Santa Fe IT firm’s future is ‘in the air’

Via the Santa Fe New Mexican

From her spare office on the second floor of a former church and arts center on Pacheco Street in Santa Fe, Kimberly deCastro can see the world is changing.

She expects to change along with it.

The future is in data and unmanned aerial vehicles, said deCastro, president and CEO of Wildflower International, the information technology company she started in 1991.

“It reminds me of the transition I went through 25 years ago when I went from mechanical industrial to IT,” deCastro said last week. “This is still IT; it’s IT in the air. It’s the future and it’s not going away.”

Wildflower International teamed up with an Albuquerque startup in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles, Silent Falcon, to create a service that gathers data from the sky.

“Data is the new oil. Period,” she said.

Wildflower specializes in providing IT services and hardware for the federal government. Silent Falcon, which developed a solar-powered, fixed-wing UAV, already works for the U.S. Forest Service monitoring wildfires. Their first project together is a program with Pojoaque Pueblo that gives the Wildflower flight team needed experience.

“They have wide-open ground where we can start to really understand what we can do,” deCastro said.

Wildflower and Silent Falcon overfly areas of the pueblo to locate and count its bison herd, she said. The company also will help with emergency services, such as searching for lost hikers, for example, and identifying archaeological sites.

“The Pojoaque Pueblo, that’s a small part of it,” said John Brown, president and CEO of Silent Falcon. “That’s one opportunity.”

The pueblo governor, Joseph Talachy, did not return a call seeking comment.

Another opportunity arrives in April, when Wildflower takes part in drone aircraft demonstrations in Mississippi. The Department of Homeland Security is holding trials for prospective contractors that can provide drones with sensors to patrol the border and enhance law enforcement capabilities there, a program called the Robotic Aircraft Sensor Program - Borders, according to a solicitation for proposals by the department.

“They will set up for us real-life situations so they can see how well our aircraft does,” deCastro said. “It’s going to be a turning point for the company, no doubt about it.”

Brown said Silent Falcon works with the Wildflower crew to fly the aircraft and operate the systems onboard. Described simply, the aircraft carries two computers, one to control the aircraft, the other to control payloads. The crew duties intermingle, he said.

Wildflower has a four-person flight crew certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, deCastro said. “They trained over a sod farm in Moriarty,” she said.

DeCastro said she envisions the UAV component of Wildflower growing to a team of 20, including flight crew, data analysts and software developers. And not just for airborne vehicles, but those on land and in the water.

Commercial applications for drones might exceed those available with the government, deCastro said. Already, she said, she fields inquiries from ranchers and wind-farm operators about drone services.

The changing nature of the contracting business called for a change in strategy, she said. The future of IT services are in the cloud, hand-held devices and apps, but Wildflower has a couple of years to adjust.

“A lot of our core business will remain our core business for a number of years. We have a lot of long-term IT contracts, and they are valuable and viable to us,” deCastro said. “But those, over time, will change, too. The important thing is to look down the road and to understand how I will continue to protect the jobs that are here, and grow this company.”

Wildflower International employs more than 80 people in offices in Santa Fe, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. The company, which does hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of contract work for federal agencies, is planning to expand into services for state and local government, too. DeCastro said she’s working on the acquisition of an Albuquerque firm that will give Wildflower wider opportunities.

DeCastro started the company in Glorieta in 1991 when, as a single mother, she moved her 6-month-old daughter into her own bedroom to make room for what became Wildflower, she said. Her daughter, Jenna deCastro, now works for the company as a senior solutions architect.

Despite the challenges in changing technology and customer expectations, the future for Wildflower looks promising, Kimberly deCastro said.

“My current vision is that within the next few years, we will be a billion-dollars-a-year company with 150 employees or less,” she said. “And I believe we can get there. I feel like that billion dollars is on one piece of paper. We just haven’t found it yet.”

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