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Christchurch geospatial data agency on a mission to change the world

23 July 2018

Orbica is on a mission to harness location data to make life easier for businesses big and small.

The Christchurch-based geospatial company uses artificial intelligence to extract building outlines, roads and surface water types with more than 90 per cent accuracy on training data sets, using satellite, drone and aerial imagery.

Regional ratepayers can now see where Environment Canterbury (ECAN) proposes to spend their money thanks to a collaboration with Orbica.

Orbica created a desktop rates tool for ECAN where regional projects are represented by colourful bubbles. Locals can now see exactly where in Canterbury funding for these projects comes from, and where it will be spent.

Local self-proclaimed IT geek Kurt Janssen’s huge passion for geography inspired him to set up Orbica in 2017 and he now employs 14 staff.

Janssen says the company’s success is a combination of bright ideas gleamed from a lengthy career in the geospatial industry and the desire to fill a gap in the market.

However, he admits it can be a challenge to explain what his company is all about, as so much of the work is visual. It involves taking globally available data representing people, places and environments then analysing and presenting that data in digital systems that allow businesses to create a better customer experience.

“Orbica came about when trying to bring the power of geography and the digital representation of geography to a wider sphere than it had been before, so that businesses can optimise their delivery and customer experience,” Janssen says.

He says access to Christchurch’s business growth programmes was key to his start-up’s rapid growth and success.

Janssen harnessed the support of the Hi-Growth Launch programme run by economic development agency ChristchurchNZ in Orbica’s early days, and says this was a great help to his business. He was introduced to new clients and collaborators, mentoring, co-funding for strategy development, and research and development funding through Callahan Innovation.

The Hi-Growth Launch programme is a 12-week workshop-based course best suited to existing businesses with an annual turnover of more than $100,000, with the potential and desire to upscale.

Janssen, who is now involved in the BNZ Supersize SME initiative, says these programmes help businesses grow and offer up good advice.

“I haven’t been shy with using mentors and understanding that I don’t know everything - and I don’t want to know everything - and bringing these guys on board to really give me a different perspective about where we take Orbica and how we get there”

Kurt Janssen

“I haven’t been shy with using mentors and understanding that I don’t know everything - and I don’t want to know everything - and bringing these guys on board to really give me a different perspective about where we take Orbica and how we get there,” he says.

Janssen says Christchurch’s innovation precinct, which brings together small and large tech focused businesses, combined with the status of Christchurch as New Zealand’s second largest tech sector, makes the city a desirable place to work.

“Christchurch has an interesting pull in terms of bringing talent in from overseas and other parts of New Zealand. The house prices and the work/life balance are favourable here and we’ve got an amazing environment; being a part of the South Island and everything that offers is fantastic.”

Christchurch’s tech sector contributes $2.4 billion worth of GDP and employs almost 15,000 people. Technology developed in Christchurch is used around the globe at places such as Dubai airports, Disney, and Nike. Christchurch also has one of the strongest business mentoring communities in New Zealand.

Christchurch also offers the ability for work to be done while international clients are sleeping, making tech businesses from Christchurch in demand globally. Orbica has proved this is true, recently expanding into the European market.

Orbica attended the Beyond Conventions event in Essen, Germany earlier this year, where they won the People’s Choice Award, and the Thyssenkrupp Drone Analytics Challenge.

“It was amazing that a small, New Zealand start-up was recognised on that international stage in a country with 82-million people - and we rose to the top of that. It was a humbling experience and one we’re very proud of.”

Janssen says Orbica’s plans to continue growing, evolving and innovating while bringing new technology to the traditional sphere of the GIS and geospatial technology sectors.

“We’re looking at how a Christchurch tech company can really get on the global stage and offer something different that no-one else has seen before.”