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Poway tech company adapts with changing times

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There are two things on the walls of SeaSpace's Poway offices: framed satellite images and maps of the world. Nearly every office and hallway has some of each, and it's a telling symbol of both what the company does, and what it wants to do.

SeaSpace Corp. has a wide global reach, particularly for a company with only about 40 employees. Its products can be found everywhere from Vietnam to Italy to Antarctica, and its employees travel with the merchandise. Even after more than 25 years as a leader in a niche industry, SeaSpace's president said the company is still adapting and changing.

"SeaSpace was always a technology company," said Hyong Ossi, the company's president and chief executive officer. "We're going to be much more software and (intellectual property) based than product based, you might say. Which tends to be what everybody else is doing."

SeaSpace began as a company that took information from satellites and made it more readily available to organizations like universities and governments. The company was started by a Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist who wanted to research changing water temperatures in the early 1980s, but discovered that getting access to information collected by satellites was too expensive.

SeaSpace's antennae and remote sensing ground station technology made it easier and cheaper to break down the information satellites were sending to earth. Ossi said information made available by SeaSpace led to major breakthroughs in research on areas like climate change.

During the 1990s, SeaSpace went through some growing pains, Ossi said. The Internet was making it far easier and cheaper to access satellite information, so the company's services were no longer in high demand. SeaSpace was also bought by a defense contractor who wanted to shift its technology to more defense uses. This effort did not take off as the new owners hoped, and in 2003, the company was sold again.

"During the time under ... the military-based company, a lot of people were turned off from where the company was going," Ossi said. "Scientists weren't very interested. When I came, I got them interested."

Ossi, a native of Korea who is now a U.S. citizen, came on board in 2007 with the aim of taking SeaSpace back to its roots, as an innovative scientific research company.

The business model has been geared more toward software, as well as hardware engineering, and the products are sold more to researchers than private companies. Rather than simply relaying satellite data, SeaSpace's new technologies will be aimed at processing that information and making it into something useful, with added value for customers.

The company's clients are largely research institutions, and foreign governments and militaries. Ossi said this has protected SeaSpace against the recent economic downturn, but it does leave the business open to other kinds of vulnerabilities. Several years ago, the company had a large contract with Thailand thrown into upheaval when the country experienced a coup d'etat.

So far, though, Ossi said his changes in strategy are working. The company is not yet making an even profit, but it's getting close. Sales are up, and the number of employees has doubled.

SeaSpace has not always been in Poway, but that's where it's going to stay for the foreseeable future. The company is in the process of moving from one Poway office building to another. Ossi said so many employees live in the area now, and it wouldn't be right to move.

"Over the years, that's what happens to long-lived companies; people start to congregrate around the area," he said.

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