Business in Vancouver’s “How I Did It” feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week’s issue, environmental scientist Ed Quilty, founder and CEO of Aquatic Informatics, explains how he identified a new business opportunity in the analysis of river, lake and ocean data and how he went back to grad school and later entered Acetech’s three-year growth strategy program to fill gaps in his knowledge of data analysis and building a business.
“In the mid-’90s I was working for the B.C. Ministry of Environment. We would take [water] samples and send them to a laboratory, and they had very sensitive instruments that would give back the results of all the nutrients, heavy metals – all that kind of stuff – in the water. In the mid-’90s a new technology came out where you could install [the chemical analysis] in situ.
“That was disruptive technology, where you could measure this stuff continuously. I saw this was going to change the market. This is now giving us millions, or billions, of data points per year. Simply put, I did not have the skills to process this type of data.
“I left B.C. Environment and started my own consulting firm. The genesis of the company came out of that consulting work. We set up networks for these sensors, and we managed the data. But there were really no tools out there that I was aware of to manage the data. So I saw this as an opportunity: there’s got to be a way to manage this automatically and efficiently.
“I went back to grad school to basically learn how to deal with what’s called time series data or high-frequency data. While I was at grad school, I started Aquatic Informatics. I had to take a leave because we won [a contract with] the U.S. Geological Survey, and I never went back. The company just started taking off.
“I understood the data well and had a fairly technical background, but I’m not a software developer, and the other challenge was I was not a business guy.
“I was a scientist starting a business in software. I hired technical people to help build out the software side of the company. Then on the business side I joined Acetech, the growth strategy program.
“It’s a three-year program. It’s sort of like an executive MBA. While I was going through the growth strategy program, we started building out the company, hiring staff, going for projects and started winning more projects in Canada and the U.S. By the time I ended the growth strategy program, we had increased our revenue by a factor of almost 10.
“In the last two years we’ve doubled in size. We’re at almost 100 staff now. We have a small team of five in Australia. We hired 43 people last year. Between 2012 and 2013 we doubled revenue."