How a Dubai-based startup is democratising AI

Dubai - Nybl bids to tap into Dh1,028.50 billion global AI market.

Supplied photo
Supplied photo

By Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Mon 24 May 2021, 2:27 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 May 2021, 2:28 PM

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)-backed nybl is a leading artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer, which last week announced its acquisition of Mexico-based

Nubila, a visual data mining, and machine learning (ML) platform.

The start-up’s unique science-based AI solutions are at the forefront of deep technology across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

Its core competence stems from diverse sectors such as oil & gas (O&G), health care, and security and has a footprint in the UAE, Kuwait, the KSA, India, and the United States of America (USA).

Noor Alnahhas, the founder and the chief executive officer (CEO) of nybl, has in the past famously described his start-up as an “Uber of the artificial intelligence world”.

Alnahhas has been an inveterate entrepreneur and a veteran of the O&G industry.

The University of Houston graduate, who went to found nybl in 2019, looks back in wonder about "how to get out of the O&G sector" since the slump in oil prices started at the end of 2015.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the genesis of nybl?

Let’s start with some context on our name. Nybl is a computing term related to storage units. A nybl is equal to four bits or half a byte. The term is actually spelled ‘nybble’ or ‘nibble’. But we went with it this way to transform the word into something simpler because that’s what we’re setting out to achieve: at nybl’s core our mission is to transform complex raw data into easy-to-understand intelligence.

We got into this business in the first place because we wanted to prompt change. We found that in the Middle East, there’s an inherent focus on transforming businesses from outside-in. This is the mindset we want to change. Technology should be used to transform from the inside out. As such, we’re focused on delivering solutions that are intuitive and science-led. For too long traditional artificial intelligence (AI) has relied on historical data, which comes with its own biases and prejudices. And we’re here to rip up the playbook and write a new one on this misconception of AI.

That’s why nybl has created unprecedented technology. One that doesn’t require historical data to function, predict and diagnose. Our proprietary, science-based machine learning, data-behaviour models, and digital process simulations use science to predict behaviors. As such, our technology can be applied to any third-party device, on any platform in any industry. This flexibility makes our tech one of the most versatile in the world. In this sense, we’re creating an ecosystem that enables anyone to deploy AI tech, and opening up the principle of AI to everyone. In essence, we are democratising AI, by making it easily accessible and reducing barriers to entry.

What did nybl set out to do and how far have you realised that dream?

When we launched in 2019, we didn’t actually set out with the intention of creating an AI company. We wanted to address the problems we knew organisations faced in implementing their AI. We wanted to offer a solution that addressed the lingering issues of using deep technology. This origin story captures our raison d’etre today. Our primary goal is to solve our customers’ problems, simply. That meant being at the forefront of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) tech.

Even though our roots lie in the region, we work with clients across the globe in north and south America, Asia, among others. In the region, we are at the forefront of knowledge-driven AI solutions. We deliver an end-to-end AI platform and provide solutions through actionable intelligence to customers’ most critical challenges. With the proliferation of technology and AI accelerating every day, it is incumbent on those who know how to develop these technologies that they do it for the right reasons – to make the world a better, safer, more connected, and more accessible place. This belief is a compass for me and the company. I take great pride in the fact that this is true for each one of us at nybl.

How do you foresee a future for a start-up like nybl? How can it become a unicorn?

The world has changed. We can’t do the same things and expect a better outcome. And this applies to the notion that businesses should be seeking to become the next unicorn. We’ve seen how this idea of rapid growth at the cost of all else has ended up and we’ve found out, the hard way, just how vulnerable global supply chains are. So, we must find a new way. And for us, that’s looking at the attributes of a camel business model. One that favours sustained growth, one that can endure and survive even in the harshest environments and conditions. This comes back to my point about changing mindsets and why we’re in this business in the first place.

But the future is good for nybl. Already, our technology has been adopted, successfully, by government, public and private sector entities because they recognize that the applications of our plug-and-play technology are limitless. Through an interconnected AI ecosystem, we are able to provide the tools to subject matter experts to create go-to-market AI applications without writing a single line of code and without the need for data scientists. This is imperative to reduce barriers and create an ‘Uber’ like a marketplace for AI technologies.

Last year, nybl created Dh35.19 million (m) in value in the short time span of six months for our client – an industry giant in the energy sector. We not only increased production and equipment lifespan but were also able to predict failure through a fraction of their equipment. Additionally, we also aided in increasing equipment run life by up to 30 per cent, with an overall increase of 5 per cent in production. We also showcased long-term visibility into potential failures to support planning efforts. This, to us, is how we measure success -- by showcasing actual value, in real-time and not just via predictions and prospecting.

How can the GCC and the Middle East move beyond an oil-dependent economy and diversify?

The region has made great strides in the last two decades in diversifying its economies. The recent launch of Operation Dh300 billion (b) by the UAE government, a strategy that aims to boost the industrial sector’s gross domestic product (GDP) contribution to Dh300b by 2031, is a perfect example of this. When you look at the strategy, it’s acknowledging the region's strengths – in industries like petrochemicals, energy, and metals. But what’s really impressive is its focus on what it calls industries of the future, those that are enabled by advanced technologies and 4IR solutions. When you see the leadership of the Arabian Gulf states aiming to empower people by accelerating the adoption of technologies like AI and three-dimensional (3D) printing, you see a clear pathway to reducing dependencies, not just on the sectors that have spurred growth here, but on global supply chains. And it’s exciting to be working in a region where that’s the progressive example being laid down. And of course, for us, as experts in AI which, I would argue is going to be the foundation of future industrial success, is greatly encouraging.

What are your key short-and-long-term targets?

In the long run, we aspire to be one of the first tech companies in the region to launch an initial public offering (IPO) by the end of 2022. Showcasing success from the region is imperative on the global scale. Anghami’s recent IPO, another regional tech innovator, has paved the way for us and others to now raise the bar even higher and show that the solutions and technologies coming out of the Gulf are world-class. In the short term, we are committed to achieving a stable cadence, hire more deployment talent, and pave the way for the sustainable growth of AI-enabled industries that can contribute to a thriving society.

We are also devoted to creating solutions that offer easy plug-and-play across sectors such as consumer behavior, fintech, healthcare, and many more.

How many new jobs can nybl create by the end of 2022?

We are looking at creating at least 40 new jobs, with a further 100 people being employed directly or indirectly to deploy our technology over the course of 2021. The majority of our talent will fall in the categories of developers, testers, researchers, and of course in deployment. As the region prepares for this new future, we are preparing. For us, at nybl, this is only the beginning. But let’s keep in mind, we’ve grown 840 per cent in 2020 and we forecast an additional 1,000 per cent growth in 2021. The AI market is more than Dh1,028.50b globally, and our market is spread across the globe – so we could be adding many more jobs than we expect. —

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