Mr. Dumbuya, what drove you to start a company that specializes in human-machine interfaces?
I studied computer science, and my initial intention was to create fantasy worlds. As a Star Trek fan, I was always fascinated by the digital renderings of the spaceships in the series, and I wanted to learn how to create such renderings myself. Actually, my goal after graduating had been to go into the film and media industry and become a 3D artist. But I soon realized that there were no companies of this kind in Germany. So I turned towards the US, but it was difficult at that time to be considered for these kinds of projects in the United States if you were coming from Germany. By chance, I ended up doing some architectural renderings in Abu Dhabi. A year later, I decided to come back to Germany, because I feel very rooted in Berlin. Before I finally went freelance, I was looking around for a job and actually had an offer from London to work with Framestore on the Harry Potter films, but I eventually decided to go to Munich and work for RTT, a software provider for industrial 3D renderings.
Osman Dumbuya was born in Sierra Leone in 1977 and came to Germany when he was five years old. He studied computer science in Berlin and shortly after his graduation set up his first business venture, a software company for virtual prototyping. This was followed in 2011 with the launch of CGI Studio, which was later renamed Incari in 2021. Incari specializes in human-machine interfaces (HMI) and is currently focused on the automotive industry, though the founder also sees demand in the healthcare and aerospace sectors. In June of this year, Dumbuya was able to convince entrepreneur and investor Lukasz Gadowski to back Incari with around €15 million in funding.
You’ve founded more than one company since then. Are you fascinated by the business aspect as much as you are by the visual imagery?
The whole thing has been driven by my love for imagery and rendering. At RTT, my understanding of rendering shifted towards industrial production. What you see in Hollywood has to look good from an aesthetic point of view. An explosion, for example, has to impress the viewer. In industrial rendering, it’s more about depicting reality. That means that an explosion should look the way it would in real life under certain conditions. Or a headlight should look the way it would if it was illuminating the street with a certain brightness. That totally fascinated me and spurred us on to work on developments that could generate added value for other topics. I think that’s also the appeal of digitization, the fact that it provides tools that can be used to efficiently perform other tasks.
“In Hollywood, an explosion has to impress the viewer. In industrial rendering, it’s more about depicting reality.”
What’s the idea behind Incari?
As a first step, we set ourselves the task of offering a product solution specifically for the automotive industry that would make it possible to efficiently render what you see behind the steering wheel or in the center console. This was triggered by the fact that some customers in the automotive industry thought that the interface, especially when we’re talking about semi-autonomous and self-driving cars, is going to change radically. The idea was that the demands on such systems will increase, becoming an important element of interior aesthetics or even influencing the purchase decision. If you compare how people use cell phones or computers, this has to be adapted accordingly in cars. Things need to become easier to use and self-explanatory. And that’s why we wanted to develop and offer a solution. If I may add one more thing . . .
It’s important to me that we as a society again find the courage to take on greater challenges to improve everyone’s lives. With our software solution, we want to make a contribution to this effort.
»Mir ist es wichtig, dass wir uns als Gesellschaft wieder trauen sollten, größere Herausforderungen anzunehmen, um das Leben aller zu verbessern.«
Let’s back up a little . . . Does that mean you found the solution?
We did, although it took a few years to get there. Software like that doesn’t just fall out of the sky. At a certain point, it was advanced enough to go to market, and our customers helped us fix the teething troubles. Today we have a product that you can work with immediately and that gives you reasonable results.
And what are the benefits for the developer and for the user?
It all starts with the fact that the initial designer whose task it is to make a new interface can design that interface much more flexibly. He can use a kind of toolbox of ours to test the interface’s dynamics – the movements, effects, fade-ins, fade-outs and the functionality of the buttons and knobs – and see what they do with the user. The downstream departments then build on the designer’s work, which helps avoid doing the same work twice or three times over. The result is a faster interface development process. And the user gets a more refined product in the end, because it has been considered and reconsidered more often.
"Software like that doesn’t just fall out of the sky. At a certain point, it was advanced enough to go to market, and our customers helped us fix the teething troubles."
How important is persistence before you see the first results?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, but you don’t have any perseverance, you shouldn’t even start. Though I’d like to say this first: What usually happens is that you have an idea you think is great and that you want to make happen. But once you manage to put into words what it is you want to do, most people tend to be somewhat reserved in their reaction. You have to try to understand that and get over it. People don’t talk about things that seem obvious, nor do they later say that nobody would have expected it.
If it had been obvious that you could build rockets that could land and take off again, the way Elon Musk has done, someone would have done it much earlier. But when he started doing it, no one believed he could do it. And that’s the kind of resentment that entrepreneurs and innovators have to deal with. You just have to know that in the beginning you’re the only one who believes in an idea, and you have to persevere. The next thing you need is expertise, and after that you have to be able to assess whether you are really capable of making your idea a reality. Once you understand these three points, you can get to work.