Throughout much of 2020, opening a new office was a challenge for almost any business. Construction materials were hard to get and restrictions often made it tough for crews to work in close proximity. Besides, why open an office when millions of people were avoiding their offices and working from home?
For DarkVision, a Vancouver-based acoustic imaging technology company, waiting was not an option. “We’ve had all kinds of people in the states asking for our help,” said Stephen Robinson, CEO of DarkVision, “but we couldn’t do much outside of Canada until we got an office set up in the U.S.”
Koch Engineered Solutions acquired a majority interest in DarkVision last May. “We’re really excited about their technology,” said Dave Dotson, president of KES, “but COVID made for a strange set of circumstances. We have yet to visit them in Vancouver and they have yet to visit the U.S. Everything has been done remotely.”
Even before KES’s investment, DarkVision had wanted to open an office in Houston, the epicenter for America’s oil and gas industry. It needed to hire sales reps and field technicians who could serve the U.S. market the same way its team in Calgary (the energy capital of Canada) did. After Houston, plans are to open more offices based on demand.
But when the pandemic shut down most air travel between Canada and the U.S., DarkVision was forced to figure out how to acquire, staff and equip an office almost 2,000 miles away without being there in person — a challenge no one had anticipated. “For the first time in my life we had to interview people remotely rather than in person,” said Robinson. “Training was another challenge since much of what we do requires hands-on experience. And because of COVID, everything was taking longer than we had anticipated.”
Fortunately, DarkVision was able to leverage several capabilities within Koch. “KGS set up the payroll for our American employees, HR provided a benefits program and the tax department walked us through the requirements for getting a U.S. tax ID number. Koch’s legal team was also a big help with patent work and filings, and some pretty complicated contracts.” LIFT (Koch’s Land, Infrastructure, Facilities and Transactions group) helped arrange security, janitorial services, mechanical inspections and HVAC installation. “They got us set up quickly in a good location with good, quality people — all without our team ever setting foot in the U.S.”
About one-third of DarkVision’s Houston space is devoted to a sales office. The remainder houses a storage area for inventory and test equipment, and a shop space for calibration work and maintenance. There are currently six employees. “We just had our first successful run in Texas of a new product line called HADES-F. It's designed to address new types of problems in wells, such as casing collapses, which our current offering can't do.”
DarkVision’s current focus is on oil-field producers, “but that’s just the first chapter in what we believe will be a very long story,” Robinson said. “Our technology is almost universally applicable to all kinds of industrial assets. It can be adapted to water line inspections, facility inspections and even aerospace, where it has the potential to improve safety, reliability and quality control.”
So what’s next on DarkVision’s agenda? “Training. Our executive team is signed up for a year of MBM training. We started in January and our next session is next week. We’ve been told Charles Koch himself will be participating, so we’re really, really looking forward to sharing knowledge with him. Even if it has to be remotely.”