TECTERRA’s CEO Dr. Mohamed Abousalem: Investing in the Canadian Geomatics Industry
This week GoGeomatics Canada has the privilege of speaking with Dr. Mohamed Abousalem the CEO of TECTERRA.
GoGeomatics: Welcome to the GoGeomatics Canada community and thanks for taking the time to speak with our 6,000 members. Why don’t we start with a little background on you and your geomatics career. What inspired you to focus your working life on geomatics? How did you get your start and how has that lead you to your current position?
Dr. Abousalem: I started off my career as a civil engineer and when I decided to go to grad school, I looked for something that was new, exciting and had leading edge technology. At that time GPS was at the forefront of the geomatics field, so I jumped on it. I did my masters and PHD in GPS and I got involved in geomatics using satellite technology.
It was also during grad school that I realized I wasn’t really interested in becoming a research scientist. I liked the technology, but what I really wanted to do was do something that allowed me to be in touch with people. The first thing that came to mind was teaching at a university, however after I dabbled in that, I realized that business was a much better fit.
All in all, I started my engineering career on the technical side, but I soon jumped onto the business side. I’ve been in business and management roles since then which led me to the role I have today.
GoGeomatics: Can you tell us about your current role?
Dr. Abousalem: I feel like I am very lucky to be in the role I’m in today, which is running TECTERRA Inc. – a fairly new company here in Calgary, Alberta which was set up to help the geomatics industry. We have a team of 11 people and we work together to craft programs that assist the geomatics industry in bringing their technology to market.
GoGeomatics: Now let’s get to the heart of our interview. TECTERRA is relatively new on the geomatics scene in Canada. What can you tell us about the mission of your organization and TECTERRA’s achievements thus far?
Dr. Abousalem: TECTERRA’s mission is to contribute to the economic growth of Alberta and the rest of Canada. The way we do that is by investing in and supporting the development and commercialization of geomatics technology. We focus on applications related to resource management but we also cater to applications that have value in the geospatial industry at large. Our objective is to generate a positive impact on the economy, job market, infrastructure and prosperity of Albertans and Canadians.
Although we’ve only been in operation for just over a year and a half, we have achieved quite a bit so far and we are very proud of it. To date we have committed over $12 million towards geomatics companies and applied research projects for commercialization of technology, training and new job creation. We are proud of that – not because of the commitment or the spending – but because of what will come out of it. The projected commercial revenue from all the projects and initiatives we have invested in is over $300 million. Not only are we proud of our financial contribution, but our training programs have helped over 180 people and we have created and supported, both directly and indirectly, 110 highly-qualified professional jobs resulting in great value to Canadians and our economy.
To date we have supported over 45 companies, including 13 start-ups and 17 Alberta applied research commercialization projects – we are very proud of that as well. We will continue to invest in key geomatics technologies and soon we will start to see the outcome from our efforts.
GoGeomatics: Why is there a need for an entity like TECTERRA? What was the impetus for putting TECTERRA together?
Dr. Abousalem: The need for TECTERRA was identified by the Alberta government and was part of the Alberta government’s Integrated Resource Management strategy. As you know Alberta has a resource-rich economy and almost everything we do depends on the resources we are fortunate to have. Oil and gas comes to mind first, but there is also forestry, mining, water, land and wildlife, among others. There are a lot of resources that require continued improvement in how we manage, operate and sustain them. Over time, The Alberta government realized that one of the best technology areas is geomatics and that geomatics would generate products, solutions and tools to help better operate, maintain and support our resources. Therefore, TECTERRA was set up to become the catalyst for the productization and commercialization of geomatics technology for this very important purpose.
GoGeomatics: Who supports TECTERRA? How are you funded? How long is your mandate?
Dr. Abousalem: Our primary funder is the Alberta government. However, the Federal government also plays a big role as they’ve invested in TECTERRA through two different programs at the Federal level.
TECTERRA’s initial term is five years. We started operation a bit later as it took some time to get the organization in shape and hire the first CEO, which is myself. But as soon as I got in place we started real operations, hired the team and launched all of our programs. We understand that the Alberta government is very committed to this initiative. As we succeed in what we’ve committed to in our first term, the Alberta government is willing to invest five or even ten more years in TECTERRA’s term. However, that is all predicated on TECTERRA’s success – which I can tell you that we are already seeing great signs of and we are very proud of what we’ve done so far.
GoGeomatics: Much of what TECTERRA is all about is product development and commercialization to support the geomatics industry in Canada. Can you talk directly about some companies that you have been able to help in these areas?
Dr. Abousalem: Yes, as I said there are over 45 companies that we’ve supported to date. Those companies are involved in a variety of applications and are offering the market a variety of solutions. For example we work with companies that are focused on forestry applications and providing tools to help predict, manage and put out forest fires. We are also working with a company that is developing a tool used to determine the proper width of a cutline in forest lands. This will allow the industry to ensure they are only cutting down the width of the cutline that is absolutely needed and that those cutlines will be wide enough to provide for hazardous situations such as fires or trees hitting power lines.
