MOT MBA graduates make aerial intelligence accessible with drone software start-up
Mar 16, 2023
For Bill Lakeland and Peter Szymczak, SFU Beedie’s MOT MBA program proved to be exactly what they were looking for—a place where they could network with other business-minded individuals and gain valuable knowledge on the marketplace. They met in the program and co-founded Spexi Geospatial, a SaaS start-up that’s shaking up the geospatial data industry with an innovative software platform that uses drone technology to make aerial intelligence more accessible.
The geospatial data industry has traditionally been dominated by cities and engineering companies using expensive equipment and aircraft to collect high-resolution data. Spexi’s technology is breaking down these barriers and making geospatial data more accessible, affordable, and eco-friendly. Recently, the company raised $5.5 million USD in seed funding to launch its Spexigon platform, an innovative approach to incentivize people with consumer drones to collect imagery for building a high-resolution base layer of the earth.
“Ultimately, what Spexi does is democratize geospatial data for everyone,” says Szymczak. “We’re putting tools in the hands of the people to make it easy to do something that was previously difficult and costly to do, and we’re giving people access to data that they can make useable for themselves and unlock different use cases for.”
Spexi’s higher resolution and more frequently updated aerial data can lead to a wide range of new use cases in B2B analytics. This data can be used for identifying downed trees and damaged properties after weather events, allowing roofers and landscapers to make accurate assessments without leaving their offices, and assisting emergency response teams in planning their response efforts. The potential for business analytics is endless and has the power to create efficiencies cross-industry while also reducing CO2 emissions through the replacement of traditional aircraft to collect data.
Both Lakeland and Szymczak pursued the MOT MBA program at SFU to further their business knowledge and connect with like-minded individuals. Lakeland, who has a background in aerial survey and owned several businesses, realized the potential of using drones to collect geospatial data on a larger scale. Szymczak, who has a background in software and web development, was interested in the MOT MBA program to make the jump from a technologist to a business mindset. The two met on the first day of the program and developed a friendship that led to the creation of Spexi Geospatial in 2018.
“With the MOT MBA, I was looking for the opportunity to leverage my experience to build a new tech start-up that can really scale,” says Lakeland. “I was looking to meet smart people in the software development space—people who can really build technology and inspire teams. I also learned a lot about business knowledge around multi-sided marketplaces which allowed me to think holistically about what I could do with the core knowledge that I had.”
“Some of the leadership courses in the MOT MBA have been particularly interesting and valuable,” says Szymczak. “And just like Bill, I was a technologist looking for business-minded people to work with. We were looking for the Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak combo—and we found it.”
Following completion of the MOT MBA, the two founders have benefited from multiple innovation supports at SFU to help grow Spexi. In 2018, the team joined Coast Capital Venture Connection, which provides start-up services and dedicated mentorship to SFU’s early-stage entrepreneurship community.
Within their first year of operations, Spexi took first place at SFU’s largest entrepreneurship competition, the 2019 Coast Capital Venture Prize. The win was an early validation of the founders’ work, as well as providing much-needed financial and in-kind support through a prize package worth $35,000.
Through those early years of launching a start-up, Lakeland and Szymczak held monthly touchpoints with their assigned mentor, Dave Thomas. In 2020, Spexi graduated from Venture Connection to SFU’s later-stage accelerator, VentureLabs, where the team has been able to continue working with their mentor as well as accessing scale-up services and support for Spexi’s recent 5.5 million USD seed raise.
“Dave and the rest of the Venture Connection team have truly been amazing resources for us,” says Lakeland. “Having Dave to consult with, and as someone we can trust, has been instrumental while connecting vision to execution.”