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Sabin Stories: SilviaTerra

The Sabin Stories will introduce you to former winners of the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize as they share experiences and reflect on their time as student entrepreneurs at Yale.

Building on the synergies of an undergraduate in computer science and graduate expertise in forest management, Max Nova, YC ‘12 and Zack Parisa, FES '09 started SilviaTerra in 2010 and the company now employs 5 full-time employees and works with many of the largest timber companies in the United States.

SilviaTerra is built around a patent-pending technology Zack developed at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies that uses satellites to determine the size and species of trees in forests.  Faced with limited resources for a forest management project in Armenia, the young entrepreneur came up with an innovative tree- counting approach that became the foundation of the business. Today it helps improve forest management and increases ROI (return on investment) for large timber companies.  SilivaTerra provides reliable information and is driven by the motto “Better Data. Better Decisions”.

The team evolved along its pathway at Yale, including substantial support from the summer fellowship program of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI), as well as the venture challenge of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society (YES).

The Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize though was a leap forward for the team. “I'm not sure we would have followed through with our venture idea without the initial funding and the vote of confidence we got from the Sabin Prize judges” shares Max.

As the business grew, the young entrepreneurs kept innovating and listening to their customers. Max and Zack found that their new technology faced a high burden of proof in an industry that was cautious and slow to embrace change.  They overcame these initial hurdles by starting with small pilot projects and gradually working up to large-scale multi-year subscriptions with some of the largest timber companies in the US.

As a mostly bootstrapped company, the toughest challenges over the last six years have been balancing organic growth with cashflow needs.  Patience, determination, and a "high pain tolerance" have been key factors for growing the company with very little outside investment. Another piece of advice that Max gives to aspiring entrepreneurs is: “Get your first dollars as quickly as possible.  Nothing is real until a customer pays you.”

The entrepreneurial adventure has turned into a career for Max and he is eagerly pursuing it forward. In the future, he wishes to have more opportunities to connect with alumni and share his experience with current student ventures. In this capacity, he also is now involved as an alumni mentor of Appalachian roots – Hemp 2.0.