Ben Kerr of Foundry Spatial tells us about empowering decisions to shape the future of watersheds and aquifers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ben Kerr: We all miss the ability to see our friends and extended family, but have grown closer over the past year as we’ve been able to spend more time together.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Foundry Spatial.
Ben Kerr: I started the company in 2010 after spending the early part of my career in government. My whole career has been spent helping people use spatial data to understand the world around them. The last 10 years have been an amazing journey. Along the way, we have now built systems that support sustainable resource management (water, forests) across a significant portion of western North America.
How does Foundry Spatial innovate?
Ben Kerr: We maintain close connections with the research community, academia, government, and the non-profit sector. This involves financial contributions to multi-agency, multidisciplinary research projects as well as collaborating with forward-looking clients in developing new applications that leverage these research and development efforts. We have been operating at or close to the cutting edge of web-based, spatial business intelligence for close to a decade and actively contribute to a range of open-source projects.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ben Kerr: We moved from 100% co-located to 100% remote within 3 days in March 2020. Our staff felt this was an important step to take for their personal health, and for the remainder of 2020, we put a huge amount of effort into responding to the changing demands of the pandemic response. This included prioritizing connection opportunities among all staff, moving our bi-weekly social events online, and some socially-distanced, outdoor events when the weather was nice and those were permitted. The pandemic slowed down business substantially through the middle part of 2020 and has fundamentally changed a lot of aspects. We entered 2021 shifting from a ‘response’ mindset to a ‘plan and execute’ mindset and are optimistic about the post-pandemic future.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ben Kerr: There have been a lot of difficult choices, but we consider ourselves lucky not to have had to deal with closures and layoffs like lots of other companies we see all around us. Our most important lessons have been around how to manage communications in a remote-only environment, processes, and systems, and the importance of trust and safety for everyone during stressful times.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Ben Kerr: Nothing specific to mention here
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ben Kerr: We are defining a new market segment, providing science-based spatial business intelligence. A lot of our competition is from the status quo / one-off consulting report way of doing business. Scientists generally do a terrible job of moving theoretical research into the application – we see a huge opportunity by combining modern data science, web architecture, and user-centered design to provide tools that will help the world achieve sustainable development goals.
Your final thoughts?
Ben Kerr: Prior to the coronavirus crisis, the world had been mobilizing to deal with the climate crisis. As health restrictions ease and economic stimulus grow, it is essential that investments are made in line with what the world needs to do in response to the climate crisis. By making it easier to ensure that sustainability can be accounted for, our hope is that it can be included as an imperative going forward.
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