Discussing culture & building successful tech companies with CRWN.ai and TerraSense.
CEOCFO: What is CRWN.ai? Would you tell us what the company is about and why it is a now a stand alone entity?
Mr. Miller: CRWN.ai was initially established to provide a vessel in which we could move a platform that was historically developed under TerraSense. What the CRWN platform does is provide real-time insight into the condition of transmission systems from anywhere in the world, generating actionable intelligence to help utilities reduce costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by transmission loss, replace and repair components before they fail, and create more resilient transmission systems. On top of that, they get better situational awareness of the transmission asset. Therefore, it is a completely different business or separate platform, then what TerraSense now has, which is MIST (Multimodal Input Surveillance & Tracking). The reason we separated them was because the TerraSense MIST platform is really a defense maritime surveillance platform. CRWN is not. CRWN is for linear infrastructure, and specifically, we are targeting transmission infrastructure. What this does is, for 4 example, currently, if a transmission company has a problem on their line, they will detect it between 2 substations. They do not necessarily know what is going on in between. In order for them to find that and figure out what it is, they either have to drive out and use manpower, or they have to go and fly out to it. Knowing this system and challenges, CRWN built a small box which monitors the entire transmission line through its own communication network. You do not need cellular transmission, you do not need Wi-Fi, and it will communicate, geo reference, and classify issues that occur on the line and give the transmission company situational awareness. Now, it is not in the commercialization stage yet. It is at a Beta testing stage right now, and we are moving forward to work with some utility partners.
CEOCFO: How are you able to do this effectively? What do you understand or have you been able to create, that will allow for a system that works the way it really should?
Mr. Miller: When we initially looked at the problem, we were already an artificial intelligence company. What we saw was a number of different industries out there with linear assets, and they had no real-time monitoring of those assets. We looked at where there were issues, and we already knew about the AI piece, plus also the communications capabilities of the new technologies. Therefore, by combining those two components we have actually developed something where you have AI embedded, built into a hardware piece that can actually communicate. The actual communications system is quite simple. It is a LoRa network (long range radio communication technique), which is very common in the public community now. We have tested the equipment thoroughly, and can confidently demonstrate that it works. Now we know that we can move forward in that Beta testing phase, but the key thing here is that we need to work with a utilities partner. We'd like to understand the actual pain points they face so we can ensure that our AI service can properly detect, target and service the real problem areas they have. At the end of the day, our goal is to develop a system that actually ends up with predictive maintenance. Preventative and predictive maintenance can reduce the risk of fire, transmission failure that could cause fire, and a number of other solutions to problems, for instance, reducing energy losses on these transmission lines.
CEOCFO: What do you see as either the ease or the difficulty in getting a foot in the door to let the utilities know what you have, and hopefully want to take some steps to work with you?
Mr. Miller: This is actually an excellent question because the utilities market is a very difficult market to penetrate. Our method is actually not to go after really large companies, but to go after smaller to medium-sized utility groups, that have more capacity to enact a quick decision-making process. We would target larger companies when CRWN is at a more developed stage like pre-commercialization, approximately 2 years down the road from now. What we are targeting is more medium to small-sized utilities that can actually make quick decisions, that have the, let us say, agile capabilities to work with us and get it onto the transmission lines, and are willing to go out and test it.
CEOCFO: Are you primarily in Canada and/or the US??
Mr. Miller: Right now, we currently have a Canadian utility partner, but will be targeting and looking at doing Beta testing down in the US, also potentially with EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute), which is the electrical producers' utilities group in the US. CEOCFO: On the TerraSense website there is a great deal of information about your people, your culture and the fun that you have. How important is that for both of these companies? When did you realize the need and value for this type of company atmosphere? Mr. Miller: Mike and I can both answer this question. Back in 2017/2018, when we were getting TerraSense setup, some of the staff wanted to look at what is really important in a business. One of the key things here is that in the current tech environment, acquiring good, talented people is the number one challenge for these businesses. Now, it has been exacerbated with COVID, inflation, and young people entering the workforce, who have a completely different expectation of the work/life balance, from even 2 years ago. Fortunately, prior to this, we wanted to set up a company culture that was very open, and transparent, that would really give the employees a say in the company. That open transparency is in all of the business components, whether it is 5 salaries, job positions, or benefits. Along with that, we have developed an internal shared system where all of the company information is put in a central location so that everyone can go in to read, input or learn more. What we wanted to do is really, truly empower everyone working for the company, and along with that, feel that our culture basically vibrated through everything. We were not just saying, we are a company that is actually enacting this culture. I will let Mike take over from now because he has really taken it to that next level with the group at TerraSense.
