ACOA issued a statement Friday saying the company, which specializes in assisting with hydrographic and geophysical surveys, borrowed the money through the Regional Economic Growth through Innovation program. LeeWay will use the cash to add new technology to and rewire the vessel, and have it approved to operate commercially in Canadian and U.S. waters.
“Striker represents a massive leap in the operational profile of a survey and data acquisition company,” said LeeWay Marine CEO Jamie Sangster in an interview. “It fundamentally changes the way things are done, in the sense that we’re now applying speed.”
The LeeWay Striker was designed and built for a United States military tender, but the ship didn’t win the bid, so the builder was eager to find a buyer. LeeWay bought the ship and is now fitting it out to the company’s needs.
Though the ship is more expensive to operate than others, Sangster said the costs in time and crew are drastically reduced. The ship doesn’t get the work done any faster, but its high speed cuts the time taken to travel to and from research sites. And Sangster said time drives everything in his business.
“It always does, and it always will,” said Sangster. “Since we evaluate total value in a finite period of time, you need to change something in that overall equation, physically, if you want to increase your uptake.”
The Striker has a top speed of 55 knots, and Sangster said the company’s competitive advantage lies in reducing the time required to get from the dock to the operational area and between operational areas. He said time reduction can increase the density of work the company does and allow it to make money faster.
“Bringing speed to the market, if you have the right vessel that can operate offshore, fundamentally will shift a lot of the survey programs that we enter,” said Sangster.
LeeWay Marine -- whose only equity funding came from friends and family when the company started -- is also bringing the Striker to its outpost in Cambridge, MA., with the hopes of getting into the U.S. market.
The company has been accepted into Scale-up Hub Cambridge (a program designed to help Atlantic ICT companies expand into export markets), with the help of Nova Scotia Business Inc. During the one-year program, LeeWay hopes to make inroads into the U.S. market with the unique speed of the LeeWay Striker.
He added LeeWay will bring “not just Striker, but . . . technology that’s developed here to improve the processes that surveyors require.”
One piece of new technology it will deploy is the Katfish, produced by St. John’s-based Kraken Robotics. The towed subsurface scanning system isn’t affected by waves, so it allows vessels that are small and fast, like the Striker, to do the same work of a larger, more stable ship.
“We want to go in [and], in many ways, penetrate that market with some new technology, so these particular survey companies are afforded alternative options,” said Sangster. “They can see some realizable operational efficiencies by using us. It’s new technology. It’s driving costs lower. And it’s improving margins.”
LeeWay Marine’s sales have increased close to 200 percent in the last two years. The company has 11 full-time employees, and 14 additional seasonal employees for its active season.