Top drone startups find venture capital flying their way

Top drone startups find venture capital flying their way

UAV startups focused on management, security, big data and more

With unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) here to stay, entrepreneurs are pouncing on the opportunity to safeguard people from having these flying machines drop in unexpectedly and venture capitalists are buying in. 

SkySafe, a San Diego startup formed last year by a team from MIT, UC San Diego, the Air Force Research Lab and more, says its goal is “to build safe, secure airspaces as a new wild west of drone development and innovation emerges.” The company this week announced it has raised seed funding, said to total $3 million, in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz. SkySafe’s possible customers would include prisons, stadiums and airports looking to keep their airspace safe by, if need be, downing intrusive drones after spotting them.

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The company’s emergence comes on the same week that the FAA told Forbes that shooting down a drone, considered a type of aircraft, is in fact a felony (there have been numerous instances of people legally getting away with shooting down drones). Presumably, SkySafe’s method of managing drone intrusions via radio waves is more civil, as seen in a demo video on its site that shows a mobile app being used to subdue the UAV. Fans of The Good Wife TV program might have seen a similar sort of Drone Dropper featured in a recent “ripped from the headlines” episode titled “Unmanned,” in which a business professional first shot down a drone over his yard and then resorted to the technological answer.

Also cashing in on its cleverness this week was Raleigh startup PrecisionHawk, which said it raised $18 million in Series C funding in a round that included Verizon Ventures, NTT Docomo Ventures and Yamaha Motor. PrecisionHawk, which is approaching $30 million in total funding, provides aerial data and safety platforms for drones, with an emphasis on users in the agriculture, insurance and telecom industries. The company enables customers to chow down on accurate big data swiftly. 

Funding will enable the company, which got its start selling drones, to expand the capabilities of its DataMapper analysis platform to include information from satellites and manned aviation vehicles in addition to UAVs. Interestingly, the company is led by CEO Bob Young, formerly the head of open source software company Red Hat.

Just last week another vendor, Sharper Shape, said it had attracted $3.25M in new funding, led by Europe’s Straightforward Capital. Founded in 2013, Sharper Shape specializes in drone-based asset inspections and analysis via its Next Eagle offering.

Earlier this month, AirMap, which also seeks to help drone operators fly their devices safely, scored $15 million in Series A funding, led by General Catalyst Partners. Incidents such as the drone-airplane collision at Heathrow Airport make the emergence of companies like AIrMap all the more relevant, as these startups are quick to point out.

Zipline, another drone startup with noble intentions, earlier this month came out of stealth mode with word it has raised $18 million, including from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang. Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures and Stanford University have also piled on this San Francisco company, formerly known as robotics-oriented Romotive, that has the aim of delivering medical supplies via drones to places such as Rwanda.

A startup called Airware that late last month announced $30 million in Series C funding, including from former Cisco CEO John Chambers, has been described as wanting to supply the equivalent of Windows for drones. In announcing its funding, the company said it was also delivering full-blown drone packages for insurance, utilities and telecom customers. What’s more, Airware itself has set up a Commercial Drone Fund to invest in new companies. 

Venture funding watcher CB Insights reported that drone startups raised more than $450 million in 2015, 300% more than in 2014, as FAA regulations started to become clearer for commercial drone operators. The funding of 22 startups in Q4 was a record, as was $140 million in funding for drone startups in Q3, CB Insights says. With the way things have started in 2016, it looks like more records will fall this year.

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