*NEWS: AVIAA Spreads Wings into Irvine and Beyond: CEO and UCI Professor Gillian Hayes Leads the Company Toward Expansion After Graduating From the Cove @ UCI

Here’s the latest article from UCI Applied Innovation’s Rising Tide publication, reprinted with permission from UCI Applied Innovation. It’s about an aviation tech startup founded in 2016. Written by Jackie Connor.

Gillian Hayes experienced a migratory life growing up, as her parents would move the family from state to state pursuing careers in academia at universities. After landing in Athens, Georgia, she discovered her talent for the Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) field.

And, as her own academic career began to unfold, Hayes eventually found herself with a fateful internship at the National Institutes of Health’s AIDS laboratory that helped define her future when her cultures grew mold and didn’t yield the results they needed.

“It was such a hot time to be doing AIDS research,” said Hayes. “But I decided that growing mold wasn’t going to work for me, and it was all just so slow, so when I went back to school I changed my major from molecular biology to computer science.”

Her decision to pursue computer science as a second major unveiled a newfound passion. “I just fell in love with computer science and seemed to excel in classes that were considered more challenging in computer science, where in bio I had struggled,” said Hayes.

Gillian Hayes, founder, AVIAA. Photo credit: Julie Kennedy

That small change set the foundation for what is now Hayes’ career as UCI professor of informatics and, as of January 2018, CEO of startup company AVIAA.

AVIAA is an international group purchasing organization for business aviation started in the U.K., now headquartered here in Irvine with offices worldwide.

With a goal to drive more transparency in the general aviation industry, AVIAA was founded by serial entrepreneurs who brought together their passion for aviation with expertise in procurement.

Originally hired on as a consultant in 2017, Hayes developed the original data strategy behind business aviation purchasing for suppliers.

“On the surface, the company is very much a group purchasing organization focused on professional procurement for business aviation,” said Hayes. “Under the guts of that, we’re really basically a software as a service (SaaS) company that’s very focused on data.”

AVIAA strategizes ways of using the data they collect to improve the most efficient spending habits possible for aviation product buyers and sellers, professionalizing the entire procurement process and reducing friction costs for all involved.

“We still believe in relationships,” said Hayes. “We believe in community, we believe in all that. We also really believe in data and making smart purchasing decisions based on the data that you have.”

In December 2017, AVIAA founders asked Hayes to take over running the company as CEO and move to their home base in England.

However, her research on business aviation combined with her desire to maintain her UCI connection grounded her in Irvine.

“The U.S. is still by far the biggest market for business aviation in the world,” said Hayes. “There are massive growth rates in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, but the U.S. and Europe are the most mature markets. We just have the most jets.”

Aimed at being a one-stop shop for business aviation owners, operators and suppliers, AVIAA helps customers balance value equation with sophisticated data analytics.

“Anyone can look at a rate sheet and say ‘ah, it’s cheaper over here,’” said Hayes. “But what we see is this desire by our membership to actually get high-quality services. They need to make sure that all the services – like fuel, catering, cleaning – are going to be available, will be served well, and at a fair price. So, it’s not just about price.”

Paired with wanting to maintain her relationship with the UCI community and her startup team, AVIAA became a Cove tenant in 2017 where the team utilized the talks and networking events.

Within one year, AVIAA nearly tripled in staff size. Alongside its sister startup company, Assure Point, a next-generation suite of insurance products that cost at least 20 percent cheaper than market price, AVIAA graduated from the Cove @ UCI to a 3,600-square-foot office space in Irvine’s Park Place in August 2018.

“Working with Gillian and her AVIAA team has been great for us at Assure Point and has helped each company have better perspectives on effective tactics,” said Aaron Soto, chief architect of Assure Point. “It’s great to have such a direct connection to Gillian and her team.” In January, AVIAA also acquired their European counterpart, Convolus.

With the acquisition, AVIAA now has an office in Munich, Germany, in addition to their locations in Park City, Utah, and Oxford, England.

“Having a really solid high-quality handling network across Europe that’s also servicing planes at a good value is a huge thing for our members,” said Hayes. “Convolus provided that network. They also have a completely European fleet of aircraft.”

The agreement added 150 new aircrafts to AVIAA’s fleet, which will support a member fleet of nearly 500 private and commercial aircrafts in addition to a larger network of suppliers and global operations.

As CEO and UCI professor, Hayes frequently draws her inspiration from AVIAA employees and her students.

“They constantly keep me motivated,” said Hayes. “I can see that they’ve had situations with bad bosses or professors, and I certainly make mistakes, but all I want to do is make a really cool place for people to work and study and be the best they want to be. That’s what really motivates me more than anything else.”

Through AVIAA and her classroom, Hayes continues to blaze trails for women in computer science and is passionate about incorporating more women in the industry.

“The CEO of the company we just bought, who is now going to be my managing director in Europe and the Middle East, is a brilliant woman,” said Hayes. “Right now, exactly half of our 16 employees are women. That’s exceedingly rare in business aviation and in tech.”

According to the Pew Research Center analysis, despite research showing that women make up threequarters of healthcare practitioners and technicians classified within the STEM fields, women remain underrepresented in computer science, making up only 25 percent of the U.S. population’s career field.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that from 2016 to 2026, computer and information technology occupations are projected to grow 13 percent faster than the average for all occupations, adding 557,100 new jobs with the demand.

“We need a lot more people thinking computationally and doing computational type work,” said Hayes. “We’re not expanding the field the way we need to be.”

For business aviation, AVIAA will continue to expand their global market presence and launch a second platform for their software service by May.

As CEO of AVIAA, Hayes’ personal goals with AVIAA are well within reach. With immense support from her founders, Hayes aims to take the company to new heights, as well as encourage women in STEM fields and women entrepreneurs to forget stereotypes and pursue their passion.

“As women, we’ve often been socialized to build collaboration, to build consensus,” said Hayes. “Most of the time, that’s how I lead. However, as a startup CEO sometimes, you just have to be strong to be like ‘this is what we’re doing.’ You don’t have to be rude about it, but just stand by your decision.”

With Hayes piloting AVIAA’s ever-growing future in the business aviation industry, coupled with her passion for computer science, the sky is the limit.

About The Author

Deirdre Newman is a long-time journalist, who's covered OC startups for a few years.

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