Gary Davis was encouraged at university to stay on an academic path after graduating, “but I wanted to get out into the real world and interact with it”, he says.
The chief executive of Edinburgh software specialist Ecometrica, which was founded in 2008 and uses satellite data to map factors such as the effects of climate change, is nonetheless still able to fuse theory and practicality in his current role. He enjoys uniting “academic rigour and insight into the commercially relevant world. If people are paying for things, then that means it’s useful to somebody.”
Nobody knew what a carbon footprint wasGary Davis
And people are paying for Ecometrica’s offering, with sales of £2.77 million in its last financial year, a year-on-year jump of 132 per cent.
Business wins include the announcement in January of its £14.2m contract with the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme regarding the Forests 2020 project to help manage and protect 300 million hectares of tropical forests. It was also revealed last month that it had been ranked 388th on the FT 1000 list of Europe’s fastest growing companies.
Ecometrica was launched after Davis had taken up a post at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management on graduating in 2003 with a degree in geosciences, working with companies to measure their carbon footprint alongside Richard Tipper, whom he credits as a pioneer in the sector and who is now Ecometrica’s executive chairman.
Davis says: “This concept of carbon neutrality was coming along but it was in the days when nobody knew what a carbon footprint was.”
But by 2006, “we’d done about 1,000 carbon-footprint assessments, so it had really taken off”.
Such assessments were done the “old-fashioned way” using spreadsheets, for example, and the possibility and benefits of automation and creating a system were becoming increasingly apparent, while Tipper had been concentrating on the forestry side, looking at changes in land use.
When it became clear that the pair and their parent company were heading in different directions, they decided to set up on their own with Bertrand Revenaz, now chief product officer.
Catalysing its establishment was Davis taking part in the Edinburgh Pre-incubator Scheme, run at the time by Adrian Smith who is now the software business’s chief financial officer. “Ecometrica started off on a consulting model but the mission was always to codify all that domain expertise and turn it into a software platform that we could scale, so we didn’t have to build a massive organisation of consultants.”
It started rolling out the platform from about 2010, with a landmark moment coming in the form of mandatory carbon reporting for UK-listed firms being introduced in 2013.
As for its own balance sheet, “I think it took us five or six years to break the [£1m] turnover barrier of survival, and once you get through [that] things become a whole lot easier. We then find ourselves in the hyper-growth phase now.”
He expects turnover to double in the current financial year and conservatively estimates to 2020 for it to exceed £10m and core earnings to reach £3m to £5m. Staff numbers are expected to grow from 40 to about 60 globally – it also has offices in London, Boston and Montreal – over the same timescale.
Having focused on sustainability, the earth observation and mapping side of the business, bringing in clients like Nasa “is now coming to the fore, as people are realising the power of what can be done with earth observation data in terms of monitoring forests or looking at things in the supply chain”. There is growing potential among corporates regarding the latter, he states, also stressing agriculture and disaster prevention and response as key areas.
“There is so much potential application of our platform – we are now looking to see what the right way of scaling what we have to offer the world is over the next few years.”
The only negative point, he flags, is the potential impact of Brexit on hiring staff with suitable skills, but he is highly optimistic and, looking five to ten years down the line, forecasts Ecometrica having a “major footprint in the US and South America and building on what we’re doing in the UK” as well as being a leader in environment and sustainability reporting globally.
“It’s a business that I think the world needs and the world has an interest in it doing well.”
Born: 1980, Solihull
Education: Tettenhall College, University of Edinburgh
First job: Stacking freezers in a frozen-food shop
Ambition while at school: To be a fast-jet pilot in the RAF
What car do you drive? Land Rover Discovery
Favourite mode of transport: Walking
Music: Rap, classical, house (depending on mood)
Kindle or book? Kindle
Reading material: Ian McEwan, Aldous Huxley and Julia Donaldson for the kids
Can’t live without: My Silvine Memo Book and a pen
What makes you angry? Problem-finders rather than problem-solvers
What inspires you? People who tell me things aren’t possible
Favourite place: My back garden under a starry sky
Best thing about your job: The people I work with and the mission we’re on