Scottish ingenuity is known the world over.
From the invention of the telephone and TV, to wonder drugs like penicillin and even, though somewhat disputed, the humble bicycle.
So when Invernessian Alastair Caithness moved to America he took a slice of that inherent spirit of innovation with him.
Initially setting up shop as a software company, his firm Ziyen Inc has now evolved to include an energy division aiming to snap up and develop marginal oil fields in the US.
And as founder and chief executive of the fledgling company, Mr Caithness is determined to use his North Sea background to capitalise on smaller fields found across the mid-west – like a pioneering forefather for the modern oil and gas generation.
Founded last year in San Diego, California, Ziyen was originally set-up to provide information on the procurement market.
But with the downturn continuing to affect the market, it was time to expand horizons rather than contract like so many other companies.
Mr Caithness said: “When I moved to America I saw that nowhere was doing a procurement portal for Iraq. So I set the business up to focus on the Iraq market just for oil and gas and having information on contracts.
“But I could see the writing was on the wall when the oil price crashed.
“It affected that model. Even though it was information, it was marketing-based. It’s easier to cut budgets than it is people so really the first thing to go is the marketing budget.”
So the Robert Gordon University graduate and father-of two started thinking outside of the box.
Scattered across the US mid-west is oil lease upon oil lease – many sitting underdeveloped or idle.
Handed down from father to son, and diced up into smaller pieces to accommodate multiple siblings, these small leases are often overlooked due to the lack of technical ability to develop them, and the relatively small numbers of barrels in the ground putting off the oil majors with the ability to harness their potential.
But what if a small agile player could buy a lease and then bring in North Sea know-how?
That’s exactly what Mr Caithness asked himself – before bringing aboard fellow Highlander and Shell veteran Shane Fraser as the firm’s director of intelligence.
His insight – and a few good old Scottish connections – led Ziyen to a landmark $36million acquisition of an oil well in the mid-west earlier this year, and the creation of a new division: Ziyen Energy.
Located in Evansville, Indiana, the asset consists of six separate wells – each producing oil which will be extracted by using the latest in sustainable technology.
The multimillion-dollar deal allows Ziyen to trade as a petroleum company, rather than as a software firm – making the company more attractive to potential investors and shareholders – whilst simultaneously aiding expansion within the US energy market.
Mr Caithness said: “Aberdeen is so advanced in terms of oil and gas, maybe Houston too. But if you start going to these mid-west states they haven’t worked on these massive projects like Tern in the North Sea – so they don’t have that technical capability.
“Essentially we bring in this personnel and expertise from Aberdeen on an ad-hoc basis and we become our own operator. But it can still be profitable as we think we can get the oil out of the ground at anywhere between $25 to $28 a barrel. Ideally we will get it lower once we know exactly how it will work.
“The lease we have got has got proven reserves of 65,000 with probable reserves of 715,000. That’s a lot of money if you can get all the oil out.
“What’s profitable to us is not compared to what the big oil companies do, so you can see why they pulled out these leases.
“We hope to build up our assets and we can take it from there.”
He added: “So that’s why we’re calling ourselves a Scottish American company, I’m Scottish, half the board is Scottish and we keep bringing in Scottish guys.
“The opportunity has been create by the diversification in the market here [in the US].
“That allows us to go in these markets and set-up these smaller deals and then acquire more of them. It will be important for us to get our second one.
On the information procurement side of the business, the plan is to capitalise on the trend for using smartphoned based ‘apps’ to put data in the hands of those who want it.
And this led to another important development for the firm, this time on this side of Atlantic with a new office recently opening up in Aberdeen’s Innovation Park, at Balgownie Drive.
Mr Caithness said: “As the oil company side grows we will be bringing in skills and expertise from Aberdeen it would be good for us to have a presence there.
“The skillset and technical expertise in Aberdeen is second-to-none and if you’ve got access to that market it makes total sense that you should open up there.
“Now essentially what we are trying to do is we’re trying to get the company ready to go public on one of the big three US exchanges.”
The tech business is on track to be listed on “probably” on the NASDAQ in early 2018 – pending approval of its initial public offering (IPO).
But even with the strong American presence, Mr Caithness is keen to keep the company on both sides of the Atlantic for the long term.
He added: “It seems like we’re doing everything out here in the states, but we end up taking it all back to Aberdeen as that’s what we know best.”
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