WHEN Martyn Millwood Hargrave got his first chemistry set at the age of seven, his world opened up. “Growing a crystal every night in the freezing cold got me interested in science,” he said.
He has come a long way in 50 years. He trained as a geophysicist and has set up and sold three multimillion-pound enterprises in oil and gas.
He founded his fourth venture, Ikon Science, in 2001 with more than £1m of start-up capital, including £600,000 from Tullow Oil, the FTSE 100 oil company, and a personal investment of £500,000.
The company’s RokDoc software evaluates geological and seismic data, helping clients to find oil deposits, plan well drilling and monitor activity remotely.
“We predict where to find oil and gas by simulating what the geology looks like,” said Millwood Hargrave, chief executive. “We can then analyse that data for algorithms, analytics and analogues from anywhere in the world.
RokDoc earned Ikon Science a place on The Sunday Times Tech Track 100, the definitive ranking of Britain’s fastest-growing private technology, media and telecoms firms.
The business, based in Teddington, southwest London, has offices in 15 locations and has grown from 190 to 224 staff in the past four months. It had sales of £24m in the year to March 2014 and expects to report revenues of £30m next time. Ikon Science won a Queen’s Award for enterprise in international trade this year.
“Our software can help companies reduce risk and exploration costs, and allow them to control the environmental impact and efficiency of each project,” said Millwood Hargrave, who was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire, and grew up in nearby Ferrybridge.
His father was a shipbuilder before joining the navy at the outbreak of the Second World War and then enlisting in the army. He left in the 1950s to be a fitter for an engineering company. There he met Millwood Hargrave’s mother, who worked in the family shop. “It wasn’t a very grand life, but it was stable. My parents felt that education was the way up for me,” he said.
Millwood Hargrave attended Knottingley High School in West Yorkshire, an an early adopter of A-level geology. “Our geology teacher was just a week ahead of us in the curriculum, which made classes very lively and exciting. I loved being out on field trips and mapping.”
In 1976 he enrolled at Durham University, graduating in 1979 with a geology degree. He then joined the precision components group GSI as a “lowly” data analyst on an oil drilling project in a Shiite area of east Saudi Arabia. “It was around the time of the Iranian revolution, so I was lucky to get out.”
In 1980, Millwood Hargrave worked with Enex UK on an exploration of the Murray-Darling basin in southeastern Australia. When that was farmed out to Esso, he took on a number of senior geophysicist and managerial roles in oil and gas before deciding in 1990 to go it alone.
“I knew I’d have to be passionate and well briefed to explain to people that what I was doing was worth their while,” he said.
Millwood Hargrave has since founded, developed and commercialised several start-ups in oil and gas, including Troy-Ikoda (sold to RPS Energy in 2002) and Fusion Oil & Gas, floated in London in 2001 and sold to Sterling Energy in 2004.
He also founded Virgo Energy in 2001 (sold to Encore Oil in 2007) and is a founder shareholder of the FTSE 250 African explorer Ophir Energy.
“The beauty is being able to look across a host of companies and learn from the best in the class,” he said. “They all have a niche, so I was able to recognise the different characters and adjust my business offering to their expertise.”
Millwood Hargrave started Ikon Science out of a collaborative research project with the charity Mind and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London in 2001. The idea was to use medical imaging and time lapse technology to explore for oil and gas and interpret seismic data.
Ikon Science has helped hundreds of companies use its software to solve issues that arise when exploring for resources and drilling wells. “Oil used to be a lot easier to find,” said Millwood Hargrave. “It’s more complex now, so we need our technology to understand each exploration base from the Arctic to west Africa.”
The company has 250 clients, including Royal Dutch Shell and Tullow. Fleming Family & Partners has a stake, though the majority is held by the management team.
Millwood Hargrave, who owns 15%, would consider a float. “The market is big enough but I want to wait a couple of years, scale up and promote our new products.”
The 56-year-old lives in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, with his wife, Andrea, 57, who is director-general at the International Institute of Communications. They have a daughter, Kiran, 24, a writer studying at Oxford, and a son, John, 21, who is studying medicine.
Millwood Hargrave’s advice to entrepreneurs is: “Stick with it and work hard. See your business and its opportunities through the eyes of the client, not just through your passion.”