Startup Has a Higher Purpose in Funding a Flight School for Drones

8/12/14Follow @bvbigelow

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them as an authority in the drone sector,” says Josh Baylin, who became the CEO of Velocity Growth about two months ago.

Baylin, who was previously an investor and Wall Street analyst, is taking over from founder Jeff Belk, the former Qualcomm executive who announced the formation of Velocity Growth in February. Belk conceived of Velocity Growth as a for-profit accelerator that provides expert guidance to startups specifically for rewards-based crowd-funding campaigns offered through websites like Indiegogo, Ramen, and Kickstarter.

“Velocity Growth makes money off of its strategic consulting, planning, and marketing services related to a company’s campaign,” Baylin says. The firm “makes more money should the campaign exceed its goals, thus aligning our interests with those of our clients [and] partners.”

If Spark Aerial can meet or exceed its $5,000 fund-raising goal, CEO Angelo says it would use the funding to complete development of the training videos, animations, and other educational materials it has planned for its online flight school for drone pilots. With 27 days remaining in the Kickstarter campaign, donors already have pledged more than half of that.

According to Angelo, there are currently no licensing requirements for UAV operators, who generally fly below 400 feet under rules established for radio-controlled flight established by the Academy of Model Aeronautics. But Angelo says federal aviation regulators will eventually have to move to some type of a DMV-type of licensing model, especially as the number of drones zipping over neighborhoods and schools increases. DJI, a Chinese-based maker of quadcopters that are especially popular for use in aerial photography and videography, is reportedly shipping close to 12,000 Phantom 2 UAVs a month.

Baylin says what he likes best about Spark Aerial’s campaign are the new opportunities that are emerging with other UAV venders and service providers.

“Already, we’ve been able to start a dialog with 3D robotics and DJI because they understand the importance of getting people to fly safely,” Baylin says. “We’ve actually been able to unlock some different channels and customers that weren’t available before. This is as much about business development as it is about the campaign itself.”

Such experience can be valuable for inexperienced startups, Baylin says, by forcing founders to think beyond “the PowerPoint pitch deck” that is sometimes the explicit goal of some startup accelerator programs.

“By forcing a company to sell a product, you nudge them to realize what it takes to create a full-on business,” Baylin says. “These guys already are thinking about how to reach new customers, how to acquire and serve those customers.”

Educating drone pilots online, in fact, is almost incidental to Spark Aerial’s core business, which provides aerial cinematography and other UAV services on a contract basis for media companies like the National Geographic Channel and government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In this way, the crowd-funding campaign helps to raise Spark Aerial’s visibility and build some name recognition for itself in the fast-growing UAV community. In other words, branding becomes an added value to the crowd-funding campaign.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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