Faces of FIFTY2

Jens Cornelis - Managing Director

Hi Jens. Before you took the path to CFD simulations, which eventually led you to found FIFTY2 together with Markus (Ihmsen), you first started in another field.
Tell us something about that.

Yes exactly. I originally did a commercial apprenticeship to become a social insurance clerk.

After I had worked there for a few years and was active in sales, the moment came when I realized that I wanted to reorient myself and that this was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

After studying business administration as an evening course for a few semesters, I refocused on what had always fascinated me: IT and computers.

So, then I started studying Computer Science and after graduation I decided to work as a research assistant in a field I got to know during my studies: Computer Graphics and Simulation.

That’s where I eventually met Markus.

When did the idea of founding a company come up? It's not a decision you make overnight, is it?

Both Markus and I were interested in starting our own business. For me, it is very important to be able to work autonomously on something. It requires freedom to be creative. During our work in research at the university, we always had exciting ideas and worked, for example, on small apps for the smartphone in our spare time. The pretty obvious idea of using our research results as the basis for founding a company came to us only gradually.

When you developed the first version of the software and your own method, which would end up becoming PreonLab, did you already know what field you wanted to end up in?

That actually evolved first. We first looked at different markets and were active in medical technology and animated films, for example. Through contact with qPunkt, we then got into the automotive industry and realized that we could solve their problems exactly, because there was a need for a particle-based simulation method that could be used to efficiently set up exactly these types of simulation.

As a result, you guys ended up founding FIFTY2 in 2015. What were the early days like from your perspective?

Because we were still at university at the time and we received some financial support through the EXIST research transfer program, the first one and a half years were somewhat secured. During that time, we were able to get to know our first customers through our contacts at qPunkt and build up trust and understand exactly what the customer needs, and thus finalize what we have in that direction, validate it, etc.

Of course, then there were moments that were demanding, particularly growing out of university or having our own office for the first time, but in all that time we were still able to grow very well organically and, above all, to grow with the increasing challenges.

Through the partnership with AVL, we were then able to continue to focus on product development and be somewhat relieved by outsourcing sales.

In the meantime, partly due to the pandemic, we have evolved into a kind of hybrid company, with many employees working remotely.
How do you see this development?

On balance, definitely positive.

I mentioned earlier that autonomous working is very important to me. That’s something I also want to make possible for our employees.

Of course, this also includes personal responsibility, and especially in an environment where you also work a lot for yourself, such as a programmer, I think this is predestined for working from home. Naturally, the interpersonal experience that you would have on site is unfortunately somewhat lost. One result of this is that we also like to make our employees an offer that we call “Afterwork Activities”. There, we organize regular meetings where we do things together, such as hiking together or going on a bike tour. And of course we at least meet for a Retreat once a year. This meeting not only enables us to discuss the future of our company and how to define the future of SPH. And besides, its great to meet all the team and have a real good time.

In recent years, our team has almost doubled in size. What do you think makes FIFTY2 Team special?

I think on the one hand we have an attractive working environment with an attractive product, which is certainly not unimportant. And our customers are top-notch of the global industry – it is amazing to work together with them. On top of that, I think we offer a working environment where everyone can really have a direct impact on their own work, but also on the team. I think this creates a team that can work well together and also has a very open and fun atmosphere.

All in all, I think it offers a workplace where you can develop yourself, learn something new, and also have fun at work.

Let's take a look into the future: We have been in existence for 7 years now.
If we were to have this conversation again in 5-10 years, what would you like to tell me about the current state of the company and PreonLab?

We had a retreat in the past, which must have been about 1 to 2 years after the company was founded, where we wanted to define what FIFTY2 actually wants and what our vision is.

Naturally, we formulated this vision in a very big way, because we wanted to produce nothing more and nothing less than the ultimate simulation tool.

In order to achieve that, I think there are two things that you do for it: one is to keep developing the existing product, which is PreonLab, in the way that we get feedback from our customers. So we are growing here based on what is in demand.

On the other hand, there is the second perspective, where you look a bit outside the box. What could possibly play a role in the future? What could simulation look like in 20 years? Or in 10? There are, of course, some developments that are exciting and should be taken into account, where you can also think in the direction of “science fiction”. And I am QUITE a science fiction fan. 🖖

In the meanwhile, my goal for PreonLab is to be the leading particle-based simulation tool.

What is there outside of work that keeps you busy or inspires you?

We’ve talked about freedom and remote work. For me as well as for employees, that means having the freedom to pursue hobbies or to pursue private projects.

In this context, my Red Cross work, which I have been doing for 27 years, is very important to me. Last year, I spent a week in the Ahrtal, where unfortunately a major flood disaster occurred. I was very grateful for this experience and opportunity to be there and be able to help. I am very grateful that I had the chance to take this week off on very short notice and that my colleagues and our team covered me for this time without any hesitance.

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