We had the opportunity to interview Astrid Grawehr and Jim Coates of Kryotek, one of Yukon’s most innovative (and coolest) companies, and we are so pumped to share it with you! We covered how Astrid and Jim built Kryotek to what it is today (super cool permafrost sensors, light weight drills, wild fire detectors), what motivates them to keep adapting, what they are most proud of, and so much more. We hope you feel as inspired by the work they do, and their approach to it, as we are.
1) Tell me about Kryotek, what do you make/what do you do?
Kryotek is an innovation, product development and licensing company specializing in climate change adaptation and geoscience technologies. We have developed and commercialized products that range from light-weight soil sampling drills, to permafrost monitoring sensors, to machine vision API’s for wildfire detection. We are agnostic and not sector specific, which gives us the ability to draw from the insights of a broad range industries and disciplines. We also are active in mineral exploration, geophysics and earth-sciences consulting, activities that built the company up in the early days.
2) How did you get started?
Jim started Kryotek in 2007 during his MSc when he realized that more modern tools were needed for gathering permafrost information in order to track arctic climate change. These included permafrost measuring devices and drills for taking samples. Once Astrid joined the company in 2012, the business expanded into geophysics consulting, back-pack-portable drill rigs, and eventually a fleet of drills operating across northern Canada, Alaska and even Siberia. We reduced our drilling business and licensed our small drills (Talon Drill System) to a local Yukon manufacturer to focus on permafrost instrumentation, machine-learning software and wildfire detection technologies.
3) What motivates you to build your business?
Seeing a need for something that doesn’t exist yet, conceptualizing a solution, building and testing it and then having it used by others in a real-world scenario to improve whatever the situation may be. Having a creation become commercial and actually used in the business world is a lot of work (often stressful work) but incredibly rewarding!
4) What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to climb in building your business?
In the Yukon we need to deal with an extremely small and lopsided economy. As our main clients are in the resource sector, particularly mining, we need to be able to deal with variable market fluctuations. There might be very good business for several years, then absolutely nothing for a few more years. Many rapid pivots have been required to deal with this, as it is by far the dominant industry in the North.
As a result, we need to mix consulting and fieldwork with product/tech development in order to keep the business viable and maintain cash flow. Keeping the business afloat while largely covering research and development costs ourselves is always a challenge.
5) What business accomplishments are you most proud of?
We worked with Parks Canada and the Build In Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) to develop and install a network of our FrostLink permafrost sensors across the Northern Yukon and Banks Island National Parks. It was an incredible experience and inspired us to develop a suite of permafrost-specific scientific equipment that we feel has great potential to track climate-change permafrost impacts across the arctic. Kryotek is the only company in northern Canada to date that has received a BCIP contract.
6) What are you most excited about for the future of your company? Any new product launches, partnerships, etc.?
We have just developed a machine vision application that uses home security cameras to detect approaching wildfires, then send a notification to homeowners. We will be conducting a full-scale test of the system this summer with support from Yukon Economic Development and Yukon University.
We are also about to commercialize a unique permafrost sensor/predictive software system that precisely measures permafrost thaw and predicts future climate change impacts on the landscape. We are in the process of licensing this technology to a US company.
Our Talon Drill System (licensed to Quantum Machine Works of Whitehorse) has been purchased by numerous research institutions across North America and is being used for permafrost research in many locations, as well as by environmental science companies for taking soil samples.
We’re also in the process of forming a joint venture with another company to use some of our technologies in combination with their suite of skills to advance low-impact exploration techniques for mineral exploration. Our focus is environmental, social responsibility while bringing best in industry results to our clients.
To sum up, we have lots on the go and are excited to license and commercialize several technologies that we’ve been working on over the last few years.
7) Anything else you want people to know?
The Yukon has great potential to lead the circumpolar world in producing the innovations that are required to deal with impacts of arctic climate change. A quarter of the world’s surface is permafrost, which could be one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses if it starts to thaw. The technology to sense and deal with this simply doesn’t exist yet, and we have the advantage of having a well-equipped modern city surrounded by permafrost. It’s a great location to rapidly develop the needed tech.
8) Do you have any book, podcast, movie recommendations?
The Knowledge Project by Shane Parish is a fantastic podcast. We both listen to it often, while doing chores or road tripping, etc. We also get weekly Knowledge Project emails filled with amazing life lessons, mental models and ultimately the synthesized versions of what successful, happy people have already figured out be it work, love, physics, investing and everything in between.