Dec 03, 2015

Plymouth science firm hikes turnover by 90%

By Plymouth Herald. PLYMOUTH science company Pixalytics has the world at its feet – and on its computer screens. The Plymouth Science Park-based enterprise is an independent consultancy specialising in Earth observation.

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The business combines cutting-edge scientific knowledge with satellite and airborne data to provide answers to questions about the planet’s resources and behaviour.

And business has been so good lately the company is expanding. Its turnover has jumped this year by up to 90 per cent, landing at £140,000.

Formed in 2012 by Dr Sam Lavender and her husband Andrew Lavender, Pixalytics has also just employed Dr Louisa Reynolds, a Lancaster University-educated expert in remote sensing and environmental science, to help with the workload.

“There are only so many hours Sam can work, so we decided to get help,” said Mr Lavender. “Now we’ve got a dynamic duo for the organisation.”

Dr Lavender is chair of the British Association of Remote Sensing Companies (BARSC), which includes Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Met Office. Previously to setting up Pixalytics she had run Argans, another Plymouth firm specialising in satellite-based Earth observation, for five years.

The Lavenders are still shareholders in that business.

“We got to the point were we wanted our own company,” Dr Lavender said.
She described Pixalytics as “a scientific version of Google Earth”, more about hard data than “pretty pictures”.

The company carries out scientific research and development, acts as consultants and advisers, and provides and monitors products derived from Earth-monitoring data. She said the Pixalytics’ analysis could be of, for instance, vegetation, urban areas or ocean plankton.

“Or even mapping the height of water in rivers or during floods,” she said. “It depends on what users require; we respond to people coming to us and asking for help.”

Dr Lavender explained that while her previous company was primarily funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), Pixalytics is a more commercial entity.

“Some of our customers are big companies that launch satellites,” she said. “For them we act as in-house scientists, helping with the expertise they don’t possess.
“We also have commercial work from various environmental consultancies and we are winning some grants as well, to help with new products.
“Research and development is part of what we do, and we commercialise science research and knowledge.”

Pixalytics, which uses high-speed PCs and remote cloud computing, has been working with farmers in the north of England, monitoring fields and yields.
“And we can use the technology to map areas people can’t get to, or to monitor more consistently,” Dr Lavender said.

Pixalytics can even delve into historical data to make comparisons.
Satellites have been photographing the earth since the 1970s and even earlier, though the technology was more primitive.
Today a range of companies and organisations are constantly photographing the earth from space, including the ESA and NASA.

“We recently bought data from the Korean space agency,” Dr Lavender said. “But some of the data is free. We process it for the client. It could be a map, or picture, or a series of point measurements, depending on what you want to detect.
“At the moment our clients tend to be in the UK, but we have had discussions with international companies.”

Dr Lavender studied at Plymouth University and Pixalytics is keen to provide support for students on placement and on work experience.

The company has hosted two students this year, one Turkish, the other Romanian, under the EU’s Erasmus programme.

And Dr Lavender, whose PhD was in remote sensing, is an in-demand expert on the international academic circuit, and attends conferences and business expos.

Her globetrotting has taken her to San Francisco, Hawaii, Rome, Milan, China, Australia, Japan and Thailand.

“We present the work we have been doing and the scientific research at conferences,” she said.

And her husband explained that Pixalytics’ growth is dependent on it becoming better known within a specialist field.

“We’re in a niche business, so it’s about Sam getting out to conferences and meetings and getting us known,” he said.

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