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Taking Flight: Two Bozeman Companies Take to the Skies

Tim Sheehy
Photo by: Daniel Brunell

As part of his Navy SEAL training, Tim Sheehy came to Montana for mountain training before he went to Afghanistan. Sheehy, a Minnesota native, found many similarities between his home state and Montana. So when he wanted to start his company, Bozeman fit the bill.

“I love the area and I’m a big skier so I like being near skiing,” he said. “Bozeman was specifically chosen mainly because of the fertile business community and because of MSU; laser optics and photonics industry that have arisen from those two factors convinced me that sooner or later that environment would be critical to our growth.”

Now almost five years later, Sheehy and his two companies have grown beyond the borders of Montana.

The Rise of Bridger Aerospace and Ascent Vision

The first company Sheehy and his business partners founded was Bridger Aerospace. Founded in November 2014, Bridger focuses on aerial firefighting. Sheehy said the company began when he and his business partner bought one old government surplus plane.

“We were doing fire mapping, so we utilized the infrared cameras to map firelines for the forest service,” he said. “That was through Bridger Aerospace. Then we started growing and we went from one plane to five. Now we have 12 and we have several more on order. In 2015, we spun Ascent Vision out of Bridger because we realized our infrared camera technology was a product on its own.”

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Ascent Vision Technologies uses camera and sensor technology systems that do a variety of surveillance tasks, Sheehy said. The technology for Ascent is used in the public safety arena, such as wildland firefighting, but primarily in the defense industry. Ascent Vision also has an office in Australia to support the Australian military. Sheehy said Ascent is known for its counter-drone system, the X-MADIS (eXpeditionary Mobile Air Defense Integrated System). The company’s counter-drone system attaches to military vehicles and can detect a drone, attract it, knock it down, and defeat hostile drones. He said they are the primary provider of counter-drone systems for several branches of the military.

Bridger Aerospace, which came from two employees and one plane in December of 2014, has grown to two entities and now employs 120 Gallatin Valley employees.

“We never thought we’d grow this big ever, let alone in this short of time,” he said. “Right now the next 24 months look like our growth trajectory is going to remain or go up higher based on a few contracts we have. We’re owned and controlled and managed here in Bozeman, which is great.”

In March, the Montana Manufacturing Association awarded Ascent Vision Technologies with an Honorable Mention Award in its Montana Manufacturer of the Year competition.

“It was wonderful for the team to be recognized for their tremendous efforts in scaling our business in the last few years,” Sheehy said. “It’s important to remember, this has gone from two guys in a barn to over 100 people conducting precision manufacturing in the most demanding industries in four years. To grow and mature like that is incredible, and for them to be recognized made me extremely proud.”

Montana Is a Business-friendly State

As a Navy SEAL and team leader, Sheehy gained firsthand experience with aerial surveillance. With 10 years of military service and several deployments, Sheehy thought a lot about companies he could start with his knowledge. After he was wounded on deployment, he was primed to put his dreams into action.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”Tim Sheehy” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Montana has its challenges, no doubt. But overall I think a lot of our success is because we’re based here.”[/perfectpullquote]

Besides the open space to fly and test out its products, Montana has proved to be the right home base for Sheehy and his companies.

“It’s a great place to build a business,” Sheehy said. “Montana has its challenges, no doubt. But overall I think a lot of our success is because we’re based here. It’s a good place to raise a family and it’s a good place to live for a good quality of life…. Generally, it’s a business-friendly state. There are some challenges of course, some of the labor laws make it difficult at times. Overall, Montana is a business-friendly state.”

Bridger and Ascent will continue growing at a steady pace. This year, Sheehy said Ascent opened two satellite offices to accommodate its customers. But at their Bozeman location, Sheehy said they are building two new buildings in Bozeman which are an investment of $13 million.

“We will grow within our means,” he said. “We’re humble and frugal and we’ll grow our company responsibly. But, if the last year is any indication we’ll continue to grow fast.”

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