How Key Partnerships Helped Put Orbital Insight On The Map
Kevin O'Brien

While the world as a whole may not yet know Orbital Insight, Orbital Insight certainly knows the world. Through analyzing millions of satellite images at a time, Orbital Insight has successfully revealed key socio-economic trends to influential companies, industry leaders and even government institutions.

Founded by James “Jimi” Crawford, an artificial intelligence researcher who previously built intelligent systems for NASA, Orbital Insight has proven to not only be revolutionary, but lucrative as well.

Part of Orbital Insight’s monumental success can be attributed to its key partnerships. Kevin O'Brien, the company’s CBO, took the time to chat with TechDay to discuss how choosing the right partners is paramount and what Orbital Insight has done to garner their most prominent partnerships.

Orbital Insight has garnered significant success in a relatively short amount of time. How, in general, can key partnerships be attributed to this?

Partnerships allow you to expand your capabilities beyond just your core competencies—for example, at Orbital Insight, we don’t build and launch satellites; instead, we partner with organizations that are experts in that field so that we get the best imagery possible to use for analysis, which is our real area of expertise. By partnering with various satellite providers, we can focus our efforts on the areas where we really excel, rather than being a jack-of-all-trades.

Choosing the right partners also means selecting the right investors and employees to work with. Finding people who can understand and share your vision will help move your company in the direction you want to take it in.

As different partners have a wide array of reasons to partner with Orbital Insight, how do you best explain to prospective companies how the partnership will be beneficial for both parties?

It depends on the partnership we’re looking at. For our satellite imagery provider partners, we’ve embraced a revenue share model that gives us access to their imagery in return for a percentage of our profits, rather than a pay-by-image system. This means that the more successful we are, the more they’ll benefit as well.

Obviously the same holds true for groups like investors and employees—the rising tide of the company’s success can buoy all boats, so to speak.

Specifically, how did Orbital Insight’s partnership with the World Bank come to be and how has this fostered achieving the goals of both institutions?

The World Bank reached out to Orbital Insight initially to explore our capabilities. The partnership has been mutually beneficial—we’ve learned how to look for specific signals, like construction rates, car density, etc., that can help indicate an area’s poverty level. In turn, the World Bank has gained a new method of measuring poverty that’s much more efficient than sending aid workers into remote areas on foot.

Who are some of Orbital Insight’s other most prominent and impactful partners and how did these get going?

We also have partnerships with our various satellite imagery providers, which include DigitalGlobe, Planet, Airbus, and others. These partnerships are of course critical to our business—without the imagery, there would be nothing for our algorithms to analyze. Having diversity in these partnerships is also essential: the different satellite providers specialize in different areas or granularity of imagery, so it’s important that we have access to a broad range of imagery types.

We also have a partnership with the World Resources Institute, with whom we’ve worked on efforts like deforestation tracking. We believe our technology has broad implications and applications, so we think it’s important to partner with many different types of organizations to maximize the technology’s full potential.

What would you say to early stage startup founders regarding the importance of choosing the right partner and advice on seeking them out?

It’s important to choose partners who have expertise in their respective areas and who can understand and share your vision. Having just one or the other isn’t a recipe for success—you either have motivated individuals who are unable to contribute real value, or experts in their fields who can’t see the bigger picture of your direction, neither of which are ideal.

What new innovations can we expect to see from Orbital Insight in the near future?

We recently announced our new China Oil product, which allows us to estimate in real time the amount of oil China is storing above ground. In the future, we’d like to expand on this offering, in addition to embracing new “signals”—or things to measure—to gain insights into other areas. Some examples of signals we can already track include cars in retail parking lots, freshwater reserves, and deforestation in the world’s rainforests.