Pune-based DroneAcharya ended 2022 with a bang by becoming the first listed drone start-up in India. Riding high on the success of the bumper listing, the start-up is all set to make waves in the drone service and manufacturing space this year and in the years to come. In conversation with The Good Story Project’s Swati Subhedar, DroneAcharya founder and managing director Prateek Srivastava shares the journey of his start-up which, in a very short span of time, has managed to have a presence not just in India, but also in South East Asia, UAE, Eastern Europe, and North America. He also shed some light on how DroneAcharya was able to create employment opportunities for many youngsters in the drone space and also discussed the future of this emerging technology.
DroneAcharya recently became the first listed drone start-up in India. The initial public offering (IPO) has received a great response from the market and investors. How will the successful IPO help DroneAcharya in the future?
The drone industry is one of the fastest emerging sectors in the start-up space. In the run-up to the IPO, we were optimistic, but we are overwhelmed with the response we have received. We had the backing of stock market veteran Shankar Sharma, which helped generate immense curiosity among retail investors. The fact that the IPO was oversubscribed 262 times proves how sought-after this new technology has become. The government has estimated that India has the potential of becoming a global drone hub by 2030. This gives us the confidence that Indian investors are ready to pump more capital into the sector in the coming years.
As the founder and managing director of a successful start-up, can you tell us a little about your journey?
The idea of DroneAcharya first came into being in 2017. The Karnataka State Electronics Development Corporation Limited (KEONICS), a company that helps promote the electronics industry in Karnataka, helped us shape the idea and our aim was to train individuals in the fields of drone and GIS (Geographic Information System). After a hibernation period of three years, we resumed operations and kickstarted with a team of three at the end of 2021 right after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted.
Back then, the civil aviation ministry was at the precipice of drafting new rules for the drone industry and we realised that training could be one of the emerging sectors. Thus began our journey as a training organisation and we started offering online courses. Soon, we became a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)-certified Remote Pilot Training Organisation (RPTO) and started our offline and on-field training programmes. Some of our recent feats include opening another RPTO in association with Rashtriya Raksha University in Gujarat, collaborating with Tata STRIVE for increasing employability and starting specialty courses in association with Whistling Woods International.
On the services front, we have been fortunate to have executed the Medicine From The Sky initiative for the Government of Telangana in association with Apollo Hospitals for delivering COVID-19 vaccines. We worked closely with IIT Gandhinagar for drone-related training and a survey of a UNESCO-recognised heritage site at Dholavira in Gujarat. We also successfully completed a project with the World Bank, which involved using drones for carbon financing 2,000 hectares at Nandurbar, Gujarat. This project was just the first phase and is going to be launched in multiple phases in different states all over India.
We have had quite an organic and wholesome growth, having grown from a team of three to a team of sixty-five, and growing! Our headquarters is in Pune, and we have offices in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, and Gujarat. Globally, we have an office in North Carolina in the United States, and very soon we’ll be opening offices in Dubai, Malaysia, and Netherlands. Through our strategic alliance with the Asian Institute of Technology (Thailand), we will also have a team stationed in Bangkok. We also acquired DroneEntry, a Canadian SaaS-based platform, and have a growing network of partners, including SPH Engineering, Blueye Robotics, Microavia, BECIL, and Technit Spaces. It has been quite an eventful journey filled with ups and downs, and many learnings. We are looking forward to many more eventful years!
The word ‘drones’ conjures up a multitude of images. Which are the areas where drones have proven to be vital and indispensable?
Drones have a wide array of applications spanning a multitude of industrial domains like mining, agriculture, energy, utilities, urban and rural planning, roads & highways, and infrastructure. To give you an example, drones can be deployed at an open cast mine to calculate the exact volume of a mound of minerals that have been excavated, or also for knowing the current condition of the mine. Drones can be used in the agricultural sector for spraying pesticides on the affected crop areas or to trace individuals who have been hit by a natural disaster. They can easily travel to inaccessible areas for delivering essential food, medicines, and first aid items.
