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This Award-Winning Company is Mapping a Path to Success in Forestry

Leading Edge Geomatics (LEG) is a Canadian airborne mapping company that utilizes LiDAR and advanced airborne imagery to help clients in the forestry and utility sectors produce maps, collect data, and better manage their assets.

The Canadian government’s Department of Innovation, Science & Economic Development has taken note of the company’s technology, announcing it would provide new funding for LEG’s innovative work in airborne geomatics. The announcement sees LEG become the first Atlantic Canada company to participate in the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI).

Days after the SADI announcement, LEG was recognized as New Brunswick’s Emerging Exporter of the Year at the 2016 NB Export Awards.

Opportunities NB (ONB) wanted to learn more, so we spoke with Mike Oliver, Vice President – Corporate Development.

ONB: LEG is now winning awards for its export efforts. Where are your customers?

Oliver: We have customers across Canada and the United States. We have strong partnerships in the U.S. allowing us to do airborne mapping for the USGS (United States Geological Survey). Recently, we won the opportunity to perform mapping of the entire territory of Puerto Rico; we had three aircraft there in Q1 as a result of the partnership with the USGS supply chain.

ONB: Given the nature of your business you obviously require people with certain skillsets. How do you go about recruiting?

Oliver: We have a long term relationship with the University of New Brunswick (UNB), and the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia which provides us with our geomatics specialists. We work closely with the geomatics group within UNB Engineering as well as with the forestry faculty, typically hiring summer students from those departments. We’ve thus far had no real trouble finding good capable people in New Brunswick to meet our recruiting needs.

ONB: When we spoke with Alain Doucet from CCNB’s Metal Innovation and Technology Transfer Centre (MITTC) he mentioned work with Leading Edge. Could you expand on that? 

Oliver: We were happy to work with CCNB due to their top-notch engineering and machining capabilities. They were able to help us complete crucial design work, and manufactured prototypes for us to use in testing. It’s a real convenience to have all of that service provided under one roof.

We own and operate five aircraft types, and had some new designs and modifications for them. We also own a number of different sensor suites and prefer to have them plug-and-play capable with those various aircraft. By working with CCNB’s team we were able to hit our objectives in terms of improving productivity and successfully integrating those sensors into our various aircraft.

ONB: You’ve worked with UNB as an instructor in the Technology Management & Entrepreneurship (TME) program. What advice can you offer entrepreneurs and startup founders?

Oliver: I believe this region has a lot to offer entrepreneurs at the startup stage, specifically those looking to validate and verify their products or services. We have one of just about everything here as far as helping startups build. We also have some very innovative early adopter types in this province.

The key is to validate your idea and do your beta testing close to home, while keeping your eyes on the larger markets outside the Maritime region. Thinking beyond our borders needs to be your long term plan. The resources and expertise are here, however, to do all of your initial validation and verification of solution(s) before you start trying to tackle global markets. We can do it here; you just have to be willing to take the plunge.

ONB: What benefits has LEG seen from operating in New Brunswick? 

Oliver: A few years back we worked with New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources to perform forest inventory using LiDAR. Having the opportunity to bid on that contract—and to win that RFP—has been very important for us strategically. By winning and successfully executing such a large job right here at home we managed to validate our solution, and move forward to the point where we are exporting that same solution to jurisdictions across North America.

This really is a New Brunswick-built solution, created by New Brunswickers in the private sector and validated by a visionary group within the public sector. The government had the foresight to transition their inventory processes to a new LiDAR-based methodology, and we were able to effectively work with them to accomplish their objectives.

We’ve refined our product as a result of that collaboration, and now we’re exporting it to the world. Having the public sector engage with a local supplier like us to help validate our solution was huge. It’s been a great story for us, and one of the key contributions to our early success.

ONB: Sticking with the public sector theme, can you comment on your company’s relationship with ONB?

Oliver: With a small jurisdiction like this, private equity investment isn’t always as accessible as it may be in larger North American centres — you have to look for partners like ONB. It’s not just financing, however, though that is important. It’s about help with recruiting world-class people, market entry programs, opportunities to attend trade shows with other like-minded local companies, and access to resources like export webinars and informational sessions. We try to leverage as many of those resources as possible. The information and connections that arise from participation in these programs is vital for small businesses.

ONB: As Emerging Exporter of the Year what tips can you offer to companies at the same early stage of their export journey?

Oliver: Build relationships in those markets you’re looking at. This doesn’t just mean customer relationships; sometimes it’s about complimentary relationships. For example, we have partnerships with U.S. surveying and engineering companies that have relationships with the USGS. We’re complimentary, adding value to their value. Being strategic in your relationship development is essential.

Have a solution with uniqueness and proprietary value to it so that you can crawl up the value chain with your customers. I believe that is key to growing an export business from this region.

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Images via Leading Edge Geomatics