This profile was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
“I love the global aspect of my job. We’re a small company, but our reach is… everywhere.”
Earth observation science—the study of Earth from outer space—has advanced light years since the early days when astronauts bound for the moon took photos through the capsule windows and hoped they’d managed to capture the Earth. Today, we can get streaming images and video from outer space.
The leader in this area is the Vancouver-based company UrtheCast. Its CFO is Issa Nakhleh, CPA, CGA, who joined the then nascent company in 2012.
“‘You-Are-the-Cast,’” says Issa, when asked about the spelling of the company’s name, pronounced “Earth-Cast.”
The potential uses of ultra-high-definition images of Earth from space are as limitless as, well, space. Want to track the movement of sand in the Gobi Desert or the loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean? UrtheCast can get you stunning still and video images to make your case. And in near real time—when the United Nations needed confirmation that ISIS had destroyed the holy temple of Palmyra in Syria in 2015, UrtheCast delivered the sorry proof the same day.
The company has undergone tremendous change in the past three years, and Issa has played a pivotal role in its growth, both in low orbit and on the ground. In 2013, for example, he helped raise approximately $50 million in the company’s initial public offering. Since then, UrtheCast has had three successful offerings, raising an additional $130 million.
In addition to going public, the company has seen its staff grow from 15 in Vancouver to more than 200 in offices in San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, and Madrid.
“I am continually amazed by the abilities of our staff,” says Issa. “I actually get to say that I work with rocket scientists.”
The uniqueness of the sector makes it very exciting, but also extremely challenging.
“You cannot operate in space without multiple partnerships with space agencies—Roscosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency), NASA, and the Canadian Space Agency,” he explains. “You also need partnerships with government regulators,
including foreign licensing agencies. The key lesson from this is that the space industry is hard. Assistance from these agencies is available but needs to be planned meticulously and well in advance.”
Issa, who arrived in Canada from Jordan at the age of six, says he has always been attracted to the technology sector.
“My ultimate goal is to help a BC company grow from startup to world leader,” he says. “You can achieve this if you’re in a technology-focused company. Vancouver is full of these types of companies, and I find them the most rewarding. They allow me to use my full toolkit of skills.”
As UrtheCast charts an ambitious future that includes developing and manufacturing 16 satellites and expanding from four operating sensors in space to 20 by 2020, Issa will have his hands full.
His next challenge as CFO is to manage the growth of revenue and convert it into a reliable cash flow.
Keeping pace with the company’s growing constellation of satellites also requires the ability to attract and keep star employees, so another of Issa’s responsibilities is to ensure that the company has access to a pipeline of skilled accounting and finance professionals.
“It’s the reason UrtheCast joined CPABC Career Connect,” he says. “To help us attract the next wave of smart people to help us continue to grow.”
That growth seems assured as UrtheCast revolutionizes how we see Earth, and Issa brings ultra-high-definition clarity to the company’s vision.
To see how UrtheCast’s images are used for scientific, commercial, and creative purposes, visit its online gallery at gallery.urthecast.com.