Permission to grow

Thriving geophysical interpretation firm credits NRC-IRAP for assisting company expand.

July 09, 2012— Calgary, Alberta

Image of Laurie Bellman, founder and President, (right) and Nancy Laing, CEO, prepare for a presentation to client.

Laurie Bellman, founder and President, (right) and Nancy Laing, CEO, prepare for a presentation to client.

Oil Sands Imaging Inc.

In the beginning, Oil Sands Imaging (OSI) was a one-woman show—a consultancy in the oil-and-gas industry run by president and founder Laurie Bellman, who launched the company in 2007. Today, OSI is an expanding firm with seven full-time employees. With proprietary software development and partnerships on the horizon, it appears set to take off.

OSI is a quantitative geophysical interpretation enterprise that specializes in customized reservoir characterization solutions for oil and gas. The firm works with exploration and production companies that want to maximize reservoir profitability and drilling efficiency. Using its innovative Seismic Transformation and Classification (STAC™) workflow and proprietary interpretive software, OSI helps clients make precise drilling decisions.

Bellman and chief executive officer (CEO) Nancy Laing both credit the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) with giving them the tools, push, vision and confidence to grow the company effectively.

A happy coincidence

In 2009, NRC-IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) Monica Varga saw an OSI ad in an industry magazine—and later the same week, noticed OSI’s logo in a presentation she was attending. This piqued her curiosity, so she approached Bellman to find out more about the company.

“I thought, ‘It’s a huge, emerging area with many producers involved—if she really has a niche technical skill, it’s going to become critically valuable to many firms,’” says Varga.

Coincidentally, Bellman had been mulling over the idea of expanding her firm, but was unsure of what steps to take next. One of the first recommendations was to hire a CEO. That’s how Nancy Laing came on board.

Shortly after that, in 2010, Varga helped OSI secure funding from NRC-IRAP’s Youth Employment Program to hire a junior geophysicist. The firm then began to do some serious growing, hiring a technologist, senior geophysicist and software developer.

A road map for growth

“Our ITA, Monica Varga, saved us years of development by helping us to focus on the places we needed to focus in order to grow the business.”

Nancy Laing
Chief executive officer, OSI

Varga says her most important contribution to OSI was to give its founder a vision of how growth could take place and to remove some of the related anxiety.

Laing says in a sense, Varga gave the fledgling company “permission” to grow. “To have NRC-IRAP seek us out was very validating,” she says. “NRC-IRAP led us to look beyond the status quo and begin the development of in-house software solutions that have the potential to revolutionize the way geophysicists interpret seismic data.”

Varga also inspired OSI to look at its workflow and think about efficiency. She asked OSI to identify key steps in the geoscience interpretation workflow process that could support automation.

“Monica asked: ‘How long does it take you to complete one of these projects?’” says Laing. “The answer was two to four months. She then said, ‘What if it took two to four weeks, or two to four days?’ That made us sit back and examine how we do things, and find the tools to do them more efficiently.”

OSI is now developing its own software tools and embarking on a partnership with an established geophysical software development company.

Advice, mentorship and funding from NRC-IRAP have helped OSI to:

  • More than double its revenues, despite the economic downturn that marked its early years
  • Grow its full-time employees from one to seven
  • Triple its office space
  • Acquire more than 20 new clients

More than a third of companies operating in the Canadian oil sands are now OSI clients. The firm’s growth potential is strong, since despite its name, its services also apply to reservoir characterization in other types of geological settings —a key consideration as the firm evaluates how best to brand itself.

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