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Airobot: how one start-up is revolutionizing the drone industry

Closing the gap between drones’ current features and industry’s needs. That is the value proposition of Airobot. The innovative technology offered by this iMinds’ start-up – Airobot Ranger, a sensor placed in the drone that informs the pilot of the distance between the device and an obstacle – led them to gain support of the European Space Agency, through the ESA BIC Flanders program and be among the finalists for the Galileo Masters Competition.

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Co-founders Roy Jeunen and Kristof Beenders share their thoughts on the company’s success and their plans for the future of Airobot.

How did you start Airobot?

Roy Jeunen: We met in May 2014 when I interviewed Kristof for my Master’s thesis and we quickly realized we had several common interests, such as aviation, technology and entrepreneurship. Kristof was already flying with drones, so we started brainstorming ideas about how we could improve this type of technology for industrial use. That led us to our first prototype with which we applied for iStart – and got selected.

Kristof Beenders: There is a lot of potential in the industrial use of drones, but the gap between a drone’s current features and the industry’s needs is still quite large. We believed the technology we had been developing would help close that gap.

How did iMinds support your business?

Roy: The coaching was essential, as it gave us valuable insights on legal issues, as well as sales and marketing strategies. The financial support was also a key factor, of course, by providing us with the necessary means to further develop our product. Finally, the networking and the assistance with press coverage were also extremely important.

Kristof: I also believe that simply being accepted in the iStart program was already a great confidence boost, because it meant that other people – experienced professionals – believed in our idea and in our ability as a team to develop it and they were willing to help us turning it into a successful business. That, together with the financial support, allowed us to be 100% committed and focused on the project.

What makes your business unique?

Kristof: On one hand, it’s the highly innovative technology that we are using and developing. Moreover, the dynamic we were able to build as a team throughout these past months is, in my opinion, one of a kind.

Roy: One of our key differentiators is also the fact that we listen to the market, which is how we were able to come up with Airobot Ranger. As a drone component manufacturer, we needed to develop a technology that would meet drone industry’s needs and whose costs and added value would be more attractive to manufacturers than if they built the prototypes on their own.

Before we started developing our device, close range flying at high altitudes was very hard and there was a clear need for that, especially in drone inspection companies. Airobot Ranger is basically a sensor that is placed on the drone and informs the pilot on the ground of the distance between the device and an obstacle, allowing the pilot to avoid it and making it much easier to maneuver the drone in big distances. The information is displayed via a platform available for any type of tablet.

What are your plans for the future?

Roy: We have just sold our product to leading drone operators in the Benelux and we are further exploring the market right now. Our customers are mostly based in the Benelux area at the moment, but we are planning to expand into other countries in Europe and, in the long term, worldwide as well.

Kristof: What we have been doing these past months is preparing our company to scale up. We are setting up a production line that can ensure product safety and testing in conformity with the European market guidelines. On top of that, we are also establishing sales and manufacturers channels in Europe.

Roy: The goal is then to duplicate that knowledge when we plan to expand to the United States.

What is your advice for other young entrepreneurs?

Roy: I think it is very important to have mentors, people who have already been through this and to who you can go for support and advise. One of the most valuable advices that was given to us was the importance of focusing in our project, which is one of the reasons why we have a nearly finished product at the moment.

Kristof: Optimism is essential as well. Throughout the entire process you are constantly facing highs and lows and it is only the positive attitude and the belief in the end-goal that keeps you going.


 

Company Name: Airobot

Start Date: March 16, 2015

Founders: Roy Jeunen / Kristof Beenders

Number of employees (2015): 3

Imec Support Received: iStart Business Incubation Program

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