Photo Credit: Crain’s New York
ff Venture Capital
Dec 17, 2018 · 10 min read

As an early-stage venture capital firm, we at ff Venture Capital have the exciting privilege of getting introduced to and meeting with inspiring founders working on startups in a variety of cutting-edge sectors every day. Over the recent years, it’s been obvious that the rising trend of drone innovation and use cases are beginning to disrupt many different industry sectors from agriculture to parcel delivery - and we predict that we’re just at the cusp of what’s to come. We’ve had the honor of already backing several drone startups that we believe are pioneering the future, including Top Flight Technologies and Skycatch.

But what many drone startups don’t realize is the wealth of resources available to them right here in the state of NY. The notion that drone companies have to be founded on the West Coast is outdated. In this guide, we want to share some of the exceptional resources available to anyone thinking of starting a drone company in NY. This guide may also serve valuable to existing drone startups that might consider moving operations to NY- to take advantage of the resources available to reach new heights of success (Pun intended).

In this guide, you will find a rundown of New York’s:

  • Funding resources, talent pools, and assets
  • Drone startups
  • Accelerators
  • Corporations of interest
  • Drone communities
  • Drone startup investors
  • Writers who have covered drone startups
  • Drone related publications

NY State Resources

While various regions throughout the country are maneuvering to become national hubs for drone innovation, the state of New York, specifically the Central New York region, is quickly becoming an attractive and emerging center for UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) & UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) startups alike. New York possesses the 3 main building blocks required for a robust UAS & UAV ecosystem: funding, talent, and assets.

Funding

In 2016, Upstate NY was allocated the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) for $500MM over 5 years from the Governor’s Office. $250MM of that amount was dedicated to unmanned systems. In addition to the wide array of venture capital firms in NY (listed later in the article), there are plenty of other funding opportunities for drone companies looking to get started in NY.

  • UAS Central Job Fund. Centerstate CEO has an Unmanned Systems Job Fund which is funded through a $5MM grant from New York State. attracting companies to come to Upstate NY. The grant fund will offer assistance to companies to increase their presence and investments in New York by offering incentives directly related to job creation. Grants are specifically targeted at new job creation in for-profit companies.
  • GENIUS NY Accelerator is an in-residence business competition accelerator at The Tech Garden in Syracuse and is funded by Empire State Development. The program invests $3 million in give companies during the year-long competition, and is the largest business accelerator competition for the UAS industry in the world. In addition to three grand prizes of up to $1 million, $600,000 and $400,000, the program also offers stipends, housing, resources, programming, and connections, providing UAS Startups all the tools for success.
  • Other resources. Additional funding programs include The Center for Clean Tech Entrepreneurship, Grants for Growth, and The Technology Commercialization Growth Pre-Seed Fund, which additional information can be found on the UAS Central website.
Credit: Flaticon

Talent

For over 40 years, the infrastructure for unmanned systems has been established with companies like General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Saab Sensis, Gryphon Sensors, SRC and others doing business in Central NY. With an extraordinary network of 35 colleges and universities, the region has one of the highest concentrations of college students in the nation. In addition, New York state is number 1 in the Northeast in total number of STEM graduates annually, with more than 300,000 students from some of the top engineering universities such as Cornell University, RIT, and Syracuse University. The state also has an extensive pool of experienced talent and the workforce of tomorrow to support the industry with 415,000+ people working in the UAS supply-chain industries throughout the state at 29,000+ UAS supply-chain firms.

Assets

  • 174th ATKW. The 174th Attack Wing (174 ATKW) is a unit of the New York Air National Guard, stationed at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, Syracuse, New York. The 174th ATKW in Syracuse is the first Air National Guard unit to fly drones, specifically the MQ-9. It is one of the only drone training & maintenance units in the Air Force, and is the only Air Force organization in the United States to fly the remotely piloted aircraft in class "C" airspace, the common airspace around commercial airports.
  • The Griffiss Business And Technology Park, based in Rome, NY, is one of only several sites designated by the FAA that can test UAS & UAV. There are at least 6 aviation based businesses located at Griffiss Business And Technology Park. NUAIR, part of CenterState CEO and which is located in Rome, is designed to support the test center and create UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management and drone communications) policy.
  • Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, located at Fort Drum, has been a key component in the military's use of drones by launching and recovering drones for the past 8 years in conjunction with the 174th Attack Wing. Additionally, the Fort Drum aerial-to-ground gunnery range is one of the largest drone practice areas east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • UAS Central, which includes Central New York and the Mohawk Valley, is the official hub for UAS/UAV information, resources, and activity in the state of New York by linking start up, business, higher educational, and government investments to grow an entire ecosystem. UAS Central includes the coordinated public private partnerships and initiatives fueled by CNY Rising, including the following:
  • The NUAIR Alliance, which is a New York based not-for-profit coalition of more than 100 private and public entities and academic institutions working together to operate and oversee Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) test ranges in New York, Massachusetts and Michigan.
  • The UAS Secure Autonomous Flight Environment (U-SAFE) project, which accelerates commercial UAS operations in Central New York and the Mohawk Valley through the creation of a fully instrumented Unmanned Aerial Traffic Management Corridor, a dedicated center for National Unmanned Aerial System Standardized Testing and Rating (NUSTAR), drone innovation zones, and a research institute dedicated to UAS public policy. Other incentives can be found on the UAS Central website.
  • FAA Drone Test Site at Griffiss International Airport. Managed by NUAIR Alliance and home to the world-renowned Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) with $1 billion in annual R&D expenditures and C4I technology specialization, this FAA-designated test site is one of seven in the nation and has world-class instrumentation that is highly conducive for real-world application and testing.
  • UTM drone corridor. The corridor between Hancock Field in Syracuse and Griffiss Business And Technology Park in Rome is an area designated for safely testing drone operations within a controlled environment. It is the only corridor of its kind for this purpose in the United States and is the largest BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) drone testing corridor in the country.

