Point 97's Ocean Conservation Apps Make Waves

A Ecotrust spin-off from local data navigator Ruby Gates steers high-tech solutions out to sea.

By Cari Johnson February 3, 2014 Published in the February 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Ruby Gates didn’t know much about oceans when she took charge of Point 97, a company that devises digital tools for ocean conservation. She did know data—and that artfully crunched numbers make any business more efficient.

“You can’t manage anything if you don’t measure it,” the 49-year-old veteran entrepreneur says. Point 97, launched in August as a for-profit spin-off of the environmental organization Ecotrust, looks to apply that dictum to the world’s seas.

In the Solomon Islands, for example, when a fisherman sells a fish, a Point 97–created mobile app allows instant record-keeping on date, species, and weight. The app creates a real-time, paperless log that fisheries officials  can use as they consider harvest levels and other policy.

“Fish are the main source of protein for 150 million people in that region,” says Gates. “We are introducing technology that allows the framework of ocean management to shift.” 

Ecotrust’s long-standing for-profit forestry company now owns thousands of acres of Northwest woods, selling both timber and carbon offsets. Point 97 can’t own the seas, of course; Ecotrust hopes to draw revenue from products and services tracking a range of ocean-size problems: fishery management, wind-power development, shipping, and trade traffic.

The start-up’s 13-person Portland team includes marine biologists and computer scientists. Then there’s Gates, a bubbly Oregon native with a creative writing degree and a hands-on, personal management style. (At 9:30 on a recent morning, Gates rued missing her informal daily check-in meeting with staff, noting, “You get these glimpses of people that you wouldn’t normally get.”)

Most recently, the self-taught entrepreneur ran business-strategy and data-management companies simultaneously for two years before moving to Point 97. She sees that experience as applicable to the vast blue frontiers where Point 97 now does business.

“How do you balance economic opportunity with biodiversity and conservation?” she says. “It’s the data that knits it all together.”

The old saying begins that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Gates hopes to create a high-tech definition of that saying’s punch line: teach a man to fish—sustainably, with a mobile app in hand—and you feed him for a lifetime.

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