Photo by Jen Heitler, Double A Events, Austin TX

Female Founder Sorcery

Astral AR’s Series A Fundraising Is Here

It’s a great day to back our lifesaving public safety drone tech IP. VCs don’t often get to say they save lives.

Years back at my dayjob as a federal employee, I daydreamed a lot about the possibilities of creating a hyper-exceptional startup. I wanted to build something legendary (props Mike Maples, Jr.) in more ways than one. I envisioned it all: an amazing invention, business strategy, company culture, and lasting positive impact for the world at large. If I was going to do the businesswoman thing I had to jump on it, taking the helm of a company and leading it to more than average “disruption”.

I wanted to disrupt the disrupters on behalf of all good underdogs and all that is good in the world. Otherwise I might get bored or fail to meet my own standards.

When I came up with the immersive reality neuromechanical drone piloting system invention idea — and realized that no one else had, my heart skipped a beat — and much jumping around and hollering happened. Yeah, “I hacked NASA with a toaster!!!” That was May 2015. And by October of that year, Astral AR, LLC was a real company, I had a real co-founder, and I was a real company CEO — one who had almost none of the things common to most startup CEOs. Things like — a personal credit line — white maleness, large assets, and/or an Ivy League education. I had a mountain of reasons not to start a startup actually.

But the things that I did have, that I share with any successful startup founder, were total commitment, a deep love of the venture, and endurance for the adventure. I had every reason to go where unicorns — or in our case, under-repped zebras — go when they surprise the status quo by creating lots of real jobs, social entrepreneurism, and exponential value.

I’d done my research. I knew that the path of a neurodivergent female founder is a seldom traveled path in the startup world. It is so rare as to be mythic among the mythic — and being that my dev name is Open Sorceress I guess you could say it wasn’t difficult for me to imagine being just that! — But I also knew that even a senior developer who programs in 11 languages (9 self-taught) had a lot to learn quick about being a startup CEO with an asymmetrical business strategy. — So I made the most of every source in my network as I studied and validated my Astral AR business strategy and had conversation after conversation with mentors and advisers to test my hypotheses and intuitions.

And with a $50K seed from a mentor angel, Astral’s baseline prototype came to life in six weeks flat. Boom: I flew a drone with mental commands and gestures. (Check out our proof of concept video filming of it here).

Within months my company was up to all kinds of delicious sorcery, in Austin and Chicago (the two locations of my growing up years).

I was frequently on the road in between the two cities due to my original mentor — my father — having undeniably major health challenges alongside his indefatigable love of co-engineering for the future of Astral, and for the world Astral would change.*

Change like this: Astral AR is bringing the world telepresence (the ability to be in two places at once). We brought next generation holo-edge drone piloting and safety tech IP, and then we specifically prioritized it for lifesaving for those who need them the most: the fire captains, the police officers, the emergency managers, the disaster responders — and the people they serve, like you and me.

The short version: while others were inventing toys, we smithed a utility.

If one thing kept me going, it was knowing that yes, Astral AR is an invaluable lifesaving investment and an absolutely appropriate use of technology for solving many unnecessary losses in our world today. Also: aeronautical nerdery is, I admit, a really fun thing to develop and win at. If one is going to be a CEO who answers to investors and leads early employees — why not do it with massive nerdery as well?

So… lots of learning experiences and milestones later (all involving risk taking, failing and recovering, pivots and churn, ups and downs and relentless persistence), Astral AR has done some amazing things with the $500K raised so far from investors who believe in us (many of them women and/or people of color including Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital). We showed up with the world’s most advanced drones and in 2016 became officially affiliated with FEMA and IAEM as Subject Matter Experts. This was followed by mentions in Tech Crunch and NextGov — and talking with the supermodel/supermogul Kathy Ireland’s Modern Living show on the Lifetime channel.

We aimed for — and landed — in a space no one had claimed, and in a big way: as the only 100% American owned & operated immersive AR drone piloting company. Astral AR stores our data on U.S. servers in compliance with the new Department of Justice cybersecurity laws that govern all DHS/FEMA related vendors — and we got here first.

Fast forward to now, it’s over two years since my invention came to mind and Astral AR came to life. Astral’s team has grown — we’re now 17 people (with about a dozen kids and cats, and 8 dawgs). Our solutions have gained significant, compelling ground in various ways (including 3 patent filings to date with up to 5 inventions, with additional filings pending- and we showed up at SXSW 2017 and screened our Simulated Demo Video).

We are winning. It’s time to produce and ship for a long list of agencies and enterprises who’ve solicited us; we can’t delay any longer. My epic team needs to be brought in-house full-time with benefits to move into production. As important as support my people is taking care of all of you. We hear from our government partners every day that they need our tools like yesterday to maximize survival of civilians they serve.

Want to see what we’ll do next? We’re raising our Series A this month, and looking for the right lead investor and supporting investors to help us be more real, and more amazing. There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll leave the rest to our pitch deck for now. (DM me if you’re interested).

Thanks for reading! (And much love to our fans and team who’ve been cheering us on in all the ways you do!).

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* (Rest in Peace Joseph P. La Salla, Astral AR’s Emeritus Director of Aviation Engineering, aka… Dad. You’re watching over us).