By Christina Henderson
On November 17, 2017, CEO Tim Sheehy and his team welcomed guests to their 30,000-sq. ft. facility at Bozeman airfield in Belgrade to celebrate the grand opening of the new headquarters of Ascent Vision and Bridger Aerospace. Congressman Greg Gianforte and co-founder Matt Sheehy offered remarks at the event.
“This building is a physical manifestation of what this company, this team, this enterprise, have achieved in three years,” Tim said. “We’ve gone from two guys and that old airplane in a barn to a company of over sixty people with clients on six continents. This building represents not just what this company has done, but what’s happening in the Gallatin Valley and the rest of the State of Montana. It’s really exciting to be a part of the tech wave that’s happening here.”
Gianforte complimented Ascent Vision and Bridger Aerospace on their achievements as prominent tech employers in the Bozeman area.
“I’m just so thrilled at the success you’re seeing with high wage jobs, which is really the engine of our economy,” said Gianforte. “We now have 100 high tech businesses in the [Gallatin] Valley. [The Montana High Tech Business Alliance now has] more than 300 high tech firms in the State of Montana. And it’s an awfully important part of our growing economy. What you’re doing is essential so that our kids can stay in the state, for our veterans who are coming home, so we have jobs in the private sector, so people can prosper.”
Tim, a former Navy SEAL officer and Army Ranger, formed an LLC and became an entrepreneur in 2013 just after retiring from the military. He moved his family – his wife, a one-year-old child, and another baby on the way – and his new enterprise to Bozeman in November 2014.
The first venture, service company Bridger Aerospace, leveraged Sheehy’s passion for aviation, and sent planes to find lost cattle for ranchers, lost people for search and rescue, and fires for the U.S. Forest Service. But Tim and his partners soon realized that it was the company’s aerial sensors that were driving the real value for clients, so they soon spun off a product company, Ascent Vision.
Tim’s team saw that military operations were increasingly based on aerial surveillance, using real-time information from sensors and cameras on planes, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellites to make better decisions in the field.
“Our clients exist in environments that are inherently unforgiving, whether it’s a battlefield or a wildfire,” Tim said. “What we’re trying to do, whether it’s flying an airplane over a fire or building a better sensor for our marines overseas, is to empower that decision-maker so that when they have to make that life-and-death decision in a split second, they have the best information possible as quickly as they can get it.”
In addition to improving the capabilities of government agencies, Tim also saw the need for better sensors in private sector applications like maritime surveillance and self-driving cars and expanded his customer base to include those industries.
Ascent Vision formed a joint venture with Australian gimbal maker UAV Vision and in the first eighteen months grew to 50 employees and multi-millions of dollars in sales. Employees are typically either new MSU engineering grads or military combat veterans, and every employee owns a piece of the companies.
Tim showed an image of the next phase of facility expansion for Ascent Vision and Bridger Aerospace, which could come within the next few years if the companies continue their trajectory of rapid growth.
About the author: Christina Quick Henderson has served as executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance since its launch in April, 2014. Henderson writes and speaks on Montana business trends, entrepreneurship and high-growth companies for Montana Business Quarterly and other publications. She holds an English degree from the University of Iowa and an MBA from the University of Montana, Missoula.
About the publisher: The Montana High Tech Business Alliance is a statewide membership organization made up of more than 325 high tech and manufacturing firms and affiliates.