Julie Baker remembers a moment just before Ursa Space Systems got its first round of financing, when the satellite data and analytics company included herself and “about 10 other men” — although, she points out, there was a female intern during her first summer there.
Then in October 2017, Ursa raised $7 million — allowing it to expand rapidly from that small group to 48 people in less than a year. Ursa ended up with about 50% gender parity, an unusual feature in this male-dominated industry. But Baker, a co-founder and chief operating officer, says the key was not hiring for gender, but hiring for diversity.
“When we started hiring, we were very careful and cognizant of the fact that when people are interviewing, they tend to really gravitate to those who are most like themselves,” Baker said. The small team of 10 people already had diverse representation in terms of fields — science, physics, astronomy, communications, mechanical engineering. By continuing to branch out, females came.
While diversity comes from numbers, what also makes Ursa stand apart is inclusion — allowing women to “have a seat at the table” in the executive suite, Baker pointed out. Half of the leadership today is women, including the chief technology officer, the vice-president of engineering, the vice-president of products and the vice-president of global sales.
“The real bottom line is all of our women throughout the company really appreciate those role models,” Baker said. “It’s important to them. They told me time and time again it’s important to see women in positions of leadership, and they appreciate it.”
In 2018, Ursa raised $5.7 million in new venture funding in a round led by RRE Ventures. Based in Ithaca, New York, the company creates data analytics products that are based on satellite images; the images are obtained using synthetic aperture radar, which can pick up information that visual satellite imagery cannot. In 2018, Ursa’s biggest product was a weekly report on the global crude oil supply.
Lately, Baker said, the company has moved into tracking more of the oil and gas supply chain. Their products provide information on when wells are coming online, where ships are moving, and refinery activities (when the refineries are active, or not.)
“Our goal was to make it very easy for customers to get the data,” Baker said, which in turns allows the customers to make forecasts for their businesses. Often, once customers become familiar with a subset of Ursa products, they come back to the company and ask what else they can do, she added.
While the company does not release full financials, Baker said it is expanding its customer base and is getting ready to go into new (and undisclosed) vertical markets to serve a wider selection of customers.