• Summary

    Olivier Coenen has been an early pioneer to applying brain-inspired processing and modeling to robotics and autonomous systems.

    Olivier Coenen is the Founder, CEO, CTO at Qelzal Corporation, doing business as Kelzal, which develops the next generation imaging for an autonomous world. Powered by new types of vision sensors and AI, the perception systems developed by Kelzal produce 1000 times less image data, hyper-fast frame rate and wider dynamic range than conventional cameras. Kelzal is enabling the next generation of autonomous vehicles, retail automation and security to become a reality.


    Prior, Olivier was the CEO at Intentiva Inc., which developed visual hand-gestures recognition system to command TVs and other devices from a distance. The technology combined cognitive systems, brain-inspired computing with machine learning algorithms. Intentiva was one of only 16 companies selected among nearly 1000 companies to the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley and was one of only 6 companies to "graduate" among more than 45 companies in the Founder Institute's program in San Francisco.


    Olivier has been an early pioneer to applying cognitive systems, brain-inspired processing and modeling to robotics and autonomous systems. Olivier has experience in the field of commercial UAS, including sense and avoid systems, detect and avoid systems for obstacle and collision avoidance. At Brain Corporation, Olivier developed neural network "models of the motor control system" and designed "artificial nervous systems for UAVs" (UAS, or small civilian drones). His work directly contributed to closing Series B funding with Qualcomm Ventures and generated tens of patents submitted to US and foreign patent offices. Olivier was Senior Scientist consultant with Qualcomm.


    Olivier established and directed the Neuroscience Group at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris where his group developed technologies in signal processing, machine learning and robotic control inspired from brain processing. He created and led six funding grants, of which two major projects totaling over 12 million dollars in funding and received 16 academic awards and fellowships. Olivier holds a PhD in Physics from the University of California, San Diego, ranked 11th in Physics at the time.


    He was accepted at Stanford, but decided to join a department that provided more interdisciplinary possibilities. He was the first physics student to complete his thesis in the field of brain science in the world-renowned Salk Institute under the direction of Prof. Terrence J. Sejnowski, one of only a handful of academicians accepted to the three National Academies of Science, of Engineering and Medicine. Olivier completed his studies combining Physics, Engineering and Neuroscience to model brain areas involved in sensory processing, control and automatic responses. Olivier has the natural ability to bring together knowledge from very different fields, to identify novel directions, as well as anticipate problems well in advance. His capacity to survey a large amount of variables, identify relationships and connections between apparently disparate areas makes his strengths.


    Back in 2004, for example, Olivier started creating the project SENSOPAC to evolve the state-of-the-art in robotics touch and manipulation, from tactile processing to sensor designs. It was clear to him that humans and other primates attained tactile information very differently than robotic engineers were approaching the problem. By bringing together a physiologist investigating the sense of touch and roboticists, the resulting awakening lead to the development of certainly the most advanced tactile sensor for robot manipulation existing today: the BioTac of SynTouch, LLC.

  • Experience


    Founder, CEO, CTO - Present

    Qelzal develops the Next Generation of Aircraft Avoidance and Obstacle Avoidance Systems for Commercial Drones. We leverage novel sensors and brain-inspired processing to provide a unique technology, beating conventional approaches: up to 2000 times faster response, 900 times faster processing and 1 million times greater light sensitivity range. All this is in low size, weight, power and cost package.


    Principal Investigator 2016-2017

    Qelzal received funding from NSF SBIR for commercial development of a High Performance Sense & Avoid system for commercial drones.


    Principal Investigator 2015, Senior Scientist Consultant 2010 - 2011

    Qelzal was funded in part by DARPA SBIR Program Miniature Optical Guidance & Navigation (2015). Previously, Olivier worked in a small team on a DARPA project, which designed an "artificial nervous system for UAVs" or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) or small civilian drones.


    Qelzal is an EVONEXUS portfolio company 2015-present

    EvoNexus is Southern California’s leading tech startup incubator with locations in San Diego, La Jolla, and Irvine.
    EvoNexus is a non-profit technology incubator and hub for Southern California’s startup community designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies. EvoNexus is supported with Class A office space and facilities by California’s leading real estate developer, Irvine Company and financially by global technology and life science corporations. These relationships make it possible for EvoNexus to take zero equity or fees from incubating startups and help grow Southern California’s innovation economy.

    LightSPeed innovationS

    Qelzal is a LightSpeed Innovation portfolio company 2016-present

    LightSpeed Innovations is the aerospace start-up factory. We work across the spectrum of space and aviation and all technologies in-between.
    We believe in hard work, disruptive start-up concepts, sound strategy, solid teamwork, and bias towards execution. We subscribe to the pay-it-forward philosophy, believing that will enable a strong start-up ecosystem in the aerospace sector. We provide businesses with access to a network of relevant mentors and advisors, and work hard to connect companies with the resources to succeed.

    The Founder Institute

    Portfolio Entrepreneur - Founder 2013 - Present

    The Founder Institute is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program, helping aspiring founders across the globe build enduring technology companies. In the Founder Institute's four-month, part-time program, promising startup entrepreneurs “learn by doing” and launch a company through structured training courses, practical business-building assignments, and expert feedback from a large network of business mentors. Plus, aspiring founders are not required to quit their day job to participate, so they can begin building a business around their ideas without putting their livelihood at risk.

    Based in Silicon Valley and with chapters across 75 cities and 30 countries, the Founder Institute has helped launch over 1,112 companies, which have created over 10,000 new jobs. The company's mission is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” and build sustainable startup ecosystems that will create one million new jobs worldwide.

    The Founder Institute was founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur Adeo Ressi. It is operated out of a small office in Mountain View, California.

    Intentiva Inc.

    CoFounder and CEO 2013 - 2014

    Intentiva Inc. develops visual hand-gestures recognition system to command TVs and other devices from a distance. The technology uses brain-inspired computing together with machine learning algorithms.

    Plug and Play Tech Center

    Portfolio Entrepreneur - Founder - Startup Camp 2014

    Plug and Play Tech Center is an accelerator that specializes in growing tech startups. Headquartered in Sunnyvale California, Plug and Play’s global network includes over 300 tech startups, 180 investors and a community of leading Universities and Corporate partners. Since its founding in 2006, Plug and Play startups have raised over $1 Billion in funding. In 2011 Plug and Play’s startups raised over $350 Million and went through M&A valued in excess of $500 Million. From unique industry networking events and education-emersion programs, to M&A advisement, Plug and Play has everything tech startups need to get organized, connect and grow.

    What Does Plug and Play Do? Plug and Play positively impacts and accelerates the journey of:
    • Entrepreneurs
    • Startups
    • Venture capitalists
    • Corporations
    • Universities
    • Governments

    Brain Corporation

    Senior Scientist 2010 - 2013

    Olivier's work directly contributed to closing Series B funding with Qualcomm Ventures and generated tens of patents submitted to US and foreign patent offices.

    Olivier, as Senior Scientist, worked on developing "model of the motor control system" and he also worked on the DARPA project, which designed an "artificial nervous system for UAVs", also called UAS, or small civilian drones.


    Senior Scientist Consultant 2010 - 2013

    As the world leader in next generation mobile technologies, Qualcomm ideas and inventions are driving wireless growth and helping to connect people to information, entertainment and one another. Qualcomm’s breakthrough technologies enable the convergence of mobile communications and consumer electronics, making wireless devices and services more personal, affordable and accessible to people everywhere.

    Qualcomm is ranked on Fortune’s list of ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ and has been for the past 15 years. With over 25,000 employees around the world, Qualcomm puts great value in our innovative culture and excellent work environment. But don’t just take our word for it, find out more by connecting with Qualcomm on LinkedIn.

    Independent Research

    Researcher 2009 - 2010


    Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris

    Researcher & Team Leader Jul 2001 - 2008

    Neuroscience Group

    Research: Neural coding & plasticity, spiking neural networks, motor control & cerebellum modeling with applications for learning coordination & real-time robot control, active perception by multimodal sensors & effectors, sensorimotor theory & biological color encoding.

    Results: 10 articles, 2 patent proposals, 1 book chapter, 1 submitted paper, 5 associates: 10 postdoc & student supervisions, 31 conference abstracts, 34 invited or selected talks, 2 press articles, 15 installations, demos & softwares.

    Manager, Scientific Coordinator, & Creator of 2 Scientific Projets: SPIKEFORCE & SENSOPAC (respectively, 5 & 12 partners, 2.4 & 6.5 million euros, selected firsts among hundreds.)
    Definition of research directions,
    Selection & hiring of qualified personnel, Management of budgets,
    Responsible of legal documents: consortium agreements, patent proposals, contracts,
    Organisation of teams: timelines, lab monthly meetings, team weekly meetings, guest speaker visits, annual evaluations,
    Organization of events: CSL Neuro symposium, etc.


    Researcher 2001 - 2008

    Sony Corporation, headquartered out of Tokyo, Japan is primarily focused on the Electronics (such as AV/IT products & components), Game (such as PlayStation), Entertainment (such as motion pictures and music), and Financial Services (such as insurance and banking) sectors. Not only do we represent a wide range of businesses, but we remain globally unique. Our aim is to fully leverage this uniqueness in aggressively carrying out our convergence strategy so that we can continue to emotionally touch and excite our customers. With some 900 million Sony devices in hands and homes worldwide today, a vast array of Sony movies, television shows and music, and the PlayStation Network and the Sony Entertainment Network, Sony creates and delivers more entertainment experiences to more people than anyone else on earth.

    The cutting-edge co-developer of the CD, the DVD and the Blu-ray Disc format, Sony continues to break new ground with innovative products like the PlayStation®4, the PlayStation® Vita, BRAVIA® LCD televisions, VAIO® personal computers, Xperia™ smartphones and tablets, Handycam® camcorders, the F65 4K professional camera, and the Cyber-shot®, Alpha DSLR and NEX digital cameras. In 2012, Sony led the movie, television and music industries with 21 Academy Award, 25 Golden Globe and 78 Grammy nominations. Sony has brought the world such acclaimed movies as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Men in Black 3” and “The Social Network” and produces hit television shows like “Breaking Bad,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.” Sony music artists include Adele, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Usher and Kenny Chesney. And, the Sony Entertainment Network is the ultimate destination for digital music, movies, television programs and games delivered through the PlayStation Network and the Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services.

    The Salk Institute

    Research Associate 2000 - 2001

    Computational Neurobiology Lab - The Salk Institute & UC San Diego (Prof. T.J. Sejnowski) Sensorimotor integration, control & neural coding.

    Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego formerly San Diego Children's Hospital Research Center

    Research Associate II 1998 - 2001

    Located in San Diego, Rady Children’s is a 520-bed nonprofit facility dedicated solely to pediatric healthcare, and has the distinction of being the region’s only pediatric trauma center. As the largest children’s hospital in California based on patients seen, and the sixth largest in the country, we have been ranked in all ten pediatric specialties surveyed by U.S. News & World Report for the third consecutive year, and have been named one of the nation’s “Most Wired” hospitals two years in a row..

    For more information, visit www.RCHSD.org. Also, please join our Rady Children's Group Page in Linkedin.

    University of Sydney

    Visiting Researcher in Neuromorphic Engineering 1998 - 1999

    Contributed to directing a small team developing models of brain areas, like the basal ganglia & cerebellum for sensorimotor integration, reinforcement learning & predictive control, with small robot implementation.


    The best way to predict the future is to create it.

  • Skills


    Lean Startup

    Machine Learning



    Team Leadership

  • Education

    University of California, San Diego

    Physics (Biophysics), Ph.D. 1992 - 1998

    Interdisciplinary Physics/Biophysics - Neuroscience with Prof. Terrence J. Sejnowski

    McGill University

    Honours Physics, B.Sc 1984 - 1989

    Explore McGill's downtown campus with Google Streetview http://bit.ly/RPsWDk

    CEGEP de La Pocatière

    Science, CEGEP 1982 - 1984

    Activities: Volleyball team

    Polyvalente La Pocatière

    Science 1977 - 1982

    Describe your study experience in a few sentences

    Stanford University


    Accepted at Stanford, but went to UCSD in interdisciplinary Physics/Biophysics - Neuroscience with Prof. Terrence J. Sejnowski instead.

    Founder Institute Accelerator

    I went through their entrance exam, which included psychological profiling for entrepreneurship, went through the grueling pace to put a company on its feet, and was one of only 17 among 47 who started the course, who actually finished it and "graduated", at their San Francisco chapter. 


    Plug and Play Tech Center Accelerator

    Intentiva Inc. was one of 19 companies selected after the pitch I gave, out of nearly 1000 companies that had applied. The team went through the accelerator and learned a lot in the process.


  • Honors & Awards

    Ranked 1st: CR1 Experienced Research Scientist competition

    Ranked 1st: Creator, leading author and scientific coordinator of $9 millions Cognitive Systems Project Grant SENSOPAC, IST-2006-028056

    Ranked 2nd: Creator, leading author and scientific coordinator of $3.3 millions Life-like Perception Systems Project Grant SpikeFORCE, IST-2001-35271

    The National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Associateship Award, NASA

    McDonnell-Pew Cognitive Neuroscience Res. Grant, $110,000.

    1989-1993: Natural Sciences and Engineering Res. Council (NSERC) 1967 Fellowship Award

  • Let's Chat!



    San Diego & San Francisco Bay Area

  • Contact me!