Charlotte Alaux, co-founder of the start-up Omni, graduated from EMLV in 2015. In a competition, Omni was selected as one of 100 start-ups to invest in 2020. Here is her story.
It was the inclusive approach of Omni’s proposed motorised solution that convinced Charlotte to get involved. The multidisciplinary nature of apprecenticeships at EMLV, coupled with the “Digital HR” major which she undertook, gave her invaluable tools for kickstarting her career as an entrepreneur.
EMLV: betting on multidisciplinarity
Before joining EMLV I graduated from the sciences-track baccalaureat. I started out in first-year medicine, but I quickly realised it wasn’t for me and that I didn’t like the cut-throat, every-man-for-himself environment of that first year. So for the rest of the year, I took the time to get my driving licence and think about what I really wanted to do.
I chose EMLV because the course on offer rapidly immersed us into the corporate world, through the many group projects based on real-life case studies, the invaluable experiences that our teachers shared with us, and the substantial professional experience we were able to acquire over the 5 years.
I appreciated how we had 3 years of broad, ‘core’ courses before choosing our specialisation: studying marketing, economics law, finance, HR and many more all at the same time.
It was this initial broad nature of the course which gave me optimum preparation for what was to come.
When I was there, the transverse programme incorporating multiple schools didn’t exist yet, but I would’ve loved to do it. I have great memories of student life on campus, where students from all 3 schools socialized together.
In my final two years I specialised in Human Resources Management. It was a field I was unfamiliar with; to learn more about it I chose it for my first-year placement, which I really enjoyed. Then, the courses and my two company placements in 2nd and 3rd year sealed the deal for me.
An electric scooter called Desire
I met Noé Vinot-Kahn, Sulivan Richard, Robin L’hommeau and Mathieu Izaute while they were on a one-year programme on user-centred innovation at d.school Paris (a branch of Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, a grande école).
The training objective was to improve the mobility of users of manual wheelchairs. They spent many days in wheelchairs, met 20-odd medical experts and 50 or so wheelchair users. I was one of those users, sharing my 20-plus years of experience in a wheelchair with them.
I was impressed by their level of commitment and how well they understood life in a wheelchair. Convinced that they wanted to develop a genuinely useful solution, I decided to help them. We tested several their prototypes, and one day they got me to try an electric scooter. That was the lightbulb moment!
It was an answer to two issues all wheelchair users face: getting around easily and independently and changing the perception of disability by using the same solution as everyone else, being like everyone else.
We tested it with other people who responded in the same way as me, and we told ourselves we had to continue the project so that as many people as possible could benefit from it.
I hadn’t thought I’d end up going into entrepreneurship, but I gained complete confidence in the product and the team. I wanted to be part of the adventure, and the 5 of us co-founded Omni. I went part-time at my old company for 1 year in/for company creation to develop Omni in parallel with my activity there, then from last January, I decided to dedicate myself to the company full time.
Omni, inclusive mobility
Omni comes from Latin, the idea being “everything for everyone”, pursuing inclusion, rendering all mainstream products accessible. Our first product was a device that allowed any manual wheelchair to be attached to an electric scooter, affording the same access to motorised personal transport as enjoyed by everyone else.
It also allows users to get around independently and overcome all the little obstacles encountered daily (cobbles, slopes, pavements). It’s a much more affordable solution than all the existing specific motorised offerings for people with disabilities, and can be shared with everyone.
It really makes me laugh riding in cycle lanes and seeing the reactions of other wheelchair users, who are intrigued and want to have a go on my wheelchair themselves.
And OMNI also stands for “unidentified motorised object” in French!
What motivates me the most is seeing the reactions of people testing our solution who say it is life-changing for them.
One user would only leave the house once or twice per week. Once he started using the scooter, he began going out every day, reforging social connections. Our product isn’t just recreational: it increases people’s autonomy, allowing them to move around freely whenever they like, reduces musculoskeletal problems, which 60% of wheelchair users suffer from, and increases opportunities for social interaction.
I want the maximum possible number of people to have the chance to benefit from it, and to create sustainable businesses with a genuine social impact.
A start-up selected by Challenges as one of 100 start-ups to invest in 2020
Omni offers solutions to important issues facing today’s society: mobility, disability and inclusion. People like our project because there’s a story behind it. We created Omni because it met a real need, and it was co-developed with many wheelchair users. There are high expectations.
The solution seems obvious and simple, but in fact we spent 2 years developing it.
We distinguish ourselves from other current trends in that our solution involves hardware, rather than being digital; it’s a solution that proves its worth, that really works.
Analyse, understand, make proposals. Test and learn.
My main piece of advice might seem quite obvious, but it’s good to identify the need before proposing a solution, to really take the time to analyse and understand expectations. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the eventual user, understand their expectations via immersion sessions, observation and interviews. You also need to analyse and understand all the surrounding players, and the advantages and disadvantages of existing solutions. Hastily put together some solutions, test them, take note of feedback, integrate the feedback and start again. Continually employ this test-and-learn process.