and give myself some advice, it would be to not wait to get started and just go for it.
How would you rate your experience in the X-TECH Booster program at the X Innovation Center?
In short, excellence. We share the same values conveyed by Ecole Polytechnique and their innovation centre : persistence, because it is essential to improve on a daily basis, and humility. X-TECH Booster is also a means of creating relations with other program members with X laboratories. We live this with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of pride.