A story that perfectly sums up the idiom “age is just a number”

A few days back, when Sapna Sharma, 57, walked into the office of DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations, a Pune-based drone services and pilot training startup, she felt like a child entering a school for the first time in life. This is Sharma’s very first job; her first baby steps into the professional world. Her workplace happens to be a start-up, a space that is dominated by the young. And yet, the organisation welcomed her on board. There’s a reason such stories need to be told. While we have women who have managed to break the glass ceiling, for many, career takes a backseat after marriage or children. Many choose to take a step back as responsibilities multiple or because they don’t get any help or support from families and many fail to open their innings. We need more workplaces like DroneAcharya that promote age diversity and give women of all ages a chance


Swati Subhedar

When fifty-seven-year-old Sapna Sharma was asked by the management of DroneAcharya Aerial Innovations, a Pune-based startup that works in the drone space, if she would like to join the workplace, she did not immediately say yes. She went back home and thought about it for two days. Her apprehensions were justified. Sharma has, as they say in the corporate world, no work experience.

Earlier this year, she, along with her husband Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Sunil Sharma, 60, moved to Pune after he was hired by DroneAcharya to join as President, Business and Strategy. Sharma accompanied her husband to the office one day when she was asked if she would like to join as Admin Executive. She was told that the startup would benefit from her life experiences and each team member would be happy and willing to help her integrate into the system.

“I eventually said yes and joined soon after. I think it’s never too late to start something and there is no age to learn new things. The fact that my husband also works in the same office and the management was motivating, encouraging, and welcoming helped me arrive at the decision. It’s been just a few days, but I am glad I said yes to the offer,” said Sharma.

The beginning of her journey

Born in Alwar, Rajasthan on September 18, 1965, Sharma completed her schooling in Jaipur and Jodhpur. In 1985, she completed a course in textile designing and got married in 1988.

“As my husband was in the Army, we had to relocate every two years. Some of the cities and states we have lived in include Sikandrabad, Chandigarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Mau (Madhya Pradesh), Mathura, Ambala, and Jalandhar. Because we were constantly on the move, I could never start my professional journey. You can say that I never tried. So, this job for me is like how a child goes to school for the first time in life,” said Sharma.

Sharma was 36 when her daughter Sweekriti was born and after that, her life revolved around her daughter.  

Bidding adieu to the Army, moving to Mumbai, Pune

Her husband took a premature retirement from the Army in 2006 and the family moved to Mumbai. Sharma’s husband took up a job with the Mahindra Group where he headed two verticals until he retired at 60 in March this year.

“Soon after he got an opportunity to work with DroneAcharya, so we moved to Pune. While we have some relatives and some wonderful friends here, it still felt like starting afresh. My daughter, now 21, is away in Bengaluru pursuing a course in filmmaking. My husband got busy with his new job, but it used to bother him that I used to be all alone at home. One day I accompanied him to his workplace when during a casual chat the management made this offer to me,” said Sharma.      

New innings: Joining a workplace at 57

While Sharma’s husband and daughter always encouraged and motivated her to work, somehow it never happened.

“It was for this reason I needed two days to think. Since I have never worked, especially in a corporate setup, I have been very out of touch. But because the management and my husband were very supportive, I decided to give it a try and give my best,” said Sharma.

How did she feel on the first day of the job?

“Well, I was very nervous, but, at the same time, I was very excited. Everyone was very helpful and welcoming. It wasn’t a very hectic day. I met the team and told everyone that they will have to treat me like a new kid in the class and teach me everything. Since that day everyone has been very kind and helpful,” she said.

When she decided to take up the job, the person who was the happiest was her biggest cheerleader, her daughter.

“I felt very proud. I have always encouraged her to work. In her case, going out and working was never a problem. However, there had been a long gap and after a point, she did not know where to start or what to do. When she got the offer, even before saying she was going to start working, she said she was going to start learning. So, she was very positive about it, and hence all we had to do was to give her support,” said Sharma’s daughter Sweekriti.   

“If your attitude is right, if you are ready to make an effort, and if you are willing to try, there is nothing you can’t do. She did have her apprehensions. While we were deliberating, she said she was hesitating a bit because she had no work experience and everyone in the team was very young. But those apprehensions were short-lived. She was willing to learn and give it a try,” said her husband, Mr Sharma.  

He added: “It would be wrong to say that she has never worked. For all these years, she has been managing the house, managing us, and making our lives so beautiful. Shifting cities and starting afresh, managing finances, all this is a lot of work. It requires great managerial and finance management skills. She has the skills; she now just needs to apply these in the corporate ecosystem. I must say she is a quick learner. Just two days back, all of us were casually discussing that she finishes her admin tasks in two hours, so now maybe we can give her additional responsibilities!”   

After so many years of being at home, Sharma was used to function at a particular pace. After joining the workplace, she had to quickly adapt to a new routine.

“While it’s too early for me to comment on the concept of work-life balance, but my routine has changed. That’s fine. It’s all about making some adjustments. I go with my husband and come back with him, and we get the weekends off, so it’s working fine,” said Sharma.  

Promoting age diversity at workplaces

At a time when boardrooms are getting younger with the start-up culture catching up, most companies prefer hiring young employees. Workplaces giving a fresh start to 40-plus or 50-plus is truly rare. In such a scenario, this move by DroneAcharya, of giving a chance to someone like Sharma, who is close to an age when most people choose to hang up their boots and who has no prior work experience, is truly worth applauding.

When asked to comment, Prateek Srivastava, founder and managing director, DroneAcharya, said: “She is starting her first innings at the age of 57. Her experienced outlook will surely add an interesting flavour to our work culture.”

Talking about age diversity at DroneAcharya, he said: “We foster an atmosphere that is very inclusive and welcoming of people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. Every single one of our employees is valued and given the same number of opportunities as the rest. While a younger workforce may provide fresh perspectives and energy, a more seasoned staff is necessary for setting long-term goals and creating a diverse and welcoming workplace. They also advise and play mentors to the younger employees.”

Commenting on age diversity, Sharma said, “It feels good to see people of all age groups working under one roof and towards the same set of goals.”

Her husband, who joined the start-up at 60, said: “In the new scheme of things, people want to achieve more in a short span of time, so they work for 18-20 hours a day and burn out very fast. In the culinary world, there is a concept called slow cooking. It’s often said some dishes turn out exceptionally well when they are cooked for a longer duration on a very low flame. Similarly, people like us who have been working for years or decades, have the wealth of knowledge and experience. So, our contribution is extremely valuable to any company.”   

Giving women of all ages a chance

While promoting age diversity is an important factor, it is equally important for workplaces to give women of all ages a chance. There are many examples around us wherein women have had to give up on their careers for various reasons. Some are not able to, or are not allowed to, work after getting married, for some a maternity break or having children comes in the way of building a long-term career. There are also women who get no help and support from home and quit because they get burnt out. Women often find it extremely difficult to find a job after these unavoidable breaks in their careers. It’s important for workplaces to give women of all age groups a chance because a career break does not make them less able, talented, or efficient.

When asked to comment, Sharma said: “It depends on person-to-person and situation-to-situation why women work, or they don’t. But I firmly believe there is nothing that a woman can’t achieve and there is no age to achieve something. Hence employees should not be discriminated against based on their gender. Women, of any age, are as valuable to a company as the men.”  

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. If you want us to tell your story, write to us at contactgoodstories@gmail.com

To read the interview of DroneAcharya founder and managing director Prateek Srivastava, click here.

On a high after a successful IPO, DroneAcharya’s all set to make strides in the drone space 

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.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. If you want us to tell your story, write to us at contactgoodstories@gmail.com