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THE DRIFT 2020: Mentorship to partnership

Orix Geoscience founders credit their strong values and entrepreneurial spirit for their success

Strong partnerships and strong values are the keys to Orix Geoscience’s success. 

When they started the company in 2012, during a down cycle in the mining industry, Shastri Ramnath and Ashley Kirwan knew they had their work cut out for them. 

“Many people told us not to start the company, but I think it really speaks to our entrepreneurial spirit where we think outside the box, and we’ve got a unique way of approaching things,” said Kirwan. 

The duo first met when Kirwan was hired to be Ramnath’s assistant at junior mining company FNX. Kirwan, who was born in Lively just outside of Sudbury, was a student at the Harquail School of Earth Sciences at Laurentian University at the time. 

The pairing thrived because they worked really hard together. 

“The two of us would come together to talk about exploration and talk about strategy, brainstorm together, and build on things together,” said Kirwan. 

“We ended up forming a really great relationship from day one, which then organically turned into a mentorship.” 

Ramnath was born and raised in Manitoba. She has a master’s degree in exploration geology from Rhodes University in South Africa, and an MBA from Athabasca University. 

Throughout her career, she has been a prominent figure in the mining industry in Sudbury, currently sitting on the board of directors of the Goodman School of Mines. 

Kirwan received a master’s degree in mineral exploration. She frequently supports her alma mater in an advisory capacity and hopes to encourage the next generation of geologists in the field. 

As fate would have it, Ramnath and Kirwan found themselves working together for a second time after leaving FNX. Ramnath took on the role of CEO at a junior mining company, while Kirwan became senior geologist at the same firm. 

A couple of years later, after an acquisition, they were at a crossroads. Between the decision to go their separate paths or continue working together, their decision was clear. 

Orix is a geological consulting firm with offices in Sudbury, Toronto, and Winnipeg. Their team of roughly 60 employees supports mining companies from prospecting through to production. 

Their goal is to be the leading geological firm in the world and to make a lasting impact on the industry. They provide expertise in geology, geomatics, software development, and business support. 

“We offer a full cycle of services,” said Kirwan. “From data collection, analysis, and interpretation through to exploration. We want to help you understand the ground beneath your feet.”

They identified a strong need within the mining industry for companies to increase their geological understanding of their projects, and were able to leverage their skill set to close that gap. 

Early on in their journey, however, they came up against a catch-22: to increase their understanding of their projects, junior miners needed to raise funds to access geological services. 

But how do you raise funds when you don’t have a good understanding of your project? 

Ramnath and Kirwan had to get creative. One of their first decisions was to work for equity. 

“There were a lot of groups that wanted our skill set in order to go and raise finances, so we often worked for shares.” 

This not only helped them build their company and develop a reputation in the industry, but they also formed strong partnerships that have continued over the years. 

Through trial and error, they also developed a strong set of values that has strengthened their company from within. 

They hire and promote employees based on the “O-Code,” a set of soft skills that are difficult to teach, including things like good judgment, selflessness, honesty, and curiosity. 

Roughly 50 per cent of Orix’s employees are female, and 25 per cent are foreign-born, something that reflects the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.  

“We’ve been able to foster a really supportive group,” said Kirwan. 

In the future, Orix plans to grow their office in Sudbury by finding a more permanent space, and hopefully service more groups in Northern Ontario. 

The Drift magazine features profiles on the people and companies making important contributions to the Northern Ontario mining service and supply sector. It is published annually and distributed at the Northern Ontario Mining Showcase during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto.