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Fast-growing Descartes Labs moving HQ to Santa Fe

SANTA FE, N.M. — Los-Alamos-based startup Descartes Labs Inc. is moving its headquarters to the Santa Fe Railyards, where the company just closed on a 4,000-square-foot space.

Descartes, which launched in 2015, is growing fast with advanced image-recognition software from Los Alamos National Laboratory that allows industry, government and academic researchers to rapidly analyze global trends in almost any field using satellite imagery.

It’s currently based in a 3,000-square-foot office in Los Alamos, and it leases a smaller space in Santa Fe for employees there. But with 30 people now working for Descartes, and plans to reach 60 by the end of the year, the company is bursting at the seams.

“We already have an office in Santa Fe, but we want to open a much larger headquarters there over the next year to manage our growing pains,” said co-founder and CEO Mark Johnson. “We’ll officially move to Santa Fe, but we’ll maintain our current space in Los Alamos.”

Such growing pains reflect Descartes’ immense potential to tap into huge markets. The firm already raised about $8.3 million in private equity from out-of-state venture investors, including a $3 million round from Crosslink Capital in December.

Its technology is based on artificial intelligence software the company licensed from LANL. Many LANL staffers have joined Descartes, including co-founders Steven Brumby and Michael Warren.

Descartes’ technology uses publicly accessible satellite images to analyze trends in everything from agriculture and the environment to urban sprawl and the spread of renewable energy infrastructure across the globe.

The recognition software can pinpoint and track crop growth while analyzing weather patterns and global supply chains to predict harvests or markets faster and with greater accuracy than today’s government or industry reports, according to the company. That’s generated some lucrative contracts in agriculture, its first low-hanging fruit.

“I can’t discuss contracts, but we have a robust agricultural business,” Johnson said. “…We have a nice list of clients and revenue coming in.”

Agriculture, however, is just the start. Descartes wants to turn its technology loose on many industries, providing global supply-chain analysis for businesses or helping oil-and-gas companies track infrastructure and development.

Researchers also could use it to analyze environmental issues and climate change. The company released an open-access GeoVisual Search engine in March for people to try out.

“You can use the map-based interface to go anywhere on the planet,” said Descartes head of marketing Shawn Patrick. “You click on an object and the system will use its cloud-based machine learning to bring back the closest 1,000 matches it finds.”

Despite its potential global reach, Descartes says it will remain in New Mexico as it grows.

“Satellite data is readily available, but most companies haven’t used it, in part because there’s not a lot of software like ours to find the images, process them, and turn the pixels into something more useful,” Johnson said. “Our goal is to become the Microsoft of New Mexico without leaving.”