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One of the biggest obstacles heavy industry tech startups face — especially in oil and gas — is getting that first big customer, says Vicki Knott, co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM.
"Our biggest challenge is nobody wants to be first in energy," she tells InnovationMap.
But Crux OCM, based in Calgary, overcame that challenge and currently counts Houston-based Phillips 66 among its clients. The two companies announced a pilot program for Crux OCM's pipeBOT technology earlier this year.
Crux OCM's technology focuses on automating the control room operations — something that, like most automation software, increases revenue and reduces errors. The company, which was founded in 2017, also allows its clients consistency and reliability with its software.
"Even though the pumps and the equipment are automated, control room operators are still executing procedures, checklist, and rules of thumb on their own via screens," Knott says. "If you think of pilots and planes have autopilot software, why don't our control room operators? That's really the problem we set out to tackle."
Vicki Knott is co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM. Photo courtesy
Automation is certainly a growing opportunity for energy companies — especially in light of the pandemic that forced remote work and less on-site personnel across industries. Knott says just over a year ago, Crux OCM saw increased interest.
"We had a couple customers who had their capital budget cut when the pandemic hit and when oil went negative, and we had a couple customers who said they were doubling down on software like this," Knott explains.
The company has raised $3 million in venture funding, backed by Root Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Golden Ventures. Knott says another funding round is on the horizon as is growth for its Houston presence.
Crux OCM currently has three full-time Houston employees and is looking to grow that team in the next six months. Specifically, the local team will focus on sales, as well as product development, as the company's head of sales and senior product manager are both based here. As the local clientbase grows, Knott says they will also need to hire deployment engineers as well.
A new office to support this growing team is also in the works. Knott says she's looking for space in North Houston, and, depending on how comfortable people are returning to offices and meetings, it could open as early as later this year.
Calgary and Houston have a lot in common, Knott says, and she sees a very natural connection to the two regions. Knott plans to work six months of the year in Houston with the local office.
"A lot of the companies that head offices in Houston, they have head offices in Calgary," she says. "If a startup in Houston is getting traction, I think there's a natural movement to start in the Calgary market and vice versa."