Companies

Generally, what is referred to as a drone company can be categorized as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) which is the hardware most of us associate with the word “drone,” and/or UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems), which involves an autonomous or human-operated communication, command, and control system. The following lists contains both UAS/UAV startups and large enterprises that are either based, or have a strong presence in the state of NY:

A few of the excellent UAS/UAV startups & enterprises in NY: EagleHawk, Verifly, Drone Racing League, Akrobotix, and others.

Accelerators

Accelerators are typically structured programs that provide the resources, mentorship, and sometimes funding necessary to help startups get to a point where they can raise their first or next round of capital. Accelerator programs are highly beneficial for early-stage startups and we’ve got some of the nation’s best programs right here in NY:

A few of the great accelerators in NY: Genius NY, Techstars, AngelPad, ERA, Company (formerly Grand Central Tech), Dreamit

Corporations

Below are some of the larger corporations that embrace startup innovation and directly partner with early-stage companies to advance the drone industry:

NVIDIA Inception AI Startup Program
Boeing
DJI SDK Challenge
John Deere

Communities

NY has a growing community of hardware & UAV/UAS enthusiasts to share ideas with, learn from, collaborate with, organize events/competitions, and to simply enjoy a sense of community with of like-minded individuals. Take a look at some of the exciting communities below:

Meetups

Investors/VCs

Aside from other abundant sources of capital such as through grants, accelerators, corporate venture capital, angel investors, and more, New York is also one of the leading hubs of venture capital in the world. Some of the most prominent venture capital firms are headquartered right here in our thriving state, with many global firms at the very least having an office location in NY to have access to the pool of industry-leading founders & startups. The following funds have a base in New York, and have made investments into drone startups.

A few of the NY-based VC’s that invest in hardware/UAS/UAV companies: SkyFund, Lerer Hippeau, Lux Capital, Insight Venture Partners, USV, R/GA, Hearst Ventures, and Revel Partners.

Writers (Media)

Whether you’re looking for well-written UAS/UAV articles or are thinking about PR, you should be looking at experienced journalists that have deep domain knowledge and a large audience. Below are a just a few top-notch writers from prominent publications that often write about the UAS/UAV sector:

Lucas Matney (writer @ TechCrunch (emerging tech & VC))
Brian Heater (hardware editor @ TC)
Christopher Mims (Technology columnist @ WSJ)
Will Yakowicz (staff writer @ Inc)

Publications

In addition to publications such as TechCrunch, Inc, FastCompany, and Entrepreneur that often publish drone articles, the following are some of the print and digital publications to be aware of to stay in the know and keep up to date on drone-related news:

  • UAS Magazine
  • UAV Coach. UAV Coach has many different articles and videos for training which is very comprehensive. The visuals used throughout are very appealing - from the landscape photos of scenic landscapes through to the informative diagrams. There is also a community section which has a thriving forum of friendly members where you can ask for advice.
  • Drone subreddit (r/drones)
  • SUAS News This is a popular commercial drone news blog that should be on your list. The articles tend to cover regulations and new technology used in a commercial environment.
  • The Drone Girl. Drone Girl is run by Sally French, a journalist and self-proclaimed “geek girl” from the Bay area (San Francisco) who loves drones. In her last semester, she did a drone journalism course and never looked back. Her blog has some interesting perspectives on drones with plenty of guides, news and articles. The Drone Girl's Twitter account is a must follow too.
  • The Robot Report
  • RobotRabbi. Oliver Mitchell is a Venture Partner at ff Venture Capital as well as a founding partner of Autonomy Ventures which focuses on early stage investments in business and industrial automation technologies - including robotics, smart mobility, remote sensing and machine intelligence. There’s a reason we consider him our go-to industry expert, and his articles on RobotRabbi are extremely thought-provoking for anyone in the drone space.

While this article is by no means all-encompassing, my hope is that it serves as a starting point of reference for anyone considering to either start a drone company in NY, or for current drone companies to expand operations into this pioneering state.

With so many resources, access to capital, a thriving UAS/UAV community and state support, I hope to see the next bunch of world-changing drone companies have all the help they can get in the early days.

Feel free to reach out to me with any thoughts or questions at andrew.hong@ffvc.com

ff Venture Capital

Written by

The most engaged technology venture capital firm in New York City.

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