We are also working with companies that are developing advanced positioning and navigation technologies and tools for agriculture. These will help improve the efficiency and optimize the consumption of energy and resources during agriculture operations. We are also working with a company that is developing and positioning and navigation system to help with the discharge of environmentally hazardous material, to ensure that the material is being discharged in the right areas.
Another project we are supporting is an applied research project that is involved in wide area sensor networks to monitor water levels across Alberta. This project will also be able to model the availability of water across the province for different purposes. Another applied research project is involved with the detection of pipeline corrosion using advanced inertial navigation technology. These are just a few examples among many other applications that we’re involved with.
GoGeomatics: Many of the GoGeomatics community have dreams of creating their own products and services and bringing them onto the Canadian geomatics market. Is TECTERRA going to be able to help them? If so, how?
Dr. Abousalem: Absolutely we will be able to help them. This is what we are here for. We are based in Alberta but we are a nationwide initiative. As I mentioned we are partially funded by a couple of Federal programs so we are able to provide our support across Canada. We love working with entrepreneurs and established companies that are working in new markets, new communities and new activities. We can help through investing into their innovative geomatics technology development and commercialization projects.
Really, the value of our investments to the entrepreneurs and companies comes from the time value of money – we upfront the money to help them get onto their projects – but more importantly is how our investment limits the company’s investment risks. We require payback only if the organization is successful in selling their product. If the organization embarks on a new business initiative and for whatever reason it doesn’t work out as expected, they won’t have the obligation to pay back the funds. However, if they make money, we ask them to pay us back with zero interest. Our funding is the right financing source for relatively high-risk innovative technology commercialization ventures. All we ask is pay us back what you borrowed, so we can reuse the money for similar projects over and over again. That’s the core activity we have.
In addition, we have many other ancillary activities that are very valuable to the geomatics community as well. We provide a number of commercialization support services to help companies get their business plans developed and get their market assessments done. We also sponsor companies to go to tradeshows and we have a direct employment program where we fund half the salary of the first year of highly qualified personnel in geomatics.
GoGeomatics: Many new geomatics ventures are founded by individuals with excellent technical skills and abilities. However many do not have the business skills in terms of sales, marketing, and business development. How can TECTERRA help this group?
Dr. Abousalem: We actually identified this issue early on and that is why we’ve launched a couple of programs to directly address it. The Geomatics Commercialization Kickoff Program, or GECKO, is one of those programs. GECKO helps entrepreneurs and scientists with their business plans and marketing assessments. In most cases the applicants to that program are scientists that may have astounding technology ideas but need help and support identifying the market opportunity and crafting their business strategy. GECKO is a non-repayable grant of up to $25,000.
We also help companies that are already established- startups and small companies alike – that are in need of support services like marketing strategies, HR strategies, financing strategies, project management and a few other areas of support. We have what we refer to as CSS, which is a coaching program where we offer them up to $50,000 in one year to get coaching and support in those areas. There is a partial repayment required in this program, but 75 per cent is non-repayable. We also have a few other support programs that would complement skills of the entrepreneur/founder of a new venture to help them get on the right track.
GoGeomatics: What will the future bring for TECTERRA? Looking forward will their be any new services or investment and grant programs coming on stream to enhance TECTERRA’s offerings?
Dr. Abousalem: The short answer to this question is yes. We are always looking for more opportunities to extend our reach, increase our support and help the geomatics community. If you watch our website or look for our mailings, you will find that almost every quarter we come up with one or two new programs. The way we do that is by listening to the geomatics community. We get ideas, requests and queries about possible programs and ways we can further support the geomatics community as a whole. We are always open to ideas and we would be very pleased to receive input from the GoGeomatics community on what sort of programs would be helpful and useful to the community that we don’t offer today. We will assess and evaluate all suggestions and requests and see if we can come up with new programs.
GoGeomatics: Is there anything you would like to add about TECTERRA and share with the GoGeomatics Canada Community?
Dr. Abousalem: I don’t know if you realize this, but one of our biggest challenges since inception has been that the geomatics community sometimes thinks that TECTERRA is too good to be true. Therefore, some choose to not engage with us because they think there has to be some fine print or a catch. I really want to take this opportunity to tell your 6,000 members of the GoGeomatics community that we are good and we are true. We are set up to help the geomatics community. Yes, we have terms and conditions. Yes, we have requirements such as conditional payback on some programs, but it’s all designed and built around what is practical and what makes sense to industry.
I should mention that our 11 team members are all industry professionals. None of us came from government – we think and operate like industry does because we are all industry professionals. Therefore, our programs really do cater to industry and are designed with industry in mind. I urge you and all of the 6,000 members of GoGeomatics, to take a few minutes and go to our website at www.tecterra.com, or pick up the phone and call us – we’d be more than happy to tell you all about our programs and how we can help you and your business grow.
Lastly, it’s important to say that TECTERRA’s objective is to make you successful. We are only successful if the companies we work with and support are successful. So let’s work together to make it happen.
GoGeomatics: Thank you for taking the time to share the work you are doing with the GoGeomatics Canada community.
TECTERRA will be holding an event in Ottawa on February 29th, 2012 showcasing their programs. If you are a Canadian company or entrepreneur looking for help moving forward in your business request an invitation to attend. You can find that by clicking on the image below.