This is a good start and there are some solid suggestions/observations here. But the “Five Things” you need to start your business show the pilot-biased background of the founders. While these are all things the would-be business operator will need, they leave out or relegate to #5 (and possibly #2) what is the most important aspect: data acquisition, processing, and high quality interpretation. In my experience, customers don’t care about piloting nor the data per se. They want deliverable, actionable information and guidance. That is the key for a successful business.
My lab (or any DIY-inclined person) can build a research/commercial grade UAV for under $1,000 or $2,000 (a mapping fixed wing we bring around the world cost ~$1,500), complete with autopilot, imaging sensor, etc. While more money will get you greater capability (like the new Sequoia NDVI sensor for ~$3,000) to grab whatever ag-related data you would like, etc.
Scott’s Point #2 is right on target. I can train students and other young folks to fly one of these devices, know what to watch for in terms of weather, etc. within a few hours/days. But what we need are experts very comfortable operating robots in the air under various operating conditions (hundreds of hours of stick time in varied conditions over varied terrain…NOT airplane pilots/airplane time) AND folks who know how to fly to capture data in the most efficient and effective manner. Simply being a pilot won’t cut it in the long run. I see too many folks wanting to start a business that are enamored with the flying tech or a love of flying (mostly pilots) who know absolutely nothing about real image or data acquisition and processing. Again the issue is getting maximal data value for your client in a safe, efficient manner. Everything else can be handled by any good hobbyist who only knows flying.
Thanks for the post and stimulating a discussion!