Using drones to measure the progress of major building projects sounds an unusual way to win international recognition.
But it is an easy to visualise example of how hot new Christchurch technology company Orbica are not only setting up a new business but creating a whole new market.
The innovation that has seen Orbica occupy a bountiful niche – the global geospatial analytics market is predicted to reach $100 billion by 2021 – carries its own challenges. Managing growth is often a problem for small companies; growing into a largely undiscovered space is even harder.
As Dave Armstrong, the BNZ Partner who has been working with Orbica says, "Theirs is a pretty much unknown industry. Our method of funding companies is primarily based on a risk model that deals in tangible assets – but that doesn't apply when you have a concept like this that is delivered using a few computers."
Yet a recent trip to the US through the BNZ's SuperSize SME programme, designed to boost promising SMEs to the next level, produced a key element for Orbica CEO Kurt Janssen: validation.
"People were impressed in what we are doing," says Janssen who visited the US along with Kiwi Landing Pad founder and chairperson John Holt as part of SuperSize SME. "It was exciting for us to know that what we are doing is unique and exciting to other people."
"Our biggest challenge is that we can do so much, and it's a great little company, but how do we take our unique solutions to the world? We are working on that now with BNZ but those trips showed me there is a really interesting future ahead."
Orbica is difficult to hang a label on. It is a geospatial company. It is an artificial intelligence company, a location data company and a software company. Add in infographics, 3D worlds and interactive data visualisation tools all under the banner of "location data intelligence solutions".
Maybe the best way to describe it is "digital geography"; Janssen is a geographer by training and mapping is at the core of what Orbica does.
Take the desktop council rates tool that Orbica has developed for Environment Canterbury. It merges business intelligence and geography. It's underpinned by maps and geographic sectioning of data, but it is viewed in "bubbles" that represent the council's proposed rates spend on projects and the portfolios they sit within. Ratepayers can easily see where funding goes and learn about the projects their rates dollars support.
That's essentially Orbica's purpose: to help people to make better decisions through location data.
Perhaps Orbica's biggest victory to date – the company is just 18 months-old – was in Germany, where they caught the attention of giant industrial engineering company Thyssenkrupp, a US$69 billion operator.
Orbica beat start-ups from round the world at an event called Beyond Conventions where they successfully answered Thyssenkrupps' challenge to come up with a new-tech way of measuring progress of their major building projects. Inaccurate recording of progress of large developments can be hugely expensive in terms of cost overruns.
"We were tasked with finding a way to show and measure that progress instead of the client having to have a small army of consultants, armed with clipboards, going round and examining everything and getting it wrong," says Janssen.
Orbica's solution, GeoAI, combines drone imagery compiled into a 3D point-cloud model with artificial intelligence deep learning algorithms and geospatial processing to extract and classify built features.
The big German company is now a client, Orbica have an office in Berlin and they are working on taking the Thyssenkrupp solution into operation.
That's where Orbica wants to be. Janssen says the 20-person company is poised for more growth. and was interested in the BNZ's SuperSize SME because of access to people and experience to help them do so.
"We are not only doing things a new way, we are really creating a whole new market.
Anything is possible in terms of what we do and what we can deliver – but that means focus can be an issue. When you can do so much, what do you do first and what do you focus on as part of a larger strategy?
"Now, as a result of our work with BNZ, we can see that there are opportunities in the US and elsewhere overseas; there are more challenges too but that's what it is all about."
BNZ's Dave Armstrong again: "What we are working on with Orbica now is a way to commoditise and commercialise what they are already doing so they can sell more readily to other clients. We are also looking at scaling the business and understanding the IP, the cash drivers and mitigating risk. We're excited to find new ways to help Kurt and the Orbica team grow internationally."
Follow Orbica's SuperSize SME growth journey here.
Find out more about Orbica at www.orbica.world