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AI company swaps coasts, trades crowded San Francisco for 'homey' Charlottesville

The same year the Charlottesville area beat out Napa Valley for "Wine Region of the Year," the region also showed off it can compete with another of California’s business vales: Silicon Valley.

DataShapes, an artificial intelligence company that manufactures software for defense industry vehicles, announced it has relocated its San Francisco headquarters to just outside Charlottesville.

The move was partly grounded in the area’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and the defense industry players that make up a majority of DataShapes’ clientele.

If that were the sole factor behind the decision, a move to Northern Virginia would have made the most sense. It was the local talent pool — with a constant supply of students graduating each year from the University of Virginia’s top-rated colleges — and the more limited immediate and direct competition in the tech industry that sealed the deal for DataShapes.

“We liked the environment of Charlottesville, it’s a lot more homey and a closer-knit community,” DataShapes President Logan Selby told The Daily Progress. “Northern Virginia would have been similar to Silicon Valley; you can’t throw a rock in the Bay Area without hitting another AI company.”

DataShapes has taken up residence in UVa’s North Fork Discovery Park just north of the city in Albemarle County. The office park offered several benefits to the company: It’s already home to several other government contractors, including Booz Allen and the Mitre Company; it allows DataShapes to work in a classified environment; and it provides the company room to expand its offices in the coming years, according to Selby.

The park is also home to the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Defense Affairs Committee, which acts as a liaison for governmental agencies, private sector contractors and localities in the region.

Today, only six DataShapes work out of the North Fork office, but in the next year, Selby said the company is planning on hiring 20 to 25 new employees from the surrounding area, including data scientists, software engineers and marketing professionals. As it continues to scale its operations, DataShapes is looking to triple its local workforce in the next couple of years, Selby said.

Founded in 2019 out of San Francisco, DataShapes designs and manufactures AI-powered software primarily used by defense and intelligence agencies in military vehicles and satellite operators. DataShapes’ technology allows these crafts — whether on land, in the air, under the sea or in space — to gather and analyze data in a matter of minutes, a process that typically takes weeks.

The company’s leaders began to discuss relocating to the East Coast over the past few years, given DataShapes’ close working relationships with the Department of Defense and other governmental entities. Selby moved out to California when he came on board as DataShapes’ CEO in January 2022, but had spent a seven-month stint living in Crozet while working for the National Ground Intelligence Center in 2020.

“I might have been a little biased,” said Selby. “I loved the area of Charlottesville and built some good relationships here.”

One of those relationships is with UVa’s School of Data Science, which DataShapes has already tapped as “the perfect feeder program as we scale the company,” said Selby, who is already planning to give several lectures for undergraduates in the fall as well as collaborate on students’ capstone projects.

Selby expects the company’s association with the university to extend beyond students’ four years in the classroom, as he hopes to provide employment opportunities for new graduates that allows them to stay in Charlottesville.

“There will be a lot of Cavaliers in the future of the company,” Selby said.

Though their names are not yet public, Selby did confirm that there is a significant number of Cavaliers on DataShapes’ investor team who were especially excited about the company’s new headquarters and a chance to return to their college town.

DataShapes has only been in the Charlottesville area since Feb. 27, but it already feels at home, said Selby. Industry peers as well as government officials from Charlottesville and Albemarle County have reached out to welcome the new business, Selby spoke at the Data Centric Summit held at the CODE Building on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall in mid-March and DataShapes attended the Data & AI Summit in Richmond later in the month.

“We have a lot of exciting things coming up this year,” said Selby. “We’ll be making official announcements in the upcoming weeks and months, but overall, there’s a lot of excitement.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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