Ben Kinnaman develops technology (hardware and software) that controls multimillion-dollar underwater robotic vehicles. A former diver and a historical shipwreck enthusiast, Kinnaman owns Greensea Systems, a company whose technology supports cutting-edge research in the deepest parts of the ocean, studying sunken ships, land mines, marine life and other phenomena.
VL: Why are you based in Richmond, Vt.?
BK: We are based in a tiny little town, very deliberately so, because it matches the values that me and my wife have. We decided when were were going to grow the company, it was going to be in our town and our community.
VL: How did you land here?
BK: My wife and I were doing the two-dimensional lifestyle in Baltimore, and I had been developing the concept of Greensea’s core technology. It coincided with my wife and I being in the position to think about starting a family, and we sure as hell didn’t want to do it in Washington, D.C., or Baltimore. We’d been coming to Vermont for years: hiking in the summer, leaf-peeping in the fall, skiing in the winter and everything in between. I decided to pursue this technical concept. When we moved to Vermont we hadn’t started the company, I didn’t have a job. So off we came. It was lifestyle.
VL: How would you put that lifestyle into words?
BK: The values of the community, of preserving the natural world, of being able to live and work and play. My wife and I are pretty healthy people and we value what we do with our bodies and put in our bodies. And it’s just beautiful. It’s hard to describe, it just felt good [here]. When we were visiting we would come to towns like Richmond and at 2:30 in the afternoon when school let out, we saw kids walking down the street, not a grownup in sight. And we saw families and kids out at the parks and families together up on the ski hill. And my wife and I lived a lot of places and we felt like we just didn’t see that anymore.
VL: What do you get out of the Vermont workforce?
BK: You get well-rounded people. The best tech comes from big minds, and minds who engage in all aspects of life. The best technology does not come from sitting on an interstate for two hours a day transitioning from
After 25 years with the Burlington Police Department (recently as its chief), lifelong Burlingtonian Michael Schirling is head of BTV Ignite, which brings together key tech players and leverages Burlington’s 1 gigabit high-speed Internet for economic growth. While it seems like an unusual transition, Schirling was co-founder of the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children task force and designed a police records management system when he became frustrated with the off-the-shelf options.
VL: How did community policing change over the course of your career?
MS: [In the late ’80s,] we’d have pieces of the [patrol] car that would fall off during a shift. Our portable radios would die in the middle of an event. We had to buy our own bulletproof vest, paper and pens, Polaroid film to process crime scenes, fingerprinting kit. … We had to cohabitate in the locker room with pigeons. We used to lose detainees out the window because their handcuffs were just attached to paneling with a D-ring. They’d pull it out of the wall and jump out the window. It’s changed a lot.
VL: Did philosophy change?
MS: It’s always been service-oriented, and I think it is still in a state of transition. Transition takes essentially a generation. Federal and state policy and resources have dramatically impacted the way things are done.
VL: For the better or worse?
MS: Worse. We have under-resourced mental health across the entire continuum, and when there aren’t resources anywhere else, it falls to two organizations to fix: police departments and emergency departments. There is no other place where the buck stops, where you call and walk