Jean-Baptiste Beau is the founder and CEO of Oniri, a Lausanne-based start-up. Oniri’s goal is to teach you to interpret and control your dreams. It was during his studies at EPFL that Jean-Baptiste was able to make his entrepreneurial dreams come true.
We had the chance to interview him for i-vest to learn more about Oniri, his background, and the startup climate in Switzerland.
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to create Oniri?
In 2014 I discovered lucid dreaming, and I was immediately fascinated by the potential of this practice. To learn how to lucid dream you have to go through several steps, the first being to write down your dreams in a journal to remember them. Only for me, it was unthinkable to write in a paper journal. I was a young geek of the new generation, and I wanted to digitalize this diary, to be able to classify my dreams, search for them, and especially: add images. So I looked for a dream journal application, and although there were a few, none of them met my expectations. So I made my own.
Why are dreams important?
They say that time heals all wounds. This is partly true. In reality, it is sleep and dreams that heal wounds. Dreams allow you to approach and reproduce situations that you have experienced in order to apprehend them and detach the emotions that are linked to them. This is how, after having dozens of nightmares about your last breakup, you finally manage to overcome this event and be able to think about it without being overwhelmed by emotions.
Dreams also play an essential role in creativity. During REM sleep – the phase when most dreams occur – the brain enters a mode that facilitates the creation of connections between different concepts, and therefore the generation of ideas. This is why it is common to wake up with an idea for a problem you were stuck on the night before. There are many examples of this phenomenon: from Dalí’s paintings to Einstein’s work, from the Beatles’ song Yesterday to the design of the sewing machine, many well-known ideas and creations come from the dreams of their authors.
A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer becomes aware that he or she is dreaming. This triggers a special state of the brain, which allows us to completely control the dream, and to be more alert of our senses.
Many people do not remember their dreams when they wake up. How can Oniri help improve our ability to remember our dreams?
The best way to remember your dreams is to write them down within seconds of waking up. You can set a reminder or an alarm to remind you; Oniri can do this for you. The first time, you may only remember the last scene of your dream; but by writing them down every morning, you will train your dream memory, and you will quickly come to remember many more elements. In just one week of practice, you will be surprised at the results. It is quite common that after a few months, users manage to write pages of stories every night – that’s why Oniri allows you to record your dreams vocally, to go faster. Personally, I feel like I’m living a 2.5-hours movie script every night.
Can you explain a little more about lucid dreaming? And how can Oniri teach us to have them?
In my opinion, lucid dreaming is without a doubt the most underrated natural practice of our time. A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer becomes aware that he or she is dreaming. This triggers a special state of the brain, which allows us to completely control the dream, and to be more alert to our senses. It is a kind of natural metaverse, 100% immersive, and it does not spend our precious time since it takes place during sleep – and the quality of sleep is not affected. The applications are numerous: flying, going to the moon, transforming a nightmare into a heavenly dream, learning an instrument, dating a celebrity, and much more – your creativity is your only limit.
There are many techniques for lucid dreaming, but only a few have proven effective. Oniri helps you with most techniques with reminders, alarms, audio guides, recording tools, etc. We also work with neuroscience labs to develop and test our own techniques.
Lucid dreaming raises many questions, so don’t hesitate to read our articles on the subject!
You created your start-up during your Master’s studies at EPFL. Can you explain how this program helps students to create their companies?
Seven years ago, I left France to come to EPFL for its opportunities in terms of innovation. Seven years later, EPFL is helping me transform a personal project into a high-potential startup. I have participated in almost all EPFL programs: Changemakers, Blaze, Thesis in Startup, Innogrant. All of them have been useful to me and have helped make Oniri what it is now. In particular, the opportunity to do my master thesis in my startup allowed me to dive into research on dreams and to develop collaborations with neuroscience labs that are now essential for the project.
You were present at the Startup Champions Seed Night this year. Do you think this kind of event is important when you are a start-up?
Events like the Startup Champions Seed Night allow startups to have visibility, especially with investors and other key players. These events are very useful in the fundraising phase.
How important is the investment in the creation and operation of Oniri?
We are fortunate that we are already generating revenue, so we are not too dependent on external funding. However, we will be looking for investments at key stages of the project to accelerate the startup’s growth. We are already well positioned in the dream market, but it is crucial to move forward quickly to stay ahead of the competition.
What is the future of Oniri?
Just like meditation apps that have grown tremendously in recent years, I see Oniri participating in the mainstreaming of a new health and wellness practice. I imagine Oniri as the central platform for dreams, connecting dreamers, psychologists, and researchers. By supporting dream research, Oniri is already helping to push the boundaries of our knowledge and open up new opportunities in this field. At the same time, the latest advances in machine learning are opening the door to new applications. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up and discover a short film of our dream, which we could watch like a movie? I wouldn’t be surprised if such an application was created in the next decade.
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