CHADRON – As a sophomore at Chadron State College in 2005, Craig Kaiser hadn’t yet settled on a major, and wasn’t even sure he would stay in Chadron, when a class with Geoscience Professor Dr. Mike Leite lit the spark that has led him to an entrepreneurial career in the natural resource industry.
A high school football standout in his hometown of Merino, Colorado, Kaiser attended CSC football camps where he attracted the attention of former defensive coach Todd Auer, who recruited him. But, Kaiser originally didn’t plan to remain at the college for long.
“My intention wasn’t even to stay in Chadron. I was going to go to the Air Force,” Kaiser said. “But I met some good friends and went back for the second year.”
It was in a physical science class that year when Leite noticed Kaiser hadn’t chosen a major, and encouraged him to consider geoscience.
“I had taken one of his courses earlier and I did well there, and Dr. Leite is the one who talked me into being a geoscience major,” Kaiser said.
After graduating from CSC in 2008, Kaiser enrolled in a petroleum geology master’s program at Colorado School of Mines, where his CSC background proved useful.
“My first semester in graduate school, I ended up working in West Africa by myself,” Kaiser said.
His job in the forests in Sierra Leone involved looking for deposits of pegmatite rocks similar to those he had learned to identify during CSC geology field camps in the Black Hills. Kaiser was able to locate a significant deposit of coltan, a type of rock containing the rare-earth metal, tantalum, used in mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices.
Research papers about coltan and tantalum that Leite had provided were helpful in identifying the ore, said Kaiser.
“Dr. Leite was showing us real-world applications,” he said.
Because of political unrest and economic uncertainty, the ore deposit has never been developed, but Kaiser managed to bring a large sample of the tantalum-rich material back for the CSC mineral collection.
Following completion of his master’s degree, Kaiser went to work for Anadarko Petroleum. During his six years with the company he worked on developing exploration concepts in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and the Niobrara-Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado. He next joined with an operations engineer he had worked with at Andarko and started an oil and gas exploration company. The Denver-based firm obtained financial backing for a development, but wasn’t able to bring the project to fruition.
Taking a different approach to the natural resource field, Kaiser and business partner Yoann Hispa started LandGate, the company where he now serves as president. LandGate provides services for owners of land and mineral rights, including valuing the natural resources they own and connecting them with potential buyers.
Initially focused exclusively on oil and gas rights, LandGate has since expanded into other resources, including hard rock minerals, solar, wind, and water rights.
Putting a value on rights to natural resources is complicated, because the underlying assets (oil, gas, minerals, and water) are commodities that fluctuate greatly in price, Kaiser noted. By compiling data and using sophisticated algorithms that take market conditions into consideration, LandGate is able to produce valuations that are useful to both buyers and sellers, he said.
“The vast majority of the (natural) resources in this country are owned by people who don’t understand what they are worth,” Kaiser said. “We let the landowners know what their resources are worth and give them the opportunity to get that out in front of (potential buyers) … then they can find out what will my property do in a competitive market.”
Connecting with potential customers via its website, the company offers appraisals and valuation services, economic data, mapping, and engineering services.
“It’s something completely new. This service has never been out there for landowners. Conversely, the opportunity never existed for energy companies and natural resource investors,” Kaiser said. “What we are doing is very similar to what Zillow did to real estate.”
In the five years since it started, LandGate has grown rapidly and now has 16 employees, all working remotely, according to Kaiser.
“We are getting a lot of momentum right now and it’s getting pretty exciting,” he said. “We have people all across the country that work for us. It’s been interesting to see what we can accomplish over five years working solely remotely.”
Kaiser said his experience at Chadron State illustrates a valuable aspect of the college’s physical science curriculum, which exposes students to a range of subjects, giving them the opportunity to find out what they enjoy and are good at.
“The reason I’m in the position I am is I decided to accept a scholarship thrown at me by coach Todd Auer and then Dr. Leite convinced me to quit messing around and actually get a degree,” he said. “I ended up getting a degree in geoscience, went on to the Colorado School of Mines to get my masters and here I am working as a career geologist. I have Dr. Leite to thank for that.”