These mentioned applications are just a few of the varied solutions that drones can provide and new applications are being developed almost on a daily basis.
What is DroneAcharya’s primary area of focus?
Our aim is to bridge the talent gap that is plaguing the drone and GIS industry today. Hence, training is our primary area of focus.
Providing drone-centric solutions to industries and enterprises is another key area of focus. These solutions include aspects like 3D modelling and mapping, change detection, volume estimation, crop health analysis, hotspot detection, drone deliveries, and real-time video relay. Additionally, in collaboration with Microavia, we are working towards launching our own manufacturing facility in India for niche drone products like Drone In a Box, Tethered Drone, and Swarm Drone.
DroneAcharya’s main focus is on upskilling the youth. Tell us more about the skill development aspect of your business.
Through our years of experience in the industry, backed by highly experienced team members, we have designed assorted courses that give youngsters a 360-degree perspective of the drone and GIS industries. Our flagship course is the DGCA-certified Drone Pilot Training. We also offer specific courses that help one understand the uses of drones in varied areas like agriculture, disaster management, racing, aerial cinematography and filmmaking, drone data processing, and Python coding for GIS applications.
We don’t stop at training. We also provide career counselling and 100% assistance in a candidate’s job search process as well. Quite a few of our students have been absorbed as full-time employees at DroneAcharya.
We have completed more than 250 DGCA certifications in the past nine months, and, in total, we have trained more than 500 individuals. We have also ventured out into the defence sector for basic drone pilot training at various locations across the country.
If you had to list one area in which DroneAcharya was able to make a positive impact, what would it be?
I would say employment generation. We were able to make a positive impact in the employment sector as we have placed multiple students in drone manufacturing companies, as well as provided them placements in our own offices. We were also able to make a highly positive impact on the stock market the day we became the first-ever drone company to be listed on the stock exchange.
The various steps taken by the government to support the growth of the drone industry are a big positive for the sector. How are these initiatives helping start-ups like DroneAcharya?
The announcement of the New Drone Rules in 2021, and the liberalisation of laws in terms of flying drones in the Indian airspace has brought a propagation of growth not only for DroneAcharya but for a majority of companies in the aerospace industry. We have seen days of not being able to get permission to fly drones due to a ban imposed by the government, to now a flourishing environment where anyone and everyone can build something for themselves, as an entrepreneur, or even as an employee.
What is next on the agenda for DroneAcharya – something that you would like to tick off from your checklist?
We have plans to create an ecosystem of manufacturing, wherein we are seeking to establish a drone fabrication plant right here in India. The Make In India scheme, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has given us an opportunity to bring in foreign technologies and create indigenous systems for the whole world. Subsequently, we are in the process of expanding to multiple countries. We have recently opened our first international office in South East Asia. We also have a presence in the UAE, Eastern Europe as well as North America, countries that primarily deal in the development of drones as a service.
A company is also about its people. At your start-up, one can see people from diverse backgrounds and age groups striving to take the start-up to the next level. In that sense could you tell us about your team and what drives all of you?
Our team is extremely diverse when it comes to age and gender. We have almost 50% of gender equality for men and women, making it an impactful workplace for all. We have a 19-year-old working in the operations department to a retired Armyman’s fifty-seven-year-old wife with her first job at DroneAcharya. The stories that we are scripting are quite inspirational. We believe in ourselves and strive to take the start-up to the next level every single day.
Lastly, what would you say to someone who is taking the first steps toward entrepreneurship?
The only thing I tell my team is, if you dream of achieving something, have the patience to work for it and see it materialise. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, here are some words of wisdom: Know thyself. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who have a clear vision of what they want their business to become and how they can achieve that goal. In addition, they should know that success involves not only finding a good opportunity but also being able to take risks – something many struggle with within the entrepreneurial world.
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