Eric Meger and his crew at Maerospace are preparing to cross digital swords with pirates, terrorists and illegal fishing vessels all over the world.
From its home port in landlocked Waterloo, the maritime intelligence company combines radar, satellite data and predictive analytics to give client countries a precise, real-time view of potential threats and illegal activity within a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which stretches 200 nautical miles out from shore.
“Maritime threats are difficult and expensive to combat,” says Meger, founder and CEO of Maerospace. “We can take hundreds of vessels that are being tracked and turn that down into three or four that are behaving suspiciously. And that generates the value of what we do.”
A dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, Meger has an MBA from Harvard and a background in aerospace and satellite systems. He launched Maerospace (think maritime and aerospace) in 2013 after working at Cambridge, Ont.-based COM DEV to help create exactEarth, a satellite data subsidiary that was later spun out on its own after Honeywell acquired COM DEV in 2016.
Maerospace started off with an analytics solution that sorted through satellite data of ocean vessels and helped client countries identify which ones might pose a threat within their EEZ.
In 2017, Meger learned that Raytheon Canada Ltd. was planning to reduce its Waterloo operations. One of the facility’s principal products was a leading-edge long-range radar system, which Raytheon had developed over the course of nearly 30 years in partnership with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the science and technology arm of the Canadian military.
The future of the high frequency surface wave radar (HFSWR) technology was uncertain. Meger saw a perfect fit with Maerospace’s data analytics technology. He embarked on a set of negotiations with Raytheon and DRDC to obtain a global licence for the made-in-Waterloo HFSWR systems.
It took 18 months but the deal was completed in June 2019, just as Raytheon announced plans to merge with another U.S.-based aerospace giant, United Technologies Corp.
The licensing agreement gives Maerospace the right and responsibility for the maintenance, design, engineering, manufacturing and international promotion, sales and deployment of the third generation of the HFSWR systems.
It also keeps Canadian-developed tech and intellectual property in Canada.
“The Maerospace commitment to the Canadian-developed HFSWR technology makes this licence agreement likely to generate economic benefits for Canadians while continuing the advancement of this world-leading maritime surveillance technology,” David Forster, a Deputy Director with DRDC, said in a news release at the time.
Meger set about hiring former Raytheon engineers who had developed the original radar system, as well as a senior business development executive. They spent the last 18 months updating the technology to third-generation, “productizing” it, building out the company, and nurturing existing sales channels.
“We got the band back together,” Meger quips today. “We re-assembled the engineering team, who have greater than 30 years of experience in the maritime sector and have maintained strong supplier relationships.”
Typical radar can “see” to the horizon, about 20 miles. The HFSWR technology – which Maerospace markets under the name PASE – can see across the full 200-mile width of an EEZ, says Meger.
Maerospace combines the radar with its TimeCaster data analytics technology, which sorts through satellite data (supplied by a third party) and identifies suspicious vessels, such as those that have turned off their automatic identification system (AIS).
“The radar tells you where all the ships are in the coverage area,” says Meger. “Our TimeCaster product, using satellite data, can tell you who the good guys are. So, everybody minus good guys equals bad guys. And that’s the equation that the world has been missing.”
It’s an equation that saves clients time and money.
Currently, most countries rely on ships and aircraft to patrol their EEZ waters, an enormous and costly approach that is hit-and-miss at best, says Meger. The Maerospace solution provides constant monitoring and generates updates every few minutes, he says. This allows coastal security agencies to send an aircraft or ship directly to a suspicious vessel, rather than a general patrol approach over an enormous swath of ocean.
“You can save tens of millions of dollars a year,” says Meger. “Our capital cost is about a third the cost of an airplane, and annual operating cost is less than a tenth of the operating cost (of an airplane).”
Meger says his goal is for Maerospace to become “the world’s best maritime intelligence company.
“I want to be providing the analytics and the maritime intelligence for all the countries around the world. I want to be known as the world’s best supplier of that kind of intelligence, including being the best at supplying these radar systems around the world.”
The company has a ways to go yet. Now that it has the radar technology updated and productized, and its sales channels building out, it needs to start generating orders and staffing up.
The company has a number of clients halfway through the sales cycle, thanks to the groundwork laid by a Maerospace business-development leader who previously worked for Raytheon before the company reduced its Waterloo operations, says Meger.
He also says there are few competitors offering the combined data analytics and long-range high-frequency radar that Maerospace can now provide.
“We expect to get our first orders later this year,” he says. “We’re going to be hiring like crazy in the coming year or two (the company now employs about 20). I expect we will triple in size the next 18 months or so, depending on how fast the orders come in.”
As part of the growth plan, Maerospace announced the acquisition earlier this month of Newfoundland-based Northern Radar’s antenna technology. Northern Radar was established to commercialize technology developed at Memorial University. The company’s systems have been implemented previously in Canada’s Atlantic region as well as in Sri Lanka and Romania, according to a news release.
Meger says having in-house control over the antenna subsystem gives Maerospace the ability to offer a more complete turn-key solution for clients.
In terms of funding, Meger says Maerospace has primarily bootstrapped itself so far with revenue, some initial angel investing, a small equity round, employee ownership, and support from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and the federal government’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).
Meger says there’s no better place to launch a tech company than Waterloo Region.
He moved to Waterloo from the U.S. in 2000, partly for family reasons and partly to launch a tech startup.
“I wanted to start a company and I decided Waterloo was the best place to put a startup,” he says. “What convinced me of that was Communitech under (inaugural CEO) Vince Schiralli, back in at the very beginning.”
Meger launched a wireless internet startup – AccessTNG Inc., which later became Broadband Learning Corp. – and exited the business a few years later. In 2007, he joined Cambridge-based COM DEV and helped create its exactEarth subsidiary.
Meger, who studied physics as an undergrad and went on to earn an MBA at Harvard, says he has always loved large, complex projects and is a big fan of alliances and partnerships.
“I have a physics background, which makes me really intrigued by difficult things,” he says. “I love international, I love space, I love complexity and I love building alliances and long-term relationships where everybody wins.
He gives credit to his team at Maerospace for helping bring all the pieces together over the past 18 months.
“Companies don’t make things happen, people do,” he says. “And if you keep your people happy and your partners happy, you can do great things.”