Mr. McGinty: First, I can start with that it is a great testament to Eric and the team that came before I was CEO here, that they set up such a good culture. As a tech company, we have IP, and we have people. Those are the things that really make us worth our salt. Therefore, the real heart of the business is the talent. To understand how our products are developed, you have to understand our people. We work hard at attracting, retaining, satisfying, and engaging our people. It is super important to us, so we really try to reinforce that. Our website is quite people-centric. Because we are not a B2C business, we are not actually selling to clients out there who are coming on to our website to look and see what they are buying. The people we are selling to are our employees, and prospective employees. Yes, there is a bit of serious stuff about big companies and the government. Actually, in the most immediate sense, the most important relationships we have are with our staff. To get back to the question you asked me on the front end, there are a lot of pretty heavy answers; philosophical, life and death in context, and all that stuff which is really pretty heavy going. However, it is also important that we realize that we have to engage our staff in understanding and believing in that purpose, that we are doing a good, socially worthy, and just thing, which I strongly believe that we are, but also that just because that process is meaningful and consequential, it does not mean that working here has to be under this burden of it being quite so serious all the time. Of course, the work that we do is very serious as are the consequences, but we do want to have people to come here who love coming to work, and love coming to work with each other, and that it is a fun place to be, where we have built something that is actually making a difference in the world. We are just a little bit more, perhaps, accessible than some of those heavy news answers about purpose. It is really important.
CEOCFO: Are you seeking funding, investment, or partnerships at this point for either company?
Mr. Miller: Historically, we did a couple of Seed Rounds in TerraSense. In the future, there will likely be some form of a raise. With CRWN, we are just getting it started up with some Seed funding, but as CRWN moves forward, closer to precommercialization and in those stages, there will definitely be a Series A, potentially a Series B in CRWN, to get it up and through to cross that chasm into the commercialization stage. We will absolutely be looking to do some fundraising. Mr. McGinty: From a TerraSense point of view, we have had some successful Seed money that Eric has very ably brought in for us, but it is very likely that to cross that chasm, despite the fact that we have a very excellent runway, and well-funded R & D, and quite a lot of excellent sources of funding, I think the next stage of commercialization will, in time, require a Series A round within the next 18 months or so, probably, to take us to that point. It is fortunate for us, although not so fortunate for the world, that defense has become a more high-profile space, and that all of a sudden, perhaps investors might see the imperative, and indeed the opportunities, commercially, that exist there. That is not entirely why we got into this business. It was because we felt that we could build something that would make a difference. However, that will mean that at some point, yes, we will be looking to raise to help us to achieve that full commercialization and bring it to the potential that it has.
CEOCFO: With so many new ideas, why is TerraSense Analytics important? Why is CRWN.ai important?
Mr. McGinty: TerraSense is important because we are employing AI to do something that people, certainly in Canada, and in most western countries, are not yet able to do. We are able to automatically identify things, at the edge, with multiple sources, and provide information to human beings, to give them the proper tools to make really difficult and consequential decisions. That is what we are able to do, it is what we are going to be able to commercialize, to be able to deliver, and it is going to make a difference. It is Canadian: it is Canadian technology, and it will make a difference in Canadian safety and security.
Mr. Miller: For CRWN, it is similar. Again, it is a sister company to TerraSense. It is an artificial intelligence company, 6 and it is really focused on targeting a problem in the utilities market. At the end of the day, it provides situational awareness for a utility, on and in their critical assets. For example, you could put this system to monitor older transmission assets that could have the risk of having component failure, that could start a fire, for instance like we have seen in some of the cases in the United States. Utilization of a tool like CRWN could ensure preventative measures are taking place which would increase safety and could potentially reduce life loss related to hazards or outcomes of major transmission failures. In addition, the system will give the utilities the capability of situational awareness on their lines, to actually understand the personnel of their lines, the micro-climatic effects, and other things that could influence their lines, and they can learn from the data they collect. You can train the AI to better manage, or oversee, or monitor assets for that utility, and then provide critical information to those very important decisions made by the utility and the maintenance personnel, which can be executed in an extremely efficient manner.
For the full interview, please follow the link: