Launching Stellar Solutions and Delivering Historic Innovation for Our First Customer
January 1995 marked the beginning of a truly “stellar” journey that continues today. At that time, I had gained a lot of experience in a variety of technical areas as both an aerospace engineer and a technology manager, through 17 years of supporting satellite programs for large aerospace companies. But as I was promoted to roles of increasing responsibility, I began to find some of the work lacking a certain purpose and I missed the direct interaction with the customers. Being a parent factored in as well, to be honest: if you’re going to be away from family at work, it had better be for something important.
I wanted to refocus and create an elite cadre of like-minded superstars as part of a lean and mean organization. This was the “starter dough” needed for me to leave my industry job at age 39 and launch something of my own, Stellar Solutions.
This company was built on my belief that the right talented scientists and engineers can solve any problem, which is why they should be treated as the company’s most important asset. My corporate vision is based on this commitment to satisfying customers’ critical needs while realizing employee dream jobs. When looking back, maybe some might say I was blazing trails as a woman entrepreneur–but at the time I had my head down and was just working on the project.
Established as an aerospace engineering services firm that contracts with commercial businesses and government agencies like NASA and the Department of Defense, we opened our doors in February 1995 and quickly grew from just one to five employees. Each person added something special, and now 25 years later this continues to be our secret sauce.
The “star” of Stellar Solutions was devised from the start to symbolize five sectors of business—commercial, defense, intelligence, civil and international, among which we intended to “cross boundaries” creatively in pursuit of the best solutions for our clients. With our unique approaches to staffing, client focus, and culture, we put something in place that was built to last. The newly founded company’s first customer was satellite company Space Imaging Inc., which had been formed just the year before with financial backing of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Raytheon Systems Company, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.
In what will become a defining trend for Stellar Solutions, we were at the forefront of the fledgling space-based imaging industry in Colorado, supporting one of the two main players racing to commercialize the technology of spy satellites. Space Imaging, which eventually became part of DigitalGlobe, named its satellite system IKONOS, from the Greek eikōn, for “image”. Not only was Space Imaging our first customer and partner, the contract became our first renewal in August 1995! In 2011, the Space Technology Hall of Fame recognized DigitlGlobe for its pioneering work in adapting Earth-imaging satellite technology for commercial use.
The geospatial imagery analytics market grew to an estimated $3.75 Billion in 2017, with DigitalGlobe identified as a major market player in December 2019. Geospatial technologies that depend on these imagery services, like global positioning system (GPS), remote sensing and geographical information system (GIS) have truly transformed our society and knowledge-base as well as our ability to secure, protect and defend our way of life.
As I reflect on these 25 years, I am so happy with everything our Stellar Team has achieved together. I still get inspired just thinking about our stellar employees, the stellar customers we work for, the critical challenges being solved for the important projects we’re supporting, and our incredible culture of great people coming together to tackle these vital challenges with positive spirit and camaraderie. From our very first customer and a single employee in 1995 to dozens of partners and nearly 200 employees supporting a diverse portfolio in 2020, every project receiving our expertise and services over the past two decades has shown long-term global impact. I couldn’t be prouder, and I am convinced that our framework and legacy of success will not only carry on for another 25 years but last “to infinity and beyond”.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu
There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. – Jim Lovell
About the Author:
Celeste Ford is Founder and Board Chair of Stellar Solutions.