A Father’s Day gift from a cartographer at the National Counter Terrorism Center in Washington D.C turned into a business.
Hunterra is an Iowa City-based company that creates custom hunting maps for hunters, land professionals and farmers. Hunterra started in 2009 after Ben Harshyne, who at the time was the lead cartographer at the National Counter Terrorism Center in Washington D.C. He is originally from Western Pennsylvania and got a degree in Geographic Information Systems at Penn State University.
“I would make these maps that were used for briefs on national security,” Harshyne said. “In 2009 I was thinking of an idea for my dad on Father’s day and I figured out a way to visualize cartography and terrain in a more intuitive way by blending together aerial photography and a 3D terrain model.”
Hunterra was simply a side hustle until 2014, when Harshyne and his wife Kate decided to turn it into a full-time business. And because Ben had traveled to the Midwest to hunt, he had a dream of living here. So towards the end of 2014, Ben and Kate moved to New London, a small town in Southeast Iowa. And early in 2015, they relocated to Iowa City.
Here is the scouting report on Hunterra:
Proving it was a good idea
After moving from the East coast, Harshyne said the first year was a “prove it” year to not only himself, but to friends and family who had their doubts about them making such a drastic change in their lives.
He said during that first year and not having a steady income—and buying their own health insurance—was scary.
“We made a lot of relationships out here and have been able to do everything we needed to solidify ourselves as the map maker for the American hunter and landowner,” Harshyne said. “It’s been the best gamble that we’ve ever made. We just continue to set these big goals and so far we’ve been meeting them.”
Harshyne says Hunterra is capable of mapping grounds anywhere in the United States, from land in New Hampshire to New Mexico. The combination of software, automation and the human element separates Hunterra from the competition.
“We’ve got imagery access that is available throughout the entire country,” he said. “Then our competitive advantage we have over just going to Google Earth is we blend multiple layers together and a proprietary process with a number of different software programs to make these maps.”
The website is the storefront
From start to finish, Harshyne said a customer can have their map generated for a preview in as little as five days.
“Whatever it takes to fine-tune and make those subtle changes so your map is perfect and precise,” Harshyne says. “Then you get your map in about a week.”
While Hunterra outsources the printing, the team is made up of four full-time employees working on production and brand managing. They currently office out of their home but are looking for space in North Liberty before the fall and would like to bring the printing in-house if it’s affordable.
“We are Iowans and we love it here,” Harshyne says. “From a lifestyle perspective, it just seems like a great place and just Iowa in general, it gives a lot of opportunity to aspiring entrepreneurs.”
Harshyne said he’s looking at ways to expand the customer base not just for farmers, but ranchers, cattle farms, pastures and vineyards.
“If it’s land in America, we can map it better than anybody,” he says.
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