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Startup Spotlight: Canada-Headquartered Opteam Brings Its AI-Powered Infrastructure Management Solutions To The UAE With the infrastructure across the globe quickly deteriorating due to lack of quick maintenance, Opteam has created a software aimed at helping companies and cities cater to the repair needs of their infrastructure and assets.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed Edited by Aby Thomas

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Tarek Hegazy, co-founder and CIO, Opteam

This article is part of an ongoing series covering startups that have been a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program.

"Half of every dollar spent on infrastructure maintenance often goes to waste." That is the claim made by Tarek Hagezy, co-founder and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Opteam, a Canada-based company that offers consultation, training, and software development for project management and infrastructure asset management. Hagezy first made this observation many years ago, when he started teaching and research work at the University of Waterloo. "There is a critical problem in the construction business that is happening on a global scale: companies and cities just do not have enough budgets to cater to all the repair needs of their infrastructure and assets," Hagezy explains. "So, collectively around the world, our infrastructure keeps worsening. To address this issue, my research team has spent the last 25 years specializing in artificial intelligence (AI) for asset and project management. I believe that AI could be the key to both improving the overall condition of infrastructure while actually reducing repair cost."

This vision came to fruition in 2020, when Hagezy co-founded Opteam along with his son Ahmed Hagezy, who is also the CEO of the firm. "We build software that helps companies and cities make their buildings healthy, sustainable and last longer at lower costs," explains Hagezy. "The solution is a subscription-based cloud software, and Opteam offers specialized services and customization based on the needs of the customer." Currently in its pre-revenue stage, Opteam has already secured pre-seed funding, and pilot versions of its services have also been launched in both Canada and the UAE. "The pilots found strong results, seeing an average of 20-30% improvement over traditional methods," adds Hagezy.

While there are already quite a few digital inspection solutions available in the global market, Hagezy believes that it is Opteam's ability to not only customize services, but also handle the decision-making following a given inspection, that gives it a competitive edge. "Today, existing software companies are focusing only on using analytics to help the user visualize the data and make decisions," he explains.  "But imagine having to manage tens of thousands of different assets -the new, old, and very old- and then having to decide how much of the limited yearly budget needs to be spent on repairs or upgrades, and when in the next 5-10 years you should execute each action."

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According to Hagezy, it is this manual decision making that creates a lot of organizational inefficiencies, which eventually leads to poor asset performances, as well as increasing repair costs. And it is this underlying issue that Opteam aims to fully get rid of by adopting AI- a feature that Hagezy insists offers his startup a first-mover advantage. "We believe we are the first to use AI as the primary decision- layer to manage assets," says Hagezy. "The AI engine we use is taught to evaluate decisions for each asset in a way that is specific to the customer's business goals. The outcome is a fully optimized plan, maximizing the outcome of every dollar in the budget.  Our methodologies are patented, published and have also won global awards."

But while Opteam's offerings are mainly AI-driven, Hagezy believes his startup cannot function efficiently without giving equal importance to the human element of its operations too. "As we are developing AI, the technology is not yet able to match our ability to fully interact with the real world's complexity and changing variables," he notes. "At the same time, the human brain is lacking in the computational ability that is needed to solve multi-variable problems for tens of thousands of assets simultaneously. Therein lies the value of our innovation, combining AI with human intuition, to maximize developing the asset strategy."

And the UAE is the right place to test out the feasibility of Opteam's offerings, Hagezy says. "In determining where we should be based, the UAE quickly became the top choice due to its forward-thinking leadership, visionary goals, and the high amount of investments towards the startup ecosystem," he says. "We also felt the UAE would be a strong place to grow due to the aggressive infrastructure expansion and sustainability emphasis in the country." However, setting up shop in a new location has come with its fair share of obstacles. "So far, our biggest challenge has been to actually get in front of the right people at the companies [we are targeting], as we are reaching out to and building relationships from scratch," says Hagezy.

Opteam's participation in the MBRIF accelerator program provided some relief on that front. "The MBRIF has been fantastic in its ability to provide a platform to interact with the local network," says Hagezy. "This has been extremely valuable in developing our go-to-market strategy as well as shaping the solution to fit the Middle East's landscape. The MBRIF also provides many personalized sessions and resources that help guide first-time founders with knowledge and guidance to navigate a startup company's journey towards growth."

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Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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