The commercial drone market is ‘taking off’ at a rapid speed, and predicted to reach $1.8bn by 2020.  Until recently, the industry has been dominated primarily by military unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and those operated solely for hobbyist purposes by enthusiasts.  The shift in focus and soaring interest in drones for commercial purpose has been incentivized by several factors which include; lower prices, growing demand for air surveillance, remote sensing, superior aerial imagery, and the Federal Aviation Authority’s (FAA) August 2016 regulatory relaxation around their operation. 

Amidst the anticipated growth comes the expectation that they will revolutionize industries globally; from agriculture to engineering, and beyond. Their potential for optimization is staggering and will redefine how organizations do business.

As an emerging market with increased utilization in many industries adapting technologically to remain competitive, funding opportunities for commercial drone development are abundant, from private and government sources alike. 

In August last year the White House  slated $35 million for National Science Foundation funding toward drone technology research. Kickstage Consulting recently led a commercial drone start-up company’s application for the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) fund, in anticipation of exploiting this opportunity and becoming one of the early market leaders.

Funding Opportunities 

The  SBIR program, funded by the US government, endeavours to transform scientific discovery into US societal and economic benefit by virtue of technological innovation; enabling start-ups and small businesses to undertake high quality research and development.  If successful, it provides a Phase I grant of up to $225,000 over 6-12 months, and Phase II funding of a further $750,000 over 2 years. 

The application process can be lengthy and requires early engagement, with deadlines around December and June annually. The proposal requires information on the company, its management team, competitor analysis, overall structure, financing and projections.

The Commercial Drone Fund  has also been established to support businesses seeking investment to invent and progress technologies that are crucial for the sustainability of the commercial market.  The fund calls for solicitations from businesses seeking investment to develop and grow operations in; sensor hardware, software applications, data analytics, services and industry-specific solutions. 

The extensive funding options coupled with the US Department of Transportation’s prediction that by 2035 the number of unmanned aerial systems will surpass that of manned aircraft operations, creates unprecedented scope to impact the future of the commercial drone industry, and technological innovation and advancement more broadly.  The time is now!

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