Providing a highly demanded service in a niche industry has allowed Wilmington-headquartered technology company Geo Owl to grow as an innovative startup.
Geo Owl is a company providing geospatial technology solutions and services led by founder and CEO Nicholas Smith. Smith is a U.S. Army veteran who was a geospatial analyst working with satellite imagery and geospatial data.
After the Army, and getting a degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Smith worked at the U.S. Army Reserve and then as a contractor providing full-motion video analysis for BAE Systems.
Smith decided to start his own company in 2013.
“There was a huge demand for this type of work in the market. It’s very niche. It’s very nuanced and not a lot of people have the entrepreneurial background. So, it was low in competitive nature as well,” Smith said. “That’s usually a good indicator to start a business.”
Geo Owl’s services can be divided into three segments: technology, custom solutions and productions and intelligence services.
Under technology, the company has developed Patternflows, a proprietary software that is “built for creating better intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance data and it acts as a clean data layer for artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he said.
Patternflows collects and distributes intelligence derived from aerial or ground-based ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance operations) and can be used for any intelligence observation. The product is a desktop or web application that feeds into other sources, such as maps, dashboards or analytics tools via an API (allowing two applications to talk to each other).
Under solutions and productions, the company builds custom solutions for clients including integrating technology or creating a brand-new solution in the geospatial intelligence field. The company’s largest business is intelligence services made up of professionals who work in government sites providing geospatial intelligence.
Currently, the company has about 100 employees, with about 20 located in Wilmington. Some other locations include Fort Bragg, Fuquay-Varina, Northern Virginia, Florida, St. Louis, California, Texas and Georgia.
A unique operation at the Wilmington location is cartographic production, he said.
“We have a team here that builds digital cartographic products. Think map products, [we provide] the underpinning framework of maps for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which is a massive agency that no one’s ever heard of,” Smith said.
This is in part supported by Wilmington’s geospatial intelligence community.
“UNCW has the GIS (Geographic Information Science) certificate program and is one of only a few universities in the country that has it,” he said. “We actually are able to hire students from UNCW, sometimes they intern with us for a semester or two, and then we hire them full-time doing this type of work. It’s actually a really cool thing that we do here in Wilmington.”
Geo Owl has worked with United States Special Operations Command, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the United States Army and the Marine Forces Special Operations Command, among others.
Having the federal government as its primary client means it works in a very competitive market when it comes to getting contracts. The company can navigate this competitiveness through its technology and ability to customize services, he said.
“We have a unique offering; we have proprietary technology that we built, and we have a unique management structure that has a lot of experience in the market,” Smith said. “Between those, we’re able to build custom solutions for the government that are appealing.”
That idea seems to be resonating with the U.S. Department of Defense, which recently selected Geo Owl from hundreds of applications to present at the Pentagon’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office’s Global Solutions meeting this fall.
According to a notice from the DOD’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office, the agency was looking for highly innovative technologies.
Geo Owl will get to make a technical presentation to government representatives and “there is a potential for companies to be selected for pilot prototyping, demonstration, or experimentation for the most compelling solutions,” the notice stated.
Smith said he hopes this presentation can showcase how Patternflows can provide a more clean and updated way to access intelligence data.
“A problem across the federal government, and across the commercial sector as well, is that data was not formatted 20 years ago for artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms,” he said. “There’s a problem with dirty data and that is what Patternflows helps solve.”