Hi-tech businesses the future: UM supplies pool of well-educated employees to Terraechos

MISSOULA – If future growth in Missoula is tied to the success
of small business, Alex Philp’s two technology-based enterprises
are a sign of good things to come.

Philp’s “digital garage” on the Hip Strip in downtown Missoula is
home to the advanced information analysis companies GCS and
TerraEchos.

It’s not the Taj Mahal, Philp notes, but inside the walls of these
labs things are being done that aren’t being done anywhere else. In
2003, Philp launched GCS?as a private sector venture based on his
geospatial information technology research at the University of
Montana. From there GCS grew, securing government contracts, adding
employees and pioneering other technologies that led to the
inception of TerraEchos.

The past two years have been especially exciting for
TerraEchos.

For a world that’s drowning in data – “We are creating and filling
up a Library of Congress every 15 days,” Philp said – TerraEchos
had developed an acoustic fiber-optic sensor technology system that
can capture, then analyze, enormous amounts of data quickly and
accurately.

Originally, the TerraEchos “Adelos” technology was designed to be
used as a kind of high-tech security system that mapped sound as it
hit sensors. In 2010, the company secured a licensing agreement
with IBM. It has since been awarded premier partner status with the
technology giant, something that’s “unheard of” for a business of
its size, Philp said.

That has opened many doors for the small company, including
allowing TerraEchos to advance its original product using IBM’s
Streams technology, which when plugged into Adelos provides
real-time analytical processing of the data captured.

Almost anything – emails, cellphone calls and video data – can be
analyzed, Philp said.

In May, Philp was named an “IBM champion,” recognizing him as
“someone who honors a collaborative work ethic, brings new ideas
and innovation to the table, and is continually working toward
advances in their field of expertise.”

TerraEchos is close to having its technology ready to be sold
commercially in a $15 billion industry.

***

As Missoula moves away from reliance on
traditional product-based industries, small to medium business
enterprises, or SMEs, like TerraEchos have received a lot of
attention as the next booster for the economy.

The thought is that the small of jobs a handful of SMEs can create
will add up to something significant.

“I see a diverse economy which provides resiliency in the form of
SMEs, which includes my companies. The kind of SMEs I represent is
a high-tech SME?doing work in advanced information analysis,” Philp
said.

Staying on the leading edge of innovation is crucial to making the
next step for business and for attracting similar companies to
Missoula.

One key to attracting and maintaining companies is a well-educated
and well-trained work force. Philp hires employees from the pool of
recent University of Montana graduates, but stresses the need for a
focus on application-based studies that prepare students from a
variety of departments to work in the demanding world of high
technology.

“The most important commodity I can hire is a creative, critical
thinker who has the ability to come up with original ideas,” Philp
said.

Also, Philp said, if Missoula can find a way to support its
entrepreneurs, whether it’s through an economic development
initiative like the Missoula Economic Partnership or a campaign by
the university to become a center of excellence for IBM’s Streams
computing technology, more jobs for those well-prepared graduates
will keep Montana’s best and brightest in state.

“I’m trying to create a sector here … so when people drive into
Missoula or hear about Missoula, not only do they think about it as
a great place to live – I want them to also know us as the
national, if not international, center for advance information
analysis,” Philp said.

Philp is proud of what TerraEchos and GCS have done already to help
put Missoula on the high-tech sector’s map.

“I think we’ve added value to the Missoula economy by being an
innovation engine,” Philp said. “I really, really, really believe
if the water level rises for my company, and other companies, we
all rise together. So if the water level rises, my boat floats
higher, your boat floats higher.”

Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at
jenna.cederberg@missoulian.com.

 

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