Written by Andrew Seale
At the moment, thousands of satellites swing around the planet collecting data to be beamed back down to earth. For the most part, it has fallen on researchers to parse through and make sense of the datasets. But a chance meeting at NASA’s Space Apps challenge in 2014, laid the foundation for SkyWatch, a Waterloo-based space startup democratizing satellite data and making it available – and useful – to anyone.
Looking back, delving into the space industry was never the intention, says Dexter Jagula, co-founder and COO of SkyWatch of the serendipitous first meeting between himself, James Slifierz, Ryan Ovas, and father-son duo Roland and Stefan Sing. “It was a fun weekend to do something cool and hack away at a problem NASA was having.”
Jagula didn’t even really know the other guys. But after finding out their concept – a platform capable of making complex datasets generated by satellites much more accessible (and up-to-date) for companies and hobbyists around the world – was the global winner for the “best use of data” – Jagula, Slifierz, the eldest Sing, and Ovas (who has since left the company) realized they might have something worth building a startup around.
They incorporated SkyWatch in August 2014 and began to look for capital and support to build their EarthCache program. The search brought them to Google for Entrepreneurs, a program run out of Google’s office in Waterloo. While they were all living in the GTA and Brantford, the program was just too good to pass on.
“We applied (and), low and behold, were one of five chosen from over 50,” says Jagula. “That’s what brought us from Toronto area to Kitchener-Waterloo and we’ve been here ever since – we’re entrenched in the community now.”
They participated in the Techstars NYC accelerator in the summer of 2016, which Jagula says was “instrumental in changing the company as a whole, top to bottom,” but today, SkyWatch has set up shop in Communitech, the beating heart of the region’s startup scene.
Between investors and events in Toronto and mentorship and support in Waterloo, SkyWatch has thrived, drawing a base of designers and developers from both regions’ diverse and rich talent pools.
“Waterloo has the second highest density of startups in an area after Silicon Valley,” he says. “(But) you’re clamouring for talent that others are also after so it’s a no-brainer to have to extend your reach and access to talent.”
But Jagula says it’s still early days for the company, the space startup scene is only beginning to grow around the world, and SkyWatch can’t help but feel like they’re just getting started.
“There’s a lot that needs to be accomplished internally,” he says. SkyWatch raised a $4 million seed round in February and are shooting for a Series A round in the near future. “We’re essentially the first mover (in) this ecosystem so we want to take advantage of that.”
Photo